7 February 2013

Tanzania: Doreen Noni - Tanzania's New Face of Modern Fashion World

ONE of the popular television entertainment brand names is arguably, Epic Bongo Star Search which is held annually and beamed by Independent Television.Last year, the show which attracted millions of viewers, witnessed contestants appearing on stage dressed to kill. One of the young and upcoming fashion designers who dressed the contestants is none other than, Doreen Estazia Kang'wa Peter Noni.

"Working with Bongo Star Search has given me an opportunity to showcase some of my designs," says the multi talented designer, Ms Noni who was born 24 years ago in Dar es Salaam.Noni, who is born of an economist cum businessman father, a household name in the banking industry, Peter Noni, currently working with Tanzania Investment Bank and a businesswoman mother, has also designed clothes for an ongoing television episode airing on local television stations, Siri ya Mtungi.

"I come from a conservative family of five with two supportive elder brothers, a loving sister in law and two adorable nieces. My mother is from Machame, Moshi, and father from Bupandagila in Mwanza," she said.She spent much of her time in the Kenyan capital of Nairobi where she attended boarding school while her summer breaks were often spent abroad traveling, and experiencing other people's way of living is one of her hobbies. "But during Christmas holidays, I often joined my family in Mwanza, Moshi or at national parks within the country," Noni pointed out.

From Brookhouse Academy where she did A-level studies till 2007, Noni joined Nottingham Trent University in United Kingdom where she graduated in 2010 with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in Multimedia with specialization in Animations & 3D Visualization. "I worked in London for a few months on a film internship programme up until February 2011, when I decided to return home and start up my own business," she said. In 2008, Noni officially started her fashion brand label, Eskado Bird with a Kitenge fabric dress that caught the attention of the local fashion community. "This was the spark that ignited the passion inside.

I never did go to fashion school, however I have always been a creative individual. I did study art during high school, took on the subject till my A levels," pointed Noni. Her fashion design ambition was further boosted when in 2010, she volunteered as to be a dresser during the 2010 Swahili Fashion Week. Working backstage as helping some of the country's fashion moguls, the multitalented Noni came into direct contact with the real fashion world.

"That experience really motivated me, it was then that I finally made up my mind and said I would start in 2011," she narrated. Explaining the origin of the name, Eskado Bird, Doreen said, "My inspiration to create the label came from my mother, Jacqueline aka Rafiki, who set up a boutique in 1991, then known as Eskado boutique naming it after me, her last born and only daughter Estazia(ES) Kang'wa(KA) Doreen(DO)."

Doreen spent a good part of her time playing assistant shop keeper and stylist from the age of three at her mom's boutique which led to her falling in love with clothes. The second part of her brand label, Bird, Doreen explained is from her father's surname, Noni. "The link between a bird's connection to the sky and my big dreams felt most appropriate to describe my determination to succeed," she noted. But the true essence of her fashion label stretches beyond mere clothing as she believes in sending constructive messages that will bring positive impacts to the world.

Through fashion, Doreen collaborates with authors, poets and music producers to complement her collections so as to speak about issues so dear to many people's hearts. Narrating her involvement with Siri ya Mtungi, Doreen said, "In March 2012, I was appointed wardrobe mistress for a series titled, 'Siri Ya Mtungi,' which is a television series by Media For Development International (MFDI), an organization which seeks to promote development through communication by providing socially conscious programming."

As wardrobe mistress, Doreen carefully assumed the role of defining the overall 'look' of the series based on the directors' vision which was guided by written script, visual aids and long conversations to understand the past, present and future of each character. "Our department's role was to provide the audience with information about the period, culture and society the actors inhabit, and therefore try and duplicate the silhouettes the directors are trying to achieve," she noted.

The Siri ya Mtungi project is the first ever big role of managing large-scale costume budgets and going out to markets to source out clothing for each character which she admits was not an easy task. "Ensuring accurate organization of continuity on set, I learnt to be super attentive even while we continue to shoot, because you never know what the actor may unconsciously do once the director yells action.

"I learnt to always be behind the screen or nearby making sure all the garments appear as they should. It was definitely a learning experience for me. I had underestimated how demanding such a role could become. I definitely have more respect for the art department now!" Doreen narrated Among high profile personalities wearing Eskado Bird fashion label include; international supermodels Flaviana Matata, Vanessa Mdee and Millen Magese ; African Diaspora 'Face Of Africa' Awards in New York participant, Abby Plaatjes; Kenyan international supermodel and television personality, Diana Opoti and many others.

Local celebrities who have had the chance to don her label include Salama Jabir, Master J and Rita Paulsen just but to mention a few. As a result of hard work Noni has been rewarded. "During Swahili Fashion week, I was honoured to go home with two awards; the upcoming designer of the year as well as for having the most impressive exhibition stand. I was very honoured, I received tons of e-mails from young people telling me they are proud of me and they love my work and I encourage them.

"It really has been a blessing even though I feel I have not done much. I do thank God, every other day. It motivates me to know that my actions are inspiring others. I have not won any other award; however, have no fear the future looks 'promising', my journey has only just begun," she said. Although she seems to have reached 'sky limit' in her fashion designing success, Doreen is still ambitious to ride even higher. "Working on various productions has made me aware of the unavailability of certain services in our growing industry.

As a result, I aspire to expand Miracle Films & Studios to own a massive wardrobe department with a wide variety of clothes and props, offering a freelance costume and styling supervisory service to film and television production companies in Africa," she said. Internationally, Eskado Bird has showcased at the SA Fashion Week in Johannesburg, South Africa last April with Jamila Vera Swai & Evelyne Rugemalira of Eve's Collections.

Tanzania International Fashion Expose (TIFEX) founded by Ms Millen Happiness Magese which Doreen collaborated with during the South African Fashion Week, aims at exposing local creativity to the world. "Millen Magese has decided to expose Tanzanian designers and models to the international world of fashion, whilst simultaneously getting on with her modelling career," Doreen pointed out.

Doreen's international credentials also include being selected as a Global Shapers Community delegation in Davos, Switzerland hosted by the World Economic Forum last year where she represented Eskado Bird. The Global Shapers Community is about young leaders working together to have a positive impact on the world.

In her path to success, Doreen has encountered many challenges, and, asked about them she had this to say, "Coming back home from London, where the work environment is fast and everyone is often true to their word, I expected a similar working environment. Yes, I was a little naive at first. Young and ambitious! That was me. "As a result I was often frustrated because I kept on coming across unreliable lazy people who would lie to you and not be ashamed of what's to happen later.

There was always an excuse for not getting the job done correctly, if it even got done at all. It was frustrating at first however I still managed to make it work, regardless and that has been my greatest success. Being consistent and maintaining my positive attitude whilst still delivering great results," she said.

Besides fashion, Noni owns a multimedia company called Miracle Films & Studios Limited and works as a freelance producer and often wardrobe mistress. "I am the founder of Amini Foundation. A foundation committed to celebrate and advance the academic, creative, and leadership abilities and potential of gifted and talented students. Shaping and impacting our society through education in the arts regardless of their financial circumstances, she added.

Commenting on the state of fashion in the country she said there is so much room for improvement. "I like the fact that so many new ambitious talents are on the rise, the competition is necessary. I think designers here are yet to push their creative boundaries, we often worry about what our society may think of us or our work and as a result we limit our creative potential.

"We need to pay meticulous attention to the quality of our products. It is unfortunate that we 'Tanzanians' find substandard products acceptable. I've seen far too many pinned, torn, incomplete garments walk down our runways. You would never see this in Lagos, or Addis. If our fellow Africans have refused to settle, why should we accept such qualities? We need to raise the bars and maintain international standards," she said.

Asked to give advice to budding designers, Doreen said that it is important to embrace modern thoughts and practice but not neglect our social values. "Never Let Your Mind Hold Fear is my favorite phrase. It has challenged me to be courageous and do things outside my comfort zone. If one is truly passionate about something, then go for it!Feel the fear and do it anyway! You never know what opportunities may present themselves. Do your homework on the industry, think about your product/service and how or why it will be unique from others in the market. Is it the design? The quality? How it is presented? Etc. Find a role model you aspire to be like, discover their story, get inspired and start writing your own story.

Remain focused, continue doing what you love and surround yourself with positive people. "A lot of young folks want publicity. However the world will know Eskado Bird for the "right" reasons. I remember when Yvonne Chaka Chaka was awarded the Crystal award during Davos. She was sitting a little to my right and one row ahead of me. I said to myself, I will be up on that stage too, a few years from now. Let's just say I have big realistic dreams. They will know Eskado Bird for all the right reasons, she concluded.

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