By Dmitri Romanovski (Moldova)
‘Where there is love and inspiration, you can’t go wrong’, this quote, which belongs to the ‘Queen of Jazz’ Ella Fitzgerald perfectly reflects the life credo of Maureen Ayite, a young designer from France, who embodies her passion for traditional African style in modern fashion.
Hobby that became a business
Being of Beninese origin, her mind and soul imbibed the love for traditional colours, patterns and materials while she was growing up between her home in France, Benin and Côte d’Ivoire.
Without any training in fashion, she began to make her first accessories while she was studying linguistics at the university. What started as a hobby soon became a business.
“In 2008 I created a Facebook group called: ‘J’aime le pagne de chez moi’, where I published photos of clothes, bags and accessories that I made for myself. I did it for the pleasure of sharing my love for the wax and also the works of other designers I liked”, – says Ayite.
However, quite soon it became obvious that the rapidly growing number of her Facebook fans wish not only to admire Ayite’s accessories online, but also to buy them. This is when Ayite made a life-changing decision to postpone her internship and arrange her first private sale in Paris. It was a huge success with hundreds of customers attending the event. All her supplies where sold off that day.
‘This is when I understood the size of the market and of the demand for my products’, – says Ayite.
Ayite says NANAWAX products are primarily targeting costumers from African Diaspora in Europe and Americas who want to wear traditional African prints and at the same time be up to date with the latest fashion trends. Another market is the African continent, which, according to Ayite, grows rapidly in recent years and becomes more and more important.
‘I imagine that in the future my brand will develop into the chain of stores set up in Africa and around the world. Brands like Asos and Zara are my main sources of inspiration because they are exactly what I appreciate in terms of marketing strategy’, – says Ayite.
However, the main obstacle on the way towards this goal for NANAWAX is the same as at the first sale in Paris: the demand is much higher than the enterprise’s production capacities.
‘We have managed to multiply the production by 100 per cent in the last 14 months. With my team, we work all days of the week to make products but our production levels still come short to satisfying the demand, – says Ayite.
Ayite underlines the inestimable contribution that the African Diaspora in Europe and other parts of the world made to help NANAWAX to become a recognizable brand.
‘My Facebook page has been strongly supported by the people from Diaspora and they represent a very strong customer base. In other words, I feel that the Diaspora has been very supportive and has somehow empowered me. In addition to that many people from the Diaspora have been very helpful and for this I want to express my gratitude to all of them’, – says Ayite.
She believes that young Africans have a lot to offer globally and should take more advantage of their multiculturalism and open-mildness.
‘These qualities make a huge difference in learning and making career and they are the biggest advantages young Africans have on the global market. Young Africans are very talented, they are hungry for progress and most of the ones I have met want to prove to the world that Africa is an important part of this world and needs to be looked at in a special way’, – says Ayite.
She believes that her enterprise is a part of this process. By working with local tailors, hiring local sellers, and promoting African style NANAWAX participate in empowering African people. Ayite believes that the Diaspora’s possess a great potential to bring prosperity to the African Continent and its people.
‘African Diaspora overseas (not only in Europe, but also in other parts of the globe) represents a very diverse set of talents, experiences and wealth. Putting all those advantages together can empower people in Africa. This can be done by bringing a new prospective to locals as well as imprinting and strengthening foreign characteristics, culture and mindset that nurture development and progress. Finally it can be achieved by investing in local projects and using as well as transmitting skills of Diaspora activists to locals’, says Ayite.