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Empris Blackdotah Aiah ~ Telling HerStory through Fashion

We caught up with Empris Blackdotah Aiah, the sista behind  Storytellers of a Fashionkynd – a brand, a boutique, a concept with designers, crafters and stylists of authentic Afrocentric fashion. Not only do they sell garments but offer make-up, image consulting and styling, all rooted  in Afrocentrism. Its Roots by Culture. She recently launched her retail shop in Maboneng, will be hosting a Girl Night In, where there will be a make-up workshop. The sista is on a roll but still managed to take some time out for a little chat with Mzansi Reggae.

Eh it go so…

MzansiReggae (MR)
Please explain the concept behind the name ‘Storytellers of a Fashionkynd’, How did it come about?

EmprIs Blackdotah Aiah
After I left fashion school at the beginning of my third and final year at LISOF I went back home to where I am originally from in Botswana to “find myself”. I always knew that I wanted to run a business but I didn’t necessarily know where to begin. Firstly, as a designer and artist I wanted to be different and unique to ensure a long lasting presence so it occurred to me that the only way I can accomplish this vision of being an established fashion designer and entrepreneur simultaneously was to stay true to myself and stay original to what I love and to my passions.

I am passionate about Afrika: its arts and culture. I am also Rasta daughter and that is where my originality lies; within my faith in Rastafari. At the same time my love for the arts is general and is not restricted to fashion. So, the name and concept of Storytellers of Fashionkynd is a combination of all these influences and personal interests. It was inspired by the phrase “The cradle of Humankind” often used in reference to Afrika. I realised that in essence I had a story to tell about what I love (fashion) and what I had learnt from being a Rasta (Pan-Africanist). Another thing is I own more than just a shop and I am more than just a designer, I am a brand and wanted a name that would convey that to the people.

MR
Who do your designs appeal to?

EmprIs Blackdotah Aiah
People who are similar to me and identify with the stories I tell through fashion. These are people who love art and colour and are free-spirited. I’d like to believe that my shop is very colourful and vibrant just like my clients. My clients are also people who love Afrocentric fashion and who understand that Afrikans are a royal people and seek clothing that can help them express this, because in essence that is what we offer as a brand.

MR
What are you influenced by?

EmprIs Blackdotah Aiah
Honestly, I am influenced by anything lovely, positive and beautiful. A lot of people get the misconception that when you are a Ras, you have to tie yourself down for some odd reason but for me I believe being a Ras is having a spirit that is free. So, primarily I am influenced by what Rastafari has taught me; freedom of self

MR
As the founder and director, what challenges are you facing in business?

EmprIs Blackdotah Aiah
My greatest challenge is staying on track with the people (market) and the industry as a whole, especially because I am trying not to be a follower b  ut a trendsetter. So, we live in a society where western fashion and culture is more appreciated than Afrocentric culture. The international fashion industry is trying to turn Afrocentric fashion into a fad, when it’s our identity. So for me, as an Afrocentric artist, my challenge has been trying to stay rooted and trendy without selling out.

storytellers make up

MR
What is your take on the local fashion scene?

EmprIs Blackdotah Aiah
I love the local fashion scene in Mzansi. We’ve really got it as SA designers. There is a lot of talent in the industry and I love it because for each of us, it gives us more drive to be more creative and innovative. The spirit of competition was never meant to be negative I believe it was meant to bring abundance because when you feel that you have competition it makes you to want to make more to prove to yourself that with each garment.

MR
…and the reggae/dancehall (fashion) scene?

EmprIs Blackdotah Aiah
With regards to the reggae/dancehall scene all I got to say is Rasta’s or reggae lovers got mad style! They always dress to kill! Especially the empresses and sisters, when it comes to fashion, they never disappoint.

MR
You are unique in that you have not distanced yourself from the culture; You own it and take pride in it, unlike others who feel that to be ‘successful’ in (any) industry, they need to shed some of the Reggae/Rasta influences. You on the other hand you enter/tackle the industry exactly as you are. How do you ground yourself?

EmprIs Blackdotah Aiah
As I’ve said before, staying rooted and grounded is my greatest challenge especially in an industry such fashion where everything is disposable. I honestly stay true through prayer. That is how Aiah gets through every task, with the power of prayer/meditation. I always ask the most high for guidance in all I do and he is the one who leads my way. Another thing is for me being Rasta is not a front as it is for other people. Most people embrace the [Rastafari] image without the adequate knowledge and wisdom about the faith and culture. I give thanks that I am blessed enough to understand myself as a being and blessed enough to know why I am Rasta today. I honestly don’t see myself being anyone else. I have been called to trod this journey by my spirit and not by my friends or by a boyfriend: I am not a follower I am a leader and as a leader you have to maintain a positive spirit and energy; nobody from the industry can dictate to me because I lead, I do not follow. They’ve tried it before but they have failed because my love of reggae and rasta culture and tradition in embedded in my DNA. It not something that just rubs off or sheds away; it’s deep within my blood, and my bones.

I also have an extremely supportive family who have accepted my choice to live as a Rasta daughter; they have my back and also confidence in my vision. With such it’s very hard to “fall” all I can keep doing is rising. Compared to what is promoted in the fashion world my brand is totally rolling off on a completely different tangent. Because I refuse to conform to what the industry demands I am constantly faced with instances of sabotage but these do not shake me

MR
Owning a store at the Maboneng Precinct is a quite an achievement, how long have you been operating from there and where were you located before?

EmprIs Blackdotah Aiah
I have been retailing in Maboneng since October 2013 however I had avoided launching myself until I felt I was completely ready and comfortable to reveal the store officially with a launch. But prior my move to Maboneng I was based in my mother’s cottage at our home in Kyalami estates (Midrand). I had set up my studio there and that is where I manufactured all my works and would go sell at the fox street market with Urban Zulu. And also established my website before the physical store so most of my retailing and displaying was based online on www.storytellersoffashionkynd.com

 

hoodie p 3 hoodie p story tellers hoodie ponchos story teller

MR
Please tell us about your recent launch?

EmprIs Blackdotah Aiah
The launch of Storytellers of Fashionkynd: Roots by Culture was epic. The good turn-out was humbling. It was a great success especially because it was hosted independently with no financial assistance from sponsors and yet we were able to deliver a show of a professional standard. We had Passionate models, Great music and overwhelming support from the rasta community.

MR
Tell us about the empress behind the concept, where she comes from and where she is going

EmprIs Blackdotah Aiah
EmprIs Blackdotah Aiah (Gorata Dimbungu) is a very complex being. I can’t tell much about myself except that I know that I have a lot of love to give. My birth name is Gorata which simply means “to-love” and that name sums up who I am. And I believe it shows through the brand Storytellers of Fashionkynd. I am originally from Botswana that and I have been in South Africa for 6 years (since 2009). I spent 3 of those years studying first at Monash University then I went on to study fashion at LISOF. I started my business back home in Botswana shortly after leaving fashion school in April 2012 but it was under the name Roots by Culture and the slogan was Storytellers of Fashionkynd. I decided to relocate back to SA because the fashion industry in my country is still in its early developmental stages and it was slowing me down when I came back I swopped the name and slogan because the term “Roots” was too common. My vision for Storytellers is for it to be the Afrocentric/ African version of Chanel, Armani and Valentino. We represent African royalty.

MR
You are also a poet, between ‘Blackdotah the poet’ and ‘Blackdotah the fashionista’ which is more important to/dominant in you?

EmprIs Blackdotah Aiah
I cannot put the fashionista before the poet neither can I put the poet before the fashionista. They’re both equally the same. The poet created the fashionista and the fashionista lives like a poet; they correlate.But practically however, the poet is taking a break to find her ground. We have a lot of poets in the scene and poetry is not easily appreciated and accepted by unlike other forms of spoken arts. So, I am still going to pursue poetry, but only once I have found my own personal identity and charisma as a poet.

MRblackdotah
Who would you like to work with or style?

EmprIs Blackdotah Aiah
Camagwini

MR
What is your favourite colour?

EmprIs Blackdotah Aiah
Purple. It’s a royal colour and it’s also the colour of my tribe (Levi).

MR
What’s your favourite proverb?

EmprIs Blackdotah Aiah
“Do unto others as you would like them to do unto you”.

MR
What are your last words to our reader?

EmprIs Blackdotah Aiah
Love is the ultimate. Love of self, of one another and of nature. All that makes us and breaks us is love. Love is a very powerful tool that needs to be respected in the manner of which we display or not display it.

Bless.

Check out Storytellers of a FashionKynd Facebook page for updates.

Details for the Queen Nights In here.

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