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MEET CAMEROONIAN DESIGNER: SARAH DIVINE-GARBA

Born in Cameroon and based in Switzerland, Sarah Divine- Garba of Maison d’Afie, reveals more about her fashion label and the challenges faced by many designers.

 ELLE: Who is Sarah Divine?

I am a mom, wife, sister, daughter and friend. I took up fashion design in 2009 but my academic background is in accounting and finance.  ELLE: What inspired your fashion career? Growing up in Douala, Cameroon, in the 80s, my mother was a dressmaker and owned a design business called Afie of Douala. She was (and still is) extremely talented but I always felt she needed more exposure. I remember one day sitting in my parents’ backyard sometime around sunset and praying to manage my mom when I grow up. I must have been nine-years-old and I think that was my inspiration. I wasn’t encouraged to follow that path, but a career crisis in 2009 left me asking what would really fulfil me professionally and I naturally gravitated towards fashion design. ELLE: How do your African roots influence your brand? I spend at least four months of the year at home in Cameroon developing my collections with my mother and the team. I like texture and colour evident in my work. There is so much inspiration to be drawn from Cameroon not mentioning the African continent. So far I have experimented with raffia and embroidery, which are typical design signatures of the Western provinces of Cameroon. I have eight other provinces and several tribes to explore.  ELLE: Tell us about your new collection, Muto, and what inspired it? Muto is a Douala word for woman, and I believe this was an index of my state of mind while designing the collection. I wanted something mature and elegant and used a subdued yet refined colour palette as my starting point, I then added coral and soft pink to it. We ended with straightforward pieces with high necklines, which epitomise the mood of the 60s, and cinched waistlines allowing a trail of femininity to run through the collection. Storytelling is an intrinsic part of who I am and Muto is a woven tale of a woman’s insecurities, resilience and courage. We used silk and silk blend, and most of the garments are in dupion silk, and a few are in silk sateen.

 ELLE: What are some of the challenges that you have faced as a woman in the industry? 

Like most emerging African designers the key challenge has been getting exposure for my work. Although we have some fashion incubators in Africa, it is not always easy to get noticed. A lot of these incubators require that you have some kind of press coverage from relevant publications and the publications tend to focus on the talents emerging from fashion weeks. Less exposure means a lack of readily available capital/credit, and fashion is an expensive business. Making it in this industry is no mean coup and unfortunately it is viewed by most investors as an innately risky one. So the more prominence a brand can create, the better chances it stands at getting credit to finance its activities and effectively compete for market share in a very saturated industry. ELLE: In what way would you like to inspire women with your clothing? I want every woman who wears a Maison d’Afie garment to ooze confidence not because the pieces are ostentatious or conspicuous, but because of the power of their simplicity. In the same manner I would like for the artisans who have so passionately crafted these clothes to feel rewarded from the exposure they get for their craft and motivated to do more and for the rest. I would like our story to inspire them to be the best they can be.  ELLE: What does the future look like for Maison d’Afie?   We are working on getting distributors and we plan on including a couple of other categories to the brand. So watch this space and see how the story unfolds… To shop the collection, visit www.maisondafie.com Visit Maison d'Afie at www.maisondafie.com Facebook: Maison d'Afie Photo credits: Saso Domijan www.sasodomijan.com
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