We’re here in the Marketplace, where we’re not only selling beautiful things which I hope you purchase and go home and relish, but also we have the opportunity to meet incredible artists, incredible talented people, such as my guest is Kibonen. She is a fashion designer from the Cameroons, and we’re going to be speaking with her in just a minute or two, but I just wanted to tell you a little bit about what we’ve been doing here. My name is Dr. Diana Baird N’Diaye and I’m the curator for the Crafts of African Fashion. It’s really the launch of an initiative looking at cultural sustainability. The theme of this entire festival this year is cultural heritage enterprise— those enterprises that help communities keep their cultural heritage vital and intact. Part of the thing is everybody’s gotta eat, right? The other thing is that there’s such incredible wealth within the communities, whether it be Armenia or Catalonia or throughout the African continent with the talents of craftspeople, and often we find that craftspeople throughout the world, not only in Africa, are people creating
beautiful things, things of immense beauty but sometimes in terrible conditions. So we want to see that change and so part of that is to encourage
collaborations between designers and artisans, and we want to give examples of models, programs, and designers who are doing just this. So I’m very, very excited to introduce Kibonen to you. Kibonen is a designer who has dressed Lupita, she has dressed Gayle King for the recent opening of the Oprah exhibition, and many, many other stars, but Kibonen, I’d love you to tell us a
little bit about yourself, how you got started with this incredible clothing that you make through these collections, and you’re wearing one of your own pieces right now. Thank you! Thank you so much, thank you so much. I’m just so incredibly I’m so incredibly honored to be here. It’s such a privilege for me. I want to thank the Smithsonian museum for giving me this opportunity, it’s amazing. I’ve been doing fashion and designing for ten years, and I never grew up loving to be a fashion designer or even thinking about becoming a fashion designer because where I come from in Cameroon, it’s really not a profession. So, you might enjoy clothing, enjoy wearing, but if it has to do with making it, you’re called a tailor. And back home, being a tailor is not for a certain class of people. It’s for people who are either unfortunate to go to regular school, or, you know, so I never develop that skill but I always used to design clothing for my friends’ weddings, bridesmaids, and all of that, and I loved it and I enjoyed it. So when I came to the United States, I was working in retail, and I got to understand there are designers, you know. There are people who actually have the kind of ideas that I have, but they’ve built a whole empire around it. So I started getting that interest. I was living in New York at the time, and New York is very—just so much goes on in New York, and you want to stand out, you want to maintain who you are. You don’t want to get swept off with everything that is going on. So when I went back home for vacation, I’ve—we’ve always had this traditional garment which the royalty wear, and I said to myself, I can do something more fashionable and maintain the aesthetics of it, which is really the embroidery. This embroidery, every woman in my hometown does it. They just sit by the street and they are doing that embroidery and all. So I said I could make something more modern and then give them to do the embroidery on it, and I did just that. So when I came back, at the time I was working on Saks at Fifth Avenue, so I wore one of my dresses to work, and this amazing woman walks up to me, and she’s like, “Your dress is so beautiful! Did you buy it from upstairs?” I’m like, upstairs? At Saks? That’s where you have everybody—the Chanels, the Burberrys. It really struck something in my spirit, and I was like, if she’s saying this, then this dress is worthy of being there! And she wanted me to make something for her, and I made it and I sold it to her. I just called my mom, I’m like, “You know the dress I made?” “This lady loves it, and she wants me to make it for her!” “Can you get that my cousin who did the other one to make it?” And my mom did just that, and since then the lady paid for it, and she paid really good money for it. I was really, really inspired, and another of my co-workers came to me, and they were like, “This dress is amazing!” “The colors, the stuff—” And I was like, “Oh, and the embroidery is done by hand by the women,” and they were like, “Oh my god! I want it.” So I noticed that within a short space of time I made maybe like six dresses for different people, and they paid. And I was like, now this dress— it’s really my culture, you know, and then I started saying, OK, let me take it to where I have a lot of Cameroonians so they can buy it. But then my experience said, no! Sell it to different people who would appreciate it and love it. So I started now reaching out to more people, and then I was on Facebook and I saw another lady who was in England who just graduated from fashion school doing something similar, but hers was more in styling. So I reached out to her. I’m like, you know what… I’m doing this thing I know absolutely nothing about: fashion. But since you are graduating from fashion school, let us partner so that I don’t need to go to fashion school too. I would handle the marketing and sales, and you can handle the design. She was like, “Awesome!” Within a few days or weeks, she was in New York from England, and we talked about it. We took pictures of maybe like 30 different styles that I had come up with, and it was awesome. So we started a brand. We put it out on Facebook, and everybody was so excited! Why? Because it had never been done. You know, we’ve always seen this, that in the traditional boubou which looks very, like, you know, ceremonial and stuff. And everybody loved it, and people were now buying it off of Facebook! We are making so many sales from Facebook! We were invited to places to showcase and all, and it was in magazines we did this— See? She was very creative and eccentric. She did all these eccentric photo shoots. We were in the New African Woman Magazine because they were like, this is what the new African woman should look like: traditional, but still modern. So that was the story of how we started. We kept going all over the place, and then eventually I developed a different aesthetic for the brand. I decided to start coming up with my own prints, from this, and putting them on luxurious fabrics like silk, satin, chiffon, and just making beautiful garments. However, I still have a production factory in Cameroon, where I hired about 50 people, 50 women, who do the embroidery and who also make the clothing. Now, what was interesting is one day I was in New York City, just wandering around. I had moved out of New York City because it became too much for me, and I moved to Maryland. So one day I just went back to New York City to buy fabric for one of my clients. And does anybody know the blog called Humans on New York? Of course. So Brandon, the amazing angel, found me in Times Square, and he pulled me to the side and said, “I think you have a story to share with me.” And I’m like, which story should I start sharing with you? And he was like, “Whichever one matters to you.” So we started talking, and he asked me all these amazing questions, and I gave him answers, and he was—he’s the most amazing person I ever met. When we finished, he said, “Do you know when I finish putting up your interview” “on my blog, you’re gonna blow up?” I’m like, me? Blow up? OK! So I told him everything I had been through. I told him how I really loved this thing I was doing, but I did not really have the skills for it because eventually I went to school, and I got a degree in fashion and design because I really wanted to know, because something keeps telling that me our culture, craft, it’s really going to help Africa come out of poverty. So I decided to learn more about it to see how we can exploit it in Cameroon or in Africa. So I went back to school. I got my degree in fashion. And I was always, like, so— I admired Lupita so much. I was like, if Lupita can do it, I can do it. So I started just coveting Lupita in my spirit. I was like, this girl, she must wear my dress. She must wear my dress. She must wear my dress. And when I was in school, when I was sketching my clothing to do my designs, it was Lupita’s face. So I would have her face at the back of it. My professors would tell me you cannot do this, and I would be like, I HAVE to. She means a lot to me. She inspires me and she gives me all this hope. So when I finished from school, Lupita sent—her stylist sent me an email, right? To send some dresses for her. I was—I was—I was like, for real? So I did not even go for my final presentation in school because I was making these dresses for Lupita, right? I was SO excited. And then guess what? I made all of these dresses. I did not even have the money, you know— a student, finishing school. I struggled. One of my very good friends who is a basketballer sent me some money. And I made this and I sent them to her, and she did not wear them. I was so depressed. I was like, OK, maybe I’m not as creative as I think. Maybe I’m just dreaming of something. That was one of the reasons why I left New York. I was like, I was really depressed. So when I got out of New York, I started finding myself. I was like, OK, no, this fashion is not for me. I started trying to find myself, and I realized that I just needed to grow myself spiritually, to have a grounding, you know, something which you believe in, something which gives you a safe place where you can do whatever from that place. So I came to Maryland and I started growing myself spiritually. Now—and I really gave up on fashion, technically. I was like, whatever, I don’t want to do this again. It’s too much trouble. But in this place of rest, in this place where I found peace, I was just busy, literally just studying the word, just growing spiritually, and behold! That was when Humans of New York met me! And when he put my story up, I had 100,000 new followers on Facebook. [cheers] I had $40,000 of sales in two days. My website kept crashing and crashing and crashing. I was so, like— And what was interesting was I gave him this story that I told you, you know my journey and everything, and a lot of people reached out to me. I had about 5,000 messages in my inbox, which I had to respond to, but, you know, for me it was important. Taking my culture, the zeal to make it well known, this zeal to create jobs back home, the zeal to do all of these things. And one thing I do not tell you was: the factory I opened up in Cameroon, I raised the money from GoFundMe. I raised over $100,000 from GoFundMe through the people who came to me from Humans of New York. So it was a life-transforming instance in my life. What I learned was you have to have something to work with which the Lord can blow up. You know I was very passionate about my culture, passionate about creating jobs, passionate about empowering lives, and the Lord was like, what a noble desire and he grew it out of proportion. And guess what? Lupita reached out to me again! [laughs] And she was like, “I want to have your dresses…” “this time for my movie premiere.” Do you know I sent her some dresses which she has seen on my website? She wore two of the dresses— one to the Ellen DeGeneres Show and the other to Good Morning America. Are you freaking kidding me? How awesome can this be? Later on, Gayle King saw the dress Lupita wore and requested for her own dresses. I sent her a couple of them, and Gayle wore one to the opening of the Black Panther movie premiere, and secondly to the opening of the Oprah Winfrey exhibition at the Smithsonian museum! Come on, somebody just tell me what you’re feeling right now. This is so inspiring! And guess what? The Buckingham Palace saw what I was doing, saw the lives I was empowering back home, and invited me to an exhibition at the Buckingham Palace. So my dresses were exhibited just like this at the Buckingham Palace, with the Queen, with Kate Middleton, with everybody! And I do not even have the chance to make it there, but my dress was there. And what happened after that? The Swarovski crystals reached out to me and they said they saw my dress, and they want to do a collaboration with me. I was like, Lord, who am I? For you to favor me so much? And I’m doing the collaboration right now and the Smithsonian museum reaches out to me and they want my dresses is exhibited here. Honestly, I don’t know what I did to deserve this, but the Lord is telling me something. You know, the Scriptures say, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God…” and all these things will be added to you, so everything you desire, the Lord will give it to you. You will not need to struggle They will come, and they will meet you So for me, I’m still empowering the women back home. I’m still fusing cultures because my entire concept is about fusing cultures. That is why you will see me do African fashion and Japanese fashion, for instance. You know, I will do African fashion and Chinese fashion, African fashion and Indonesian fashion. And you realize that all of these things come together. Now I’m looking forward to doing African fashion and Persian fashion. African fashion and authentic American fashion. What do we refer to as authentic American fashion? If you do research, you would know there are some things associated to being American. So I’m trying to put all of those things together. And that is what would help create more jobs where I’m coming from. That is what will help create jobs even here in America, create sustainability. I was even researching Peruvian fashion, and I realized they have so many details like we do. Australian fashion! When you come into the world of fashion, your mind goes broad. And don’t be afraid to venture because there is something which you’re gonna do which is gonna make that difference. And your light will shine whether you like it or not. Believe me, I’m not out there running after people, but they’re coming to me, and it’s such a blessing. Thank you so much, Diana, for giving me the opportunity to express myself. Thank you. Thank you so much. This is actually a gift to all of us. It is certainly a gift to the continent, as well as to folks who are looking to support traditions. or people who create things. So, wow! You’ve said so much already! Let me ask if anyone has any questions out there. Yes? Also as a child of immigrants— Also as a child of immigrants, when you tell your parents that you’re looking to do something in the arts, – No!
– They look at your like you must be out of your mind. – Yeah.
– So it’s the same thing with some of the actors from the Black Panther, – when they were talking about going…
– into movies, right. How did you reconcile this with your family, to pursue what you want to do? Because that’s an investment, in as far as going back to school, – and you’re kind of starting over.
– Right. Right. How do you do that? And how do you encourage other people who are really good in the arts who may not get that familial encouragement? I’m just going to make sure everyone here heard that. This is such a great question. Thank you. The question was, as the child of
immigrants, how did you convince your family to be OK with what you were doing, and what do you recommend to other people, basically? – This speaks to me.
– Yes, yes. I started out in design, but you can be a garbage collector, but you gotta get that degree in the other stuff too. – So, the same thing about you…
– Of course, of course. Thank you so much for that question. It is hope, because, like— honestly, when I was on my way coming here from New York on the day of the opening, I was literally crying in the bus, and I was crying because I was having a conversation with my mom. And my—and, and—you know— My dad—I spoke to my dad last week, and he asked me, “What do you do?” [laughs] It’s like, “No, so what do you do?” You know, it’s so painful, and I’m thinking of all the people who are recognizing what I’m doing, all the young people I’m empowering, encouraging. And my DAD is asking me what I do. It means he wants to hear that I’m still a banker or an accountant and all of that. It’s so painful. I’ve had my family members tell me I’m a failure straight to my face—you’re a failure, you’re a dreamer. You are not realistic. I’m serious. This is as far back as last week. I heard all of these things. And I’m like, are we that— not really owning up to what we really are? Do you know how painful it is for you to grow, live and die, without even knowing why you were created? You’re just doing something because other people are doing it or because you see these things happening . You know, I I decided that I was gonna be the best. Back home, even things like football, soccer, your dad will beat you on end because you went out to play soccer. You come back home, they will beat you, punish you. Does anybody know this soccer player from Cameroon called Samuel Eto’o? Samuel Eto’o made parents start paying money to send your kids to soccer school because he became the biggest soccer player in the world, the most paid soccer player in the world. And every time I look at Samuel Eto’o, I said I would make fashion that palatable to the people of Africa, because I started doing fashion with nothing. You go to my hometown right now— Please, everybody is a fashion designer, excuse me. Every young person is a fashion designer, and what they do, basically, with all the tools we have for sharing information, they would make a little dress, put it up on Facebook. People would love it. People would buy it. So they don’t need something extraordinary to start. When I go back home, I always have seminars. I bring together creative people, and I am now working on opening up a nonprofit foundation where I’m gonna be working with young—not only young people, because there are people who even in their old age— I mentor people older than me who are interested in fashion, who are interested in—who have the kind of creativity, but are not encouraged. So I know that my success is empowering parents. A lot of parents reach out to me. They want me to mentor their kids. They want me to do this and that. I was so— While I’m fighting with my parents over who am I, what I do, the general manager of Citibank in Cameroon reaches out to me to talk to his daughter, who he thinks is creative but does not have the courage to go into her creativity. She wants to do something more conventional. And I told her, don’t waste your time! She has a sewing machine at home. She’s already making stuff and wearing. What does that tell you? We should be bold! If the Lord has put something in your spirit, do it! It means that is the thing you would do effortlessly. It means that is the thing which you will not stress for. It means that is the thing which you would love. It would enhance you. It would draw you. You would love doing it. You would not need to go try to impress someone. Believe me, I was a banker. I worked at Standard Chartered Bank when I was in Cameroon, and I knew I was the —. But guess what? My boss at the time used to tell me, “I don’t know what you’re doing at the bank.” And I would get so upset, so frustrated. I’m like, oh, he just wants to fire me. But when I came to the United States, I went back home, I had cut my hair, and I went to visit him. And when he saw me, he was like, “What you do now?” I’m like, “I’m into fashion,” he’s like, “Thank God!” “Finally you found yourself!” Can you imagine? But if I stayed in Cameroon, right now I would have probably been a bank manager, because my friends who are in Cameroon are in that position. But I had to go out. So it is my responsibility to empower the young creative people. I’ve organized so many things back home. When I went back home, I was doing a fashion show, there were no models! So I was talking to young girls on the street, “Come! Let me do you this!” And they’re like, “No! My dad would say I’m a prostitute.” So I had to be on TV, radio, explaining what modeling was about so that these kids can come and just— I took responsibility over these children. Like, no, don’t worry. If anything happens to them, I will be held responsible. This is who I am. This is who I am and all. Today, I’ve seen these young girls whom I was counting on the street. They’ve won Miss Africa. [cheers] It is that empowerment that you give them, like— You can do this. Go out for it. I’m vouching for you. I’m rooting for you. Go out and do it. And I’ve seen a lot of fashion designers
come up, a lot of artists. There is that confidence that if she can do it and she is succeeding so much, I can do it, and parents, too, are comfortable. I’m not just there yet, but I’m about to be there, and sooner or later you’ll be able to find our products in the stores, Bloomingdale’s, Saks, the place I’ve always wanted it to be, and literally growing. So feeling it this way, coats are made back home by these local artisans, and they are sold on Fifth Avenue. Why not? It’s doable. I feel like that is the mandate which God has given me, and I’m ready to do everything in my might to make it work. [cheers, applause] That is so wonderful. Thank you again. For those of you who may not have been here from the beginning, we are interviewing Kibonen, incredible, wonderful fashion designer, inspiration to many, and really I think that you really showcase exactly the kinds of things that— the kind of spirit that is needed now to make sure that our traditions remain vital, our heritage remains vital, and that you encourage other people with that kind of creativity. I wanted to ask you one one more— well, there’s two more questions I want to ask. Interesting question that has come up: We did a program last Saturday called “Wearing Wakanda.” We were talking about the phenomenon, the movement that came about with the movie “Black Panther.” One of the things we understand is that “Black Panther” was the highest-grossing movie throughout Africa as well as in the African world, in the diaspora as well. And the clothing actually were— the clothing itself was a character in the movie. Right. – People wore their “Wakandan” best.
– Yep! Yep. [laughs, cheers] So, what I want to know is what do you think of the impact and the importance of that movie? Thank you so much for that question, Diana. I remember when I was in school, right, my inspirations were always like something from Africa and something. So I used to always say this: Africa is going to be the next mega-trend. I said this probably like four years ago: Africa is gonna be the next mega-trend. We started doing this thing so naively, right. A lot of people who were designers because— If I’ve done this for 10 years, you can tell me we were the pioneers in African fashion. So we were like—and a lot of people told us, like, Ehh, it’s soon going to be obsolete. You know, it’s soon going to go out of fashion. I’m like, you don’t even know us! This thing will go for as long as we choose
that it’s gonna be relevant. And every year it’s been going from one dimension to the other. Now, when you see— I mean “Black Panther” to me was like, all my dreams, my vision is coming to life, because “Black Panther” is what
we’ve been doing all this while. We’ve had young designers, coming
from nowhere, just putting their creativity—African prints, African aesthetics, African symbols ,and all of that. What Wakanda did was a turning point for African fashion, and I believe that African designers should take this and run with. They should take this and run with because it means the world is open for you! You know, a lot of my clients are from Sweden, Australia, South Korea. That is where I have the most of my customers. What does that mean, that these people are interested? This is not only for African fashion. It’s for African art as a whole, because the film itself is art. The clothing is art. Do you know African hair braiders don’t have no space no more? [laughs] I mean, I started braiding my hair after Wakanda. I have this air for ten years. I started braiding my hair for the past three months. I was like, I have to be in the Wakanda movement, and I go to the African braiding place. It’s packed! Everybody is braiding their hair. Chinese women are braiding their hair. It’s like everybody—Hispanic women are braiding their hair. Caucasians are braiding their hair. Are you kidding? We should take advantage of this. We cannot just be like— It is a major movement and it should trend on for a while. Let’s not let it go. I mean, one of my friends the other day was like, how can I do dreads on my hair? I’m like, what’s your issue doing dreads on your hair? Because she’s Caucasian, she’s like, no, this dread, she has to do it. So there is that movement. There is that fire. You remember, like— It’s like Japanese fashion, became so trendy at some points. Everybody had maybe a Mao collar or whatever. That’s what’s happening right now. Do you think Mao collar is going to ever go out of fashion? No! Because one way or another, people are going to find a way to incorporate it. It’s the same thing with African fashion. So what we have to do is take it to that next level. You know, there are some people who think wearing African fashion is disrespectful to the culture, but we’re getting to that place where we are translating it from being so folkloric. Burberry started from the traditional Scottish tartan, and it’s something which they wear traditionally. I have no business wearing the Scottish skirt, but Burberry has made it so — distinctly from that culture, to making it so — that everybody
wears it and wears it with pride and joy. That is what I’m about to do with the
toghu. That’s what it’s called, the toghu. I’m incorporating it in different prints, different— and that is a lot of African prints. The dashiki, for instance. You would find it on silk, you would find it on satin, you would find it on chiffon, which means it’s gone to the place where everybody can relate to it. So that is where— that is how I want African fashion designers to look at it. Go to your culture! Pick up that thing, and transfer it into the most trendy and the most exotic, the most— When I was doing my internship at Donna Karan, they took me from my portfolio. What did my portfolio have? All these traditional African inspirations. And I succeeded in putting it in different kinds of garments and structures and constructions, which celebrities wore. So that is the way we have to look at it. Let us all just limit ourselves to making it very traditional, but let’s take it—as far as your mind can think it, you can achieve it. Oh, thank you, thank you. You actually anticipated what I was going to ask you, because it’s interesting: one question that came up at every event we did— we did one on “Wearing Wakanda” at African Art with your friend Gattoni, who’s also a fashion designer and educator here. We also did some film series at the National Museum of African American History and Culture. The thing that came up both times is what about appropriation? – So you anticipated what we were going to talk about.
– Exactly! So thank you for that question. I get very—I’m a global citizen. I’m a global citizen, and I make clothes to be worn by the global citizen. A lot of times, you know— when Gwen Stefani did an entire collection with African prints, believe me, Africans were so pissed off, like, oh, because it’s Gwen Stefani, now everybody— but, you know, you cannot let that deter you. You have to take it as a platform to go higher. You cannot let— People would say appropriation, appropriation, but these people have the budgets to market it so that the world sees it. Not everybody would be able to afford what she made, but when you make it, you can sell it to the everyday person. And Gwen Stefani might sell 500 pieces, then you can sell 30 pieces. That will make a difference. So for me, I always look at it like, let us not condemn it, but let’s take advantage of it. Let us take advantage of it. A lot of designers— Believe you me, maybe today we are seeing it because of social media and all, but designers like Dries Van Noten from Belgium have been using African inspiration from Day One. From Day One. It’s entire collections are like— you would see real art, you would see –, you would see a lot of African inspirations. Today is just more out there because of social media, and you can see what they are doing, but it’s always been— Yves Saint Laurent has always used African inspirations. Even the whole panther, the leopard skin prints, has always been inspired by the continent. So it’s always been there, but let us not take it like something to our disadvantage. It is to our advantage, and if you’re looking at it like, you should not wear Burberry because it’s also the British culture, right? But they do it and give it out to us and everybody is excited. It’s classy, it’s a status, and we wear it. So why don’t we also want to see other people take our culture and take it to that level? So the whole thing— I mean, I’ve had arguments about appropriation, but we realize that we also wear Western clothing, and nobody is talking to us about appropriating that culture. So culture is inspiration. It gives inspiration to different types of people. Because you’re Caucasian does not mean you cannot be inspired by my tradition, so use it, and— this is really a personal thing, and some
people might get offended— but you don’t have to apologize for being inspired by something. I really think so, you don’t have to apologize for it. Inspirations come from experiences. If I take my Caucasian friend to Cameroon, and she sees something that makes sense to her, and she wants to develop it, why not? I’m here living in America, and I’m taking advantage of the things around here, so I believe we should use appropriation to our advantage. Let us take it also unapologetically, and use it and run with it! When I’m doing my inspiration board, you see Gwen Stefani’s dress on there! I’m inspired by the way she interpreted it. So let us not—you know, let us really own it, and let us take it to the next level. – Thank you.
– Great answer. Thank you, thank you so much. Wow. We have time for a few more questions. You have a question? – Congratulations! I love it! Love everything you said.
– Thank you. – Is she gonna say what’s the GoFundMe site? Oh, right. My GoFundMe! I actually closed it already because I was raising funds for that particular project, which is already ongoing. And believe you me, I grew up to where I am. I’ve done about four GoFundMes. When I want to do a project and I don’t have the money, I’m like, GoFundMe! And I go do it, and it works! When I won the competition to showcase at New York Fashion Week, I did not have the money. I did GoFundMe, I raised money, and I had my collections up there. I was invited to do Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in South Africa. I did not have the money. I did GoFundMe. So honestly, there is no excuse. I will tell you this: there is no excuse why you are not excelling and making money from your art or from your craft. No excuse whatsoever. There are so many ways you can raise money, like I said: You can make something, put it on Facebook, for money! Somebody would buy it. You can go to GoFundMe if you do not have the funding. Your story would speak to somebody, and they would support you. So there is no room for lazing around or whatever. These things work. You just need to decide that you want to do it, and your passion is what’s gonna keep you through. Has it been easy? No! I’ve gotten evicted from about two apartments. All of my stuff put into storage. Am I gonna sit there and be crying like, oh I was evicted, or whatever? No! But I take it as another step to this thing that has to come out of me. Have I been been unfaithful to certain clients because maybe they paid for a product, and one thing or the other happened, and I could not supply it? Yes! Am I proud about it? No. Am I owning it? Yes, because it is the steps. They’re the steps that should make you learn, you grow, but you cannot be ashamed of what you go through because it’s unpleasant. Have people called me out on Facebook and been like, “I paid for this dress and you’ve not delivered it”? Yes! Do I explain to them to make up? Yes, I do. I’m not gonna block them or shut them down. No, because it is part of the journey. But today, am i proud to say that an investor who has been seeing me struggle all this while on social media, reached out to me and said, “I want to put money into your business.” “How much do you need?” And I said I really don’t know how much I need, but I have a partner who can explain everything about the business of fashion to you. Should I give you her number? Yes. Within one month, this person was flying to Germany to meet the person that explained about fashion. Has my journey been painful? Of course. Have I cried time and time over and promised never to do this again, this is the last time? Of course I have. But the next day I still find myself loving it, doing it, really pleased about the impact it is having on people’s lives. So thank you for asking about the GoFundMe. Now I’m at a place where maybe I don’t need to do a GoFundMe anymore because my resilience, my persistence, my creativity convinced somebody to invest in me. So, that is the process. – And do not be apologetic about it.
– Thank you. Thank you so much. Wow! This is incredible. We have time for just a few more questions and answers. I did want to ask you about the challenges that you see facing some of the artisans who work? What do you see in terms of the continent, in terms of the cultural heritage aspect, keeping the crafts going? What are the major challenges? And any ideas you have for other designers who want to work in collaboration. Thank you so much, Diana, for that question. You know, when I started doing this embroidery, back home you could do an entire throw, like what she has, although that’s beautiful! You could do an entire throw like that, have it heavily embroidered. Sometimes it takes them maybe three weeks to a month to do all of that embroidery. I mean imagine this, intricate all over, and they would sell it for peanuts. They would not even sell it for that much of a price, and I’m like, you’ve been sitting on this thing for one month, and then you’re selling it for maybe like a few dollars? Like maybe $100 or something? And I’m like, no, I need to add value. I need to make these women see that what they are doing is worth so much. I’m telling you, this woman will be carrying her baby, and she’s doing this embroidery, and it was very seasonal, so when we have traditional celebrations back home, that’s when a lot of people order it. Believe you me, I’ve seen women build houses back home from doing this, because when I took on it, I made it international. So they saw a value added to it. A lot of Africans now, like Cameroonians, in the diaspora, this is what they wear to identify themselves. You would see groups, like groups of people from a particular village or a particular—celebrating here in America. And everybody in there has this kind of outfit, which means—back home, believe me, when I go back even, and I try to work with these women, their prices have quadrupled! I don’t feel—I feel awesome, because I’m like, finally! We’ve understood what we are doing. We understood the value of our time. And the market is there. But one thing which I had to— For the women whom I worked with, I had to instill in them a sense of value. You know, when I went back home, it’s nothing that I boast of because I’m part of the Fair Trade *Federation, where you need to pay your workers a certain amount of money. You need to treat your workers in a specific way, so when you walk into my factory, you have to wear a lab coat, a white coat over what you have. You have to change your shoes and wear Crocs. And I tell them, “You are a scientist. You’re an architect.” That is what I instilled in them so they come in with that confidence. They understand what they are doing in that place. They are on time. You must go on your lunch break. We must have bathrooms within the facility where you go to change and all of that. So I instilled a sense of value in them, and they have taken this— Even those who no longer work with me, they’ve taken it to where they are. I brought people from the United States to help train them, just to show that what you’re doing is not just craft. It is much more. So I’ve done a lot to up the value. When you go back home right now, you see so many people doing this traditional embroidery, so many people. And it warms my heart. Some people will be like, oh, they are copying you. I’m like, no, they a’re not copying me. You will copy me when you really take the one that I specifically did, and redid it and redo it, but they’re not copying me. It is our culture. Let’s take it as far as we can and make our continent relevant, make our country relevant, and make our art relevant. [applause] – What part of Cameroon are you from?
– From Bamenda. It’s the northwest region of Cameroon. Yes. [conversation with visitor] So, yes, yours is the last question. My question is, now that you have grown the business—congratulations! Where can all of us who are here listening to you today obtain these fashion? On your Facebook page? Because we want to walk around and wear it too. Wonderful closing question! Thank you so much. So right now I sell the Lupita dress, so that’s the Lupita dress—unofficial! Because she has not endorsed that, but I just cannot call it anything else but the Lupita dress! So the Lupita dress is on promotion right now on my website. My website is KibonenNY.com. NY, New York, because New York inspired me to become who I am today. So the name of my brand is Kibonen New York. On Facebook, Kibonen NY, on Instagram, @kibonen.ny, and then my website is KibonenNY.com. So right now, the Lupita dress in so many different colors, in green, in black, in blue, in yellow, orange, peach. It’s right there on the website. So if you go on that website, you’ll be able to have the dress. And because we ship international, we ship all over. – Thank you.
– Thank you so much. [applause, cheering] Kibonen, from Kibonen New York, from Cameroon, the U.S. Incredible fashion. – Thank you so much.
– Incredible support of tradition. Thank you!