Friday, 16 July 2010

Interview with Mr Mahogany by Style House...

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Sola Oyebade – Mahogany International


Tell us about your vision for Mahogany International?

Since inception, the vision of Mahogany has always been to promote everything for people of colour and attempting to fill the gaps within our community or to enable us to compete with or be on par with mainstream fashion. For example, we have been doing the Mahogany Bridal Show for over 14 years which has been the only African Caribbean bridal show for most of that time, it was set up because there was no bridal show that specifically catered to the African Caribbean bride and groom. The same also applied to our Top Model of Colour competition which we set up because models of colour were being marginalised by mainstream fashion and not only was it hard to get models of colour into mainstream fashions shows and adverts, it was also impossible for them to win any mainstream competitions. Our vision is to put black models and creative people on par with mainstream, to increase their representation and begin to create our own supermodels within Africa.

What are your views on the emerging African fashion industry?

I am extremely excited about what is going on within the African fashion industry and by African fashion industry I mean both within Africa and also Africans in the Diaspora. The industry is actively expressing itself and showing and being very proud of our strong heritage. Africans are no longer being afraid to be Africans and have very much gone back to their roots, using African fabrics and designs that show off the curves of the African woman. Our shows are more ethnic orientated and are expressive of whom we are. I have worked in the UK and around the world for many years, most of my shows have been Eurocentric but with the emergence of a move to everything African, we have started producing more shows in Africa and moving the majority of our business there.

What contributions does Mahogany hope to make to its progress?

Mahogany is not only about producing shows and events but also about trying to induce change  within the fashion industry and we have been trying to do this via our Black BUT Invisible campaign. Within the campaign we have had two major successes, one of which was making the all black Italian Vogue issue the most successful selling vogue ever and via this achievement, it brought the issues of black models to the worlds attention. Following on from this, we then took on the British Fashion Council and their failure to use enough black models on the runway at London Fashion week and since including them in our campaign, significant changes have been made.

We will work anywhere in the world but we currently give priority to shows and events within Africa. We are also about educating and we have been giving and doing workshops and seminars around Africa to educate models about what they must do to improves themselves, produce better shows, be able to tap into mainstream and increase their commercial viability across the world.

How can fashion inclined people get involved in Mahogany International?

In the first instance, they can contact us letting us know that they would like to work with us, seek our advice or for us to act as consultants for them. We also take on volunteers that want to get hands on experience of working within the fashion industry.

What will you consider as your greatest achievement till date?

The greatest achievement to date is making the  Italian Vogue all black issue the biggest selling vogue ever.It was reprinted twice and both times sold out across the world. Following the press contacting me to find out my opinions on what they expected to be the worst selling Vogue issue ever because it featured all black models, I felt I had no choice but to do something about this because if it had indeed become the worst selling Vogue ever, people would now have statistics to prove that black does not sell and we could not afford to let this happen. We initiated a campaign via our Black BUT Invisible campaign and got the entire world involved and made history. At the same time, it brought about change and the question and issue of the lack of black models within the fashion industry – this is an achievement that would be remembered forever and has been talked about across the world on the likes of Sky News, BBC, ITV, The Guardian, Evening standard and 100’s of other newspapers, magazines, blogs etc

Share with us some challenges you have had to overcome on the way.

When I started within the industry there were not many black people involved and everyone believed that western culture was the best. There were limited people that one could turn to for support or to collaborate with. It was initially a uphill struggle getting started and having the conviction to continue through adversity, this was made worse by the fact that was and there is a company that is open about supporting black and pushing and fighting for black issues. This has meant that we have been branded as being racist and sometimes have struggled for mainstream to accept us and work with us. We believe that in the end it has all been worth it because we feel we have led the way and cleared the path for others to more easily succeed.

On the business side of things, what words of wisdom do you live by?

Be professional, treat everyone with respect and get your costings right. Do not let adversity, hurdles or difficulty stop you from achieving what you wish to achieve. If something knocks you down get back up brush yourself down and start over. If the mind can perceive it you can achieve it.

How do you balance a fully packed schedule with your personal commitments?

When people ask me this I normally say, I sleep when I die.” I work extremely hard on a multiple of projects at the same time across the world and it seems like I never have time to rest but I do and my primary form of release is going to watch my beloved Arsenal play at the Emirates as a season ticket holder, I am there as often as I can. It is important to get the work play balance right and I strive to do this as often as I can.

If you weren’t doing fashion and beauty, what would you be doing?

I was and would have been a Chief Executive of a big charity or government organisation as I love giving something back.

What should we expect from Mahogany in the near future?

We feel that our journey as only just started and there is a lot more to come and to achieve. Our Top Model of Colour franchise is now in 6 countries (Holland, UK, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Ghana and the Gambia) and a number of additional companies will be coming online next year. Mahogany will continue to expand across Africa producing more fashion and reality TV shows as well as spending a good part of our time educating creatives within the fashion industry. We will continue with our aim to work and put the fashion industry in Africa on the world map.