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African Voices Changemakers Airs On CNN International Saturday 1 June | Citizen NewsNG

ByCitizen NewsNG

Jun 1, 2024

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In the latest episode of African Voices Changemakers, CNN’s Larry Madowo meets Andrea Iyamah and Veekee James, two Nigerian designers who are taking African style to the world stage.
Andrea Iyamah founded her namesake brand in 2011 while studying in Canada, but her creative journey began in Nigeria. She describes how it all started, “I always wanted to just create multiple things. My first love was art. I was an artist before I was even a designer.”
The fashion designer tells CNN, “I realised that while there were great designers in Africa that I grew up knowing and seeing and being inspired by, lots of them were bespoke, not readily-accessible. And I also saw our aesthetics and our messaging being done globally by other designers. […] So that was the first thing that then triggered the light bulb moment of ‘how do we make and celebrate the African story and make it accessible?’”
In 2013, an Instagram post from US media personality Angela Simmons helped more people discover one of the items the brand is now well known for. Iyamah explains, “The swimwear resort part, I didn’t know it was such a big market, it was kind of like a fun project and it just kind of took off and became our hero product […]. And I think it wasn’t just the product, it was how we shot the pictures. It was the skin colour of the models. There were a lot of things that sort of made it different.”
Stocked in major retailers like Saks, Bloomingdale and Moda Operandi, the award-winning designer and entrepreneur aims to make African-inspired clothing accessible to the world. She says, “For global distribution to happen, it had to happen with partners which meant that there was a certain standard we had to sort of encourage from the very beginning. […] I wanted a situation where you can experience the product.”
She continues, “New York has been our biggest market for over 10 years. The first time I saw the store set up outside, even sometimes when I’m driving and I see the signage, it’s definitely a feeling of, wow, okay, it is possible. And I think that’s something that Andrea Iyamah represents a lot, is the possibility of what life and moving beyond the boundaries and borders could really feel like.”
With several other businesses now under her belt and an eye on further expansion, Iyamah says a solid support system has been essential, “I’m very much honed into my community. And I would say that’s where my source of going on, I’m blessed to be able to run this brand with my sisters. I’m also blessed to be able to have parents that supported me.”
Next, Madowo meets fellow Nigerian designer Veekee James. James says she never thought she’d go into fashion but has carved a space for herself in the industry, “Growing up I actually wanted to be a medical doctor. […] I grew up in Lagos. I spent over almost 20 years in Ajegunle growing up with my family before I went to Akwa Ibom for school.”
James moved back to Lagos after she started working as a makeup artist and hairstylist during university, and that is when she decided to start pursuing fashion as a career. The designer tells CNN, “My mom is a tailor, and she has always been a tailor before I was born. But I never thought I was going to be a fashion designer, to be honest. […] I wasn’t going to do it as a business because I felt like it was a poor man’s job. So, I said, okay, let me just try this and see what comes out of it. And I tried it, and it went well.”
James talks about how her brand started, “One person that I would say really helped would be my friend Tomike, because before I even started my brand, she was already popular. […] She always wore my dresses. And then fashion blogs already started carrying some of my designs because they were good. So, I would say that that was where it all started from.”
Along with a strong support system, James also credits her faith for her success so far, and her desire to give back in different ways, including the Veekee James Foundation. The 28-year-old also holds masterclasses for fashion brands in Lagos to teach fashion designers a few of her trade secrets. “The idea is to teach them, or should I say, show them how I was able to build my brand to the level where it is right now and show them the mistakes that I made in the past and how I was able to correct those mistakes,” she states.
James says that the masterclasses were also inspired by her desire to, “Encourage people. To encourage young women and young people generally to do what they love and to work and to do legal work because where I grew up, people always turned to doing things illegally to be able to survive.”
James’ goal for the future is for her brand to become more international. She concludes, “I want to get to that stage where when they’re mentioning the list of women to have done really well internationally, women who have really made a name for themselves, I want to be one of those women in years to come.”

Saturday 1st June 2024 at 0730 WAT and 1100 WAT
Sunday 2nd June 2024 at 0330 WAT and 1800 WAT
Monday 3rd June 2024 at 0300 WAT
Saturday 8th June 2024 at 0730 WAT and 1100 WAT
Sunday 9th June 2024 at 0330 WAT and 1800 WAT
Monday 10th June 2024 at 0300 WAT

https://edition.cnn.com/specials/africa/african-voices-changemakers

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