You may have seen celebrity creatives sporting those uber vintage, crazy sexy cool t-shirts or sweaters with stunning photos of African family portraits or known African proverbs in Paris, New York or Accra and paused… perhaps even,wondered who was behind the name, the brand, the hype,… Afrikanista. Well, no need to look any further, her name is Aïssé N’Diaye and she is a French-Mauritanian powerfully creative and inspiring woman entrepreneur whose primary source of inspiration is much closer to home than one might guess.
Afrikanista, as Aïssé shares in the just released first episode of the French audio series, the AYA Talks, is largely an ode to African and perhaps largely speaking, Black motherhood, womanhood as well as iconography. Why look so far outside of ourselves when we are the sum of many experiences that have enriched the tapestry of our contemporary lives? Strangely yet perhaps expectedly so, the ten incredibly gifted creative artisans interviewed for the series all, at one point or another in the conversation, made deliberate references to the women who have populated their lives, dreams, aspirations. They have ardently acknowledged the significant role their grandmothers, mothers, aunts, sisters, have played in shaping their identities as Black women specifically in the context of racial antagonism that characterises the self-proclaimed land of equality and righteousness in Europe. Aïssé’ s mother is the legitimate foundation that her daughter wants to inscribe in the pantheon of ordinary she-roes that we are yet to publicly celebrate.
Quite frankly, Aïssé is not about living a life rooted in hypocrisy. Her discourse and the work she produces confront the very notion that women should continue to be silenced and Black women even more so. Her brand of feminism can be considered as “pluri-sectional” in the sense that the intersections are so nuanced that there may be none or too many to really speak of or to. What do we make of African-French, Muslim women who contribute daily to the uplifting of a nation that denies their legitimacy? And as she passionately reckons, is there really a way for Black women not to be feminists? In listening to her, one realises that our mere existence in this world is an act of defiance. Yet, she continues, resisting can be (and perhaps ought to be) emanating from a place of love and care, not solely from a place of anguish and frustration.
For Aïssé, it starts with accepting the plurality of selves, the simplest yet most elusive privilege that we ultimately share with the rest of humanity. It is also emulated by the proliferation of safe spaces where women can talk, share, be heard, vent, problematise, craft solutions over and over again.
What does taking care of ourselves look like for a stylist, content creator and brand specialist based in Paris but aiming at returning to the continent? One, listening to what our Mamas have always said about these natural yet nurturing “tools” we can use to care for our bodies externally and internally – vetiver infusions, shea butter hydration, thiouraye-infused* cocoons, abundant reading, contemporary art exploring and music. Yup Erykah Badu used to get it right (she still does… calm down… her Universe is rightly as parallel as should be). When you enter the website of Afrikanista for instance, you spend a good minute shaking your head (or body) to the enticing beats that constitute the doorstep of the site. Two, creating unapologetically yet not profusely. Doing the necessary research to produce collections that are meaningful not just hype. And when you dive into the histories of our peoples and become an ardent Egyptology buff like Aïssé, you lift your head and begin smiling, knowingly. What better self-care routine than to become knowledgeable and self-assertive?
“You cannot enslave a mind that knows itself. That values itself. That understands itself.” Wangari Maathai
Three, you seek out to deliver invaluable content in ways that remain accessible and consistent with the ways that patriarchy, sexism and racism work… subliminally. You can make strong even harsh political statements in the way you dress, in what and how you consume fashion, in who you surround yourself with, look up to, partner with. Aissé is intentional, and her ability to deliberately choose what makes sense to her and hers is a powerful form of accountability that very few women are afforded in France and in the West today.
Creativity is circular, we gather. Obsessional. Addictive. Absolutely Necessary. Yet it is not about quantity, it is about timing. Queen Aïssé has resolutely taken her time and despite the very real challenges that any entrepreneur can face particularly in societies that are not grasping what entrepreneurship is (!), she has withstood time, building a brand that is emerging as one of the most compelling and savvy in the francophone landscape and beyond. And just like she does, we can only but envision its growth in exponential ways from now on: an expanded women and men’s wear collection, a label, a collective movement, a sustainable model of women-led socio-economic leadership in the West and on the continent. Best believe that our world will (continue to) be shaped by this breed of women. Just be.ready.
“Be your own sugar daddy”. Grace Jones once said.
- On vetiver as both a medicinal and beauty ally, listen to the RFI podcast (in French) http://www.rfi.fr/fr/emission/20180405-madagascar-vertues-insoupconnees-vetiver or read more about vetiver essential oil (in English) https://www.newdirectionsaromatics.com/blog/products/all-about-vetiver-oil.html
- Thiouraye or tchouraï (pronounced “chore-eye”) is a blend of grass, wood, flowers, resin, and oils used as incense by women in Senegal, Mauritania and Gambia to cleanse and perfume their home.
- On the contribution of Dr. Cheikh Anta Diop in the fields of advanced research in Egyptology, History and Anthropology, read the following article https://chimurengachronic.co.za/what-african-writers-can-learn-from-cheikh-anta-diop/