Clarissa Abban is young, driven, very passionate about Africa and is one of the many very Ladybrille women redefining the image of Africans in the West. Her barely one year old production company, Inspiration Africa, will on September 15th, 2007, in Washington D.C., launch its first major production, RUNWAY AFRICA–a show focused on highlighting Africa’s emerging and talented designers to USA consumers and the fashion industry. Between producing her first show, obtaining her graduate degree and recently getting engaged to be married, this very busy “Africhic” woman carved out a moment to speak with LADYBRILLE.com about her production company, love for Africa and the upcoming RUNWAY AFRICA event.
Clarissa Abban[CLARISSA]: [Smiles] Hello!
LADYBRILLE.com: Hey Miss Clarissa.
CLARISSA:How are you?
LADYBRILLE.com: I am [g]ood. I am excited to be interviewing you and want to know all about RUNWAY AFRICA!
LADYBRILLE.com:Before we get into it, tell [us] briefly about you.
CLARISSA: Well, I’m a 22 year old [g]raduate student that’s VERY passionate about Africa and seeing the continent prosper.
LADYBRILLE.com:You’ve got to be kidding me! Only 22?
CLARISSA: Yes [laughs]. I seem to get that a lot.
LADYBRILLE.com:I don’t think when I was 22 I had this much done! [W]hat’s your [h]eritage?CLARISSA: Well, I [am] Ghanaian-American. I had the opportunity to spend some time in Ghana. And that’s when I fell in love [w]ith the continent. My parents are Fanti from Western Ghana. My mom’s from Elmina and my dad’s from Sekondi. I was born and raised in the [Washington] DC Metro Area.
LADYBRILLE.com:[I] love DC.
LADYBRILLE.com: [Y]ou say you are VERY passionate about Africa. Why?
CLARISSA: Because, I know that so much stems from Africa. The people are very talented, resourceful and creative. I love the sights, smells, tastes, everything! I believe that there is so much that we can do for ourselves with the right tools and push and that’s when Inspiration Africa, the company that created RUNWAY AFRICA, came to fruition for me. I feel like with push, encouragement and exposure of these artistic expressions, people will begin to see the continent for what it really is…and love it too.
LADYBRILLE.com: Great! Before we explore that a bit more, what [kind] of graduate degree are you [working] on?
CLARISSA: I graduated with a bachelor’s in Global Economy & Management. Right now, I’m working on an MBA.
LADYBRILLE.com: Where are you obtaining this degree? George Washington?CLARISSA: No, Mary Washington University.
LADYBRILLE.com: Global Economy & Management is [a] long way from fashion. How did we get into having a fashion production company and producing a fashion show–all at 22?
CLARISSA: Fashion has been in my life for a while. My mother is a cosmetologist. When we moved to Ghana, she worked for Dark & Lovely, Carsons Ghana. She did a lot of hair and makeup for International African Fashion and Pageant shows. Needless to say that’s where it all started.
LADYBRILLE.com: Did you accompany your mother to some of these pageant shows?
CLARISSA: Yea, best believe I was working back stage. [I] inspired most of the hair and makeup styles she used. [I]’d often fly through magazines and pick out what was hot.
LADYBRILLE.com:[smiling] It paid off! [L]et’s get into your production company and then your current project RUNWAY AFRICA. [By the way], is your mother hired on to help with makeup?
CLARISSA: [laughs] No. She lives in Ghana but she will be here for the show’s debut. Who knows, she might return the favors and help out backstage [laughs].
LADYBRILLE.com: [laughs] [I]nspiration Africa, the production company, how did that come about?
CLARISSA: It came about in my efforts to showcase, promote and expose the world to Africa’s artistic expressions, through fashion, music and visual arts.
LADYBRILLE.com: What efforts [were] you involved [in the past] to showcase Africa?CLARISSA: This is my first major effort. Until now, I participated in collegiate activities through our African Student Association.
LADYBRILLE.com: So, Inspiration Africa is about a year old?
LADYBRILLE.com: What [are] the goals of your production company?
CLARISSA: Well our mission is to expose African talent in fashion, music and visual arts. Our first production is in our fashion arm, RUNWAY AFRICA.
RUNWAY AFRICA, the Fashion Show
LADYBRILLE.com: “RUNWAY AFRICA,” How did you [choose] the name?
CLARISSA: I wanted something that described what we were doing in a self explanatory yet glamorous way. Then it came to me…RUNWAY AFRICA!! I think I did a good job, people seem to love it.
LADYBRILLE.com:[smiles] Confident woman! I like the name a lot! It’s [catchy]. Now, what is the big deal about Runway Africa and why should we, especially African women, care about it?
CLARISSA: Well the big deal is, it’s a production that’s showcasing Africa’s very cosmopolitan, unique and glamorous side through fashion.
LADYBRILLE.com: What does that [really] mean?
CLARISSA: It’s something people haven’t really seen before. We call it Africhic–African fashion with a modern edge. What’s also special is that we are doing this on a large scale.
The designers showcasing this year [have debuted their collection] in South Africa, New York and London Fashion Weeks. [Some have also been featured] in Elle, GQ, Fader and Essence magazines, to name a few. RUNWAY AFRICA brings Africhic under one roof.
Is RUNWAY AFRICA Another Over Hyped African Event?
LADYBRILLE.com: Many a production companies within the USA and Europe have promised to showcase Africa in a way never seen before, especially, on a large scale. The end result has been disgruntled customers and a bad name for Africans and the way they do business. How is RUNWAY AFRICA different and able to fulfill its promise? Isn’t that a big promise?
CLARISSA: Well I can’t speak for other production companies. The only thing I can really do is put my all into making this production a success. I think if you have integrity in your dealings with people then you don’t have to worry about gaining a bad [reputation] for Africans and the way you do business. RUNWAY AFRICA is all about showcasing African Fashion now. I mean the [current] state of our fashion.
It’s a sweet escape where the cream of the crop in emerging African inspired designers come together in one place to show the world what African inspired fashion is all about. It’s different. I believe the international fashion industry is ready for it. We are all ready to see something diferent and Africa has all the right colors, patterns and creations.
LADYBRILLE.com: Very exciting!
CLARISSA: Yea, I am excited too! We are bringing in 5 well established emerging African inspired designers to the French embassy on September 15th, .
RUNWAY AFRICA Designers
LADYBRILLE.com:Let’s talk about those designers. For our readers who do not know them, do the [i]ntroduction and how did you go about choosing them for your debut?
CLARISSA: Well we hand picked 5 designers we thought were making headway in the industry. We were looking for designers who understood the chemistry of color, pattern and style yet not afraid to create bold and audacious looks. We were looking for uniqueness and most importantly, designers with websites! (laughs)
LADYBRILLE.com: Yes, uniqueness and designers with websites are critical.
CLARISSA: [Well] because consumers, after seeing what they [h]ave to offer, would want to go back and purchase.
LADYBRILLE.com: Why don’t you tell us briefly about each designer.
CLARISSA: First we have Sika. She’s an international favorite! Since we debuted her in our newsletter, we have had overwhelming responses from people all over. My 40 year old aunt in Ghana asked if I could get her just ONE Sika outfit. I said I’d try [laughs]. Sika is from Ghana. Our second designer is Bezemymailan. They are a Paris based duo. One is Vietnamese-French and the other is Russian-Togolese. Their lines are inspired by both Africa and Asia. It’s very unique and sort of has this avant garde appeal.I love it!
Our third designer is Blokes n’ Divas. The line is based in Nigeria and Milan. They are very over the top as well but in a very feminine and glamorous way–think African glamour meets 1920s glam. Harriet’s Alter Ego is a line based in New York City. She is a New York Fashion Week’s favorite. She is inspired by her Nigerian roots. RUBY is from South Africa. She creates African inspired swim wear and lingerie. Her line is incredibly sexy! She’s been in ELLE, GQ, America’s Next Top Model. She’s hella on fire! Now the Yellow collection is a bit unique. It is sort of like the RUNWAY AFRICA signature line where we have each featuring designer design and donate one yellow signature piece into the yellow collection.
These signature pieces will be auctioned off for our annual beneficiary, which this year is Keep a Child Alive. I can’t wait for the world to see what the designers have created, I don’t even know yet. It’s a surprise!
LADYBRILLE.com: Whoa! That is so cool and tres fabulous!
CLARISSA: [laughs] thanks!
LADYBRILLE.com: It can be tough to find buyers who want to order and media interested in covering Africa focused event. How has fashion media responded and is RUNWAY AFRICA able to bring buyers that will order these outfits for their stores? By the way, I like that you are keeping [e-commerce] in mind with the [website selection criteria].
CLARISSA: Well as I’ve told people time and again, RUNWAY AFRICA hopes to change that. We have made it our goal to have buyers and media come out and support. So far we’ve made really good headway among the press. I think after a few RUNWAY AFRICA’s we will begin to see the results that we are working hard for.
LADYBRILLE.com: It sounds like a really upscale event and I am happy with the Sept. 15th date because it allows buyers/media to leave NY Fashion Week and head for your event.
LADYBRILLE.com: Let’s switch gears to the mini events you have been having. What’s the idea behind that?
CLARISSA: Well being that this is the first ever Runway Africa, we decided to create smaller events where our audience and fans can come out to see hear and interact with the people behind the scenes, the models and also learn more about RUNWAY AFRICA.
The next event is called Indulge and it’s on August 18th, . It’s a pamper party sponsored by Warm Spirit. Hope to see everyone there!
LADYBRILLE.com: Actually I feel like the mini-fashion events really make it feel like a fashion week. I know San Francisco Fashion Week, Gen Art and other producers of major fashion events have this series of events [before the shows]– great that you incorporate it into your theme.
CLARISSA: Yeah, it’s necessary. People need to interact on a smaller scale. That way they feel a part other than that they just get lost in the audience, and we like to know who our audience is.
Face of RUNWAY AFRICA & Its Sponsors
LADYBRILLE.com: So, I see you have Miss Ghana [Angela Asare] as the Face of RUNWAY AFRICA. How much begging did you have to do for that? [laughs]
CLARISSA: [laughs] Fortunately not too much! I met her, told her about what we were doing and she instantly wanted to be a part of it. She’s a very sweet person, no joke.
LADYBRILLE.com: She is. I met her last year in Ghana and she came up to me and was soooooo nice!CLARISSA: Yeah. She’s extremely nice. I couldn’t believe it after speaking with her. She just talks to you like she’s known you forever. That’s what drew me to her and wanted her to be a part of the show. She’s beautiful inside and out, and I believe she embodies what an elegant African model is, exemplary of what the Face of the RUNWAY AFRICA title represents.
LADYBRILLE.com: Let’s wrap up with the shoot concept [for promoting RUNWAY AFRICA] and the sponsors. I see that you now have the South Africa Embassy as a sponsor [the French Embassy is also one of RUNWAY AFRICA’s sponsors]. Tell us about your sponsors and securing them. What [s]hould our readers who want to sponsor the event [d]o?
CLARISSA: Well the shoot concept came from a picture I drew when I was 15. The picture I drew symbolized the head wraps of tradition—head-ties are a very traditional in Africa. Then the jeans to me spelled out modern, contemporary, youth and new age. It defines Africhic.
LADYBRILLE.com: Okay. I have to stop you. Shouldn’t you have been talking about boys, music and parties. What are you doing preparing for the future 7years in advance??? [laughs]
CLARISSA: [laughs] Like I say still waters run deep. I am quiet and this is what I do in my quiet time. [laughs again]
LADYBRILLE.com: [The waters run ] really deep indeed [laughs]. Okay back to your explanation.
CLARISSA: Well like anything, if people believe in something they’ll want to support it. I’ve just been blessed in that people/organizations hear about what we are doing and they want to be a part of it and that includes our sponsors Amarula Cream [a South African liquor drink made from the African Marula fruit], Warm Spirit–shout out to Nadine Thompson for being such an inspirational entrepreneur and woman, Fiji water, and especially the South African embassy. They believed in the show from the very beginning. Special thanks to Cecil!
LADYBRILLE.com: [G]lad to hear that. For [our] Ladybrille readers that want to help, what is [y]our volunteer contact [i]nfo., [y]our sponsorship contact and is it too late for more Africhic designers with a website to be a part of it?
CLARISSA: We’ve chosen our designers for 2007. But we’ve started looking for 2008’s showcasing designers. I encourage any emerging designer with a website! [she laughs] to contact me directly email@example.com. Volunteers may contact Cathy Barnes firstname.lastname@example.org and sponsors may contact us at email@example.com.