Global Empowerment Award, Toronto 2018

“I am very honoured to accept the “Global Empowerment Award” for my work in the African regions and all around the world. Thank you to the people who believe in me and my work. I would have not come that far without your continues support and love”

For the ones who like to read:)

“Your Excellences, Distinguished guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is a great honour for me to be with you all today for this years African Fashion week 2018 in Toronto. It is the first time I have visited Canada and I could not have imagined a more fitting introduction to this beautiful country than attending this event. The last two days have been enchanting, inspiring and fun. I have met incredible people in a welcoming and colourful environment. Thank you all for welcoming me with so much love and open arms. I really appreciate it.

To move on, I have thought about my speech for a long time and how I, as a person relate to fashion. I came up with what I will now call ‘the four pillars of fashion’ that speak to me the most which I will go into shortly.

I am not a fashion expert, nor do I have my own clothes line –YET. For now, I am a true admirer and enjoyer of fashion and for what it stands for. What it stands for and what I have witnessed over the last days are things like entrepreneurial spirit, innovation, community and a way to express ones inner-most feelings. The stories an item of clothing could tell and the myriad of reactions it can elicit from friends, family or total strangers is one of the greatest powers of fashion – that being, it can influence a persons mood, behaviour or opinion – truly powerful stuff!

I am sure there are many more pillars we could add to the four pillars that I will shortly be discussing. However, let me use these four as a starter for 10.

Pillar 1:) Fashion unites and creates long lasting memories.

It is a tool that enables a cross cultural discussion that goes beyond politics. With fashions ability to cut through political issues and government agendas it enables genuine dialogue, relationships, and ultimately, memories. There is nothing more important in my mind than a memory. You can take a memory everywhere, for the rest of your life. They can be private and contribute to your introspection and personal development, or they can turn into stories to share with family and friends.

In this way it is similar to one of my favourite other things, food. I remember well my times as a UN Peacekeeper in Kosovo at the young age of 18.

I was the only women of my draft from Luxembourg and it was the first time I had been sent away from my family for an extended period of time. The memories and experiences I collected from this deployment form the foundations of who I am today. I have met amazing men and women from different cultures, backgrounds and countries.

Of course topics such as conflict and the experiences I faced as a peacekeeper are difficult to be united while talking about fashion.

Yet, I remember well the multiple discussions I had with my fellow Norwegian and Belgium female officers about fashion and what we would wear the moment we got back home. The male officers may have thought that they were silly conversations when they overheard us, however, it was a discussion that gave us hope, reminded us of our family and friends and helped us to distance ourselves for a little while from the reality of conflict.

Fashion is not only what you wear right now at this exact moment and then you forget about it and move on to something else tomorrow. It is the memory, the feeling, the emotions it triggers when wearing it. I am sure, if I would ask you all to write down your most favourite memory and after I would ask you what was it like that day? How was the weather, what were you wearing…that you will be able to recall the exact details within a heartbeat. That is the beauty of fashion. It unites and creates long lasting memories.

Pillar 2:) Fashion as a tool of empowerment and self expression

When discussing fashion as a tool of empowerment, one name springs to my mind immediately. My wonderful and very skilled friend Adebayo Jones. At the age of only 12, he created his very own t-shirts out of newspapers, taped and glued together. When I heard his story, it was clear to me that fashion inspires no matter where you are in the world or from what background you hail from. It brings hope which is in my opinion one of the most empowering and strengthening emotions one can feel and resource him or herself from.

Fashion also empowers by championing diversity. Diversity is our greatest gift. Our individual upbringings, visions, experiences and memories create the unique styles we can all admire here at the African Fashion week. Not one creation is the same, such are we human beings. We differ as does the fashion industry in a variety of ways such as in

colour, shapes, and sizes. Of course courage and boldness are two distinguished features which should not be forgotten when talking about great fashion creations and human personalities. These features, five among many are part of us and live within ourselves. We draw it out from our deepest inner self for other people around us to admire, enjoy and compliment. It is the personification of one true personality which fashion brings to light.

Fashion for me is at the start of a dialogue between your inner self and the outside world. A testimony to the beauty of nature, natures fabrics and colours.

Pillar 3) Fashion does not discriminate- it tells stories of victory, human rights, growth, joy, culture, opportunity and community.

There are many controversies and tensions in today’s political, social and economic environments. Fashion has the most incredible ability to transcend these.

Fashion does not care if you are black, white or Asian…boy, girl, straight or gay. Fashion is for everyone. We also need to be careful not to take it for granted. Every day we wake up and we put on our clothes and go to work. Every time we put on clothes we are expressing ourselves and contributing to an industry that does more then just clothes oneself. It brings opportunity, it empowerment and unites communities and tribes under one cultural dress code. A real powerhouse of change and joy that we are all celebrating here tonight.

Pillar 4: ) Is a bit more critical and a reminder to all here and everyone outside these rooms, let it be government officials, students, people from all over the world and the global media. We have all come far and I congratulate the everlasting efforts of many- our pioneers that made this success a reality today. Yet African Fashion is in my opinion not yet celebrated globally as it rightfully deserves.

In my very humble opinion, African fashion is struggling to get the global recognition it deserves, despite events like this which are most definitely a step in the right direction.

For example, significant raw material is produced and cultivated in Africa, however, the textiles are still not produced there. A lot of African fabrics are imported by China who processes these raw African materials into the fabrics the designers need.

This makes it difficult for the local designer to harvest locally resources materials. The government needs to reinforce trade barriers to enable a growth for local materials and markets. Let us try, together, to get this point heard by the people that need to hear it so that an aspiring African designer does not have to compete with Chinese demand.

I am with you.

Moreover, we have seen many photographers and much media presence here over the last couple of days and tonight. However, African fashion fundamentally lacks international coverage that it truly deserves and it is often outshined by powerful more established brands. Let us together do our best to ensure that the African fashion industry gets the coverage and acknowledgement that it deserves.

I am with you.

Education is critical to enabling what I have just discussed. Africa has terrific universities. For example, east Africa is known for its great universities and yet, they often do not offer a fashion related curriculum to enable young people to study fashion. This needs to change.

I am with you.

Partnerships such as with my organisation Professors without borders have enabled some regions to add diversity to their educational curriculum already. Maybe fashion theory and application is something for me to look into a bit more if the demand is there. Again, having governmental support to introduce new curriculums is needed to ensure a long term growth and sustainability.

I am with you.

One last observation I have is that often when I visit places in Africa such as Sierra Leone, Ghana, Uganda etc there is a shift from traditional dressing to western dressing. I hope that this shift will not dominate in a few decades time, as I truly believe that African fashion is one of the most beautiful cultural and traditional attires. It is definitely, in my opinion, part of the African culture and heritage, which should be cherished and supported at home as well as abroad.

Despite these burdens and observations all of you wonderful, inspiring, talented fashion designers we are all supporting this week by enjoying their enchanting creations, you have come along way and this years African Fashion Week is an inspiring example of this successful story. I see a bright, colourful, diverse, fun and engaging future for African fashion and know in a few years time it will almost be impossible to imagine it not being a part of the big fashion trends of the years to come.

Thank you very much for giving me the opportunity to speak,

Thank you very much for the award I have received tonight which brings me great joy and provides me with unforgettable memories, and thanks to all here in the room and in the conference centre—

The fashion designers, their teams, hairdressers, makeup artists, media, security, catering and guests for making this years African fashion week the best so far. I salute you all and wish you a good rest of the evening.” (Tessy Antony, Princess de Luxembourg)