We are currently living in an era where appearance seems to have more power than any other thing – people are investing more resources and energy into being seen to be something. This is why The African Odyssey was a breath of fresh air for me, it was a date with an insight into winning as a woman in Africa that I will not forget anytime soon.
Carol Bouwer, founder and Executive Producer of the African Odyssey is an understated powerhouse who is on to something with this platform – and what I experienced in this one day Fashion and Beauty Business Empowerment Summit is what I feel to be the early stage of a different kind of movement led by some of the most influential women in Africa. As Carol addressed us and interacted with us throughout the day clad in a white full length tunic from David Tlale’s Azania collection, she radiated purpose and kindness. She kind of reminded me of Oprah. She exudes light, and the kind of grace that is ready to let everyone else in the room shine just as bright.
It’s 2018, and we’re all pretty conferenced out and tired of hearing the same old “work hard and pay your dues” advice as a secret to success. Women have evolved; we have detailed questions now, we are hungry for tools that will move us forward, and the panels of the day were so open and authentic in sharing their wisdom.
From Nomzamo Mbatha opening up about being bullied as a child for always wanting to speak out against inequality, to Ashraf Garda charging us to become champions as people so that our nations can also become champions – the day was juicy to say the least. The intimate setup also ensured that everyone – speaker or not – got a chance to be seen and heard. There were countless moments that will stick with me forever, and at the top of that list is getting inside June Ambrose’s head. I first discovered The African Odyssey last year via her Instagram page, as she was the keynote speaker at the maiden edition. Having the opportunity to experience her in the flesh was incredibly surreal, mainly because of how human and genuine she is. If you have spent time in fashion, you will know how colourful some of the personalities in the industry can be – but June Ambrose is simply a good vibe.
I listened attentively during her panel dissecting the African luxury space and loved her definition of luxury as a value that we create for ourselves from within. In her words, “We are the garment, we are the thread, we are the silk. Think about yourself as a luxury item because you are irreplaceable”. This was echoed by a woman closer to home who is owning the luxury experience space, Vika Shipalana.
I first met Vika at Lagos Fashion Week, but I’d been following her on Instagram for a while – I liked this woman who had a taste for the finer things in life but was never excessive or braggadocious about it. Her contributions on the day echoed who I have known her to be – a woman who speaks and lives her truthfully. When asked about where the real opportunities are in setting up a luxury fashion business in Africa during the Q & A, it was refreshing to hear her advise the lady in the audience,
“There is a sweet spot where the real opportunity lies, which is the space between luxury and high street and that needs to be exploited”.
Meaningful exchanges were the order of the day – even as we shared a yummy lunch prepared by South Africa’s leading caterer Vicky Crease. I got into conversation with Lancome’s Regional Trainer David Sharp about whether or not I am Lupita Nyongo’s shade (if you’re a dark skinned black girl, I’m sure you can relate to the fact that foundation recommendation conversations can get a little sticky sometimes). We were ultimately able to have a good laugh about it, and he took some gorgeous pictures of me later too!
From CEOs of travel companies, advertising and banking execs, to an opera singer, and even the women at the helm of Boschendal, one of South Africa’s oldest wine brands – I was in a nest with my tribe. This became even clearer when we returned in the evening for the cocktail party, where we let our hair down and did the electric slide. However, the real magic of the night went back to Carol Bouwer and her commitment to donate all proceeds of the day to UNICEF. What’s not to love? We were inspired, we were empowered, we were fed, the bubbly flowed endlessly, we networked – but we also gave back and paid it all forward.
Odyssey is the perfect way to summarize this movement, and I can’t wait to lure Carol and her team to bring this movement to West Africa!