Tejumola Maurice-Diya is the Principal and Founder of The Fashion Museum. The former model recently held the first edition of the ‘Bridging the Gap’ event, which she explained was an integral part of The Fashion Museum’s mission to activate a broader and timely conversation around contemporary fashion in an ever-changing world. In this interview with IFEOMA ONONYE, Maurice-Diya speaks on the event and issues associated with it
Tell us about yourself and the Bridging the Gap conference you held recently.
Essentially, what we are trying to capture is that we recognise that catching people at the grassroots level is important. So, the morning session for this event is specifically targeted towards students, and the underlined theme here is to help them identify who they are. It is time for the youth to embrace themselves as Nigerians and as Africans. Very often, some negative as- sociates could be ascribed as being Nigerian and for me, it is very important to help the students recognize that every single country in this world has their negative associations but it all depends on what you choose to focus on.
For me, it was important to change that narrative, to help students recognize that they need to focus on the bright side of things. They need to embrace being Nigerian and African. And they should be able to know that at the end of the day, their dreams are valid, and they have a place in the world. So, regardless of where they find themselves, they are to shine their light, and identify as proud Nigerians that are making waves and contributions to the country and world at large. So, that was the essence of this event, for the students.
Bridging the Gap” conference by The Fashioned Museum is a vibrant celebration of Africa’s rich fashion heritage, and a catalyst for fashion’s promising future. The immediate aim is to celebrate the ever-evolving world of fashion by bridging the gap between the younger generation and the older generation as well as between the Western World and the African continent. African culture is finally taking its rightful position on the global stage with the explosion of b r o a d e r music and culinary acceptance across the globe and I have little doubt that fashion is the next frontier for us to showcase. We are here for this.
In the afternoon of the event, we had the second part, which was specifically targeted at business owners in the fashion industry. These are people who are new to the fashion scene and are thinking of ways that they can scale up their businesses. They are looking for ways that they can strategically partner themselves and be ready for partnership with international brands. So, we had speakers that are coming from even a legal perspective; what are the things that you need to do make sure that you are actually ready for the future? How do you make sure that people do not steal your designs?
Part two of Bridging the Gap” conference is a call-to-action to connect, learn, and envision a brighter, more inclusive and sustainable fashion world. It featured a line up of seasoned speakers’ fashion insiders, including Design- er Ejiro Amos-Tafiri; Ex Beauty Queen and social media influencer, Powede Awujo; Founder Heritage Apparels, Abisade Adenubi; Ugo Monye and Emmy Kasbit, stressing on issues of Branding and sustainability Branding and Sustainability in the industry. It was a very well rounded event that helped people look at the holistic dynamics of running a successful fashion business.
The immersive experience United fashion enthusiasts, industry professionals, and aspiring fashionista, with the aim to bridging the gap between the rich history of African fashion and its promising future. There are different areas people need to make sure that they are fully covered and prepared for such partnerships. Globally, we are finally accepted, so much so that people are now talking about Jollof rice and Afrobeat; everywhere you go in the world, they recognize this and now it is the turn of fashion to hit the global market qnd we are highly creative. So, there is a place for us.
Can you tell us some of the things you have done before this?
I have dabbled into the fashion industry for over 12 years. I have modelled in the past, and I have worked the Mercies Fashion Incubator. I have also at some point started a children’s clothing line, and with all that experience, I am fully aware of the challenges business entrepreneurs have, and with all of that, I have also styled people, and I am fully aware of the challenges a lot of brands have, and there are certain reoccurring things that most designers complain about, in terms of scaling, in terms of the quality of their designs and terms of the finishing.
And so that was how this idea was birth that over. People need to get to a point where they can find solutions to their problems, so that we can get to a point where we can take our rightful place in terms of fashion to the world.
What informed the choice of the students you brought in? were they people who are fashion-inclined?
Actually, at the beginning of the session, we did a presentation that walked them through the history of Africa, and the history of African fashion. And by going through the history of Africa in general, we talked about culture, we talked about natural resources, food and the arts, so that the students could understand what Africa actually represents, and after that, we went to the African fashion aspect.
And what we essentially did was to help them to see that there is a rightful place for them to be able to see how to express themselves, through fashion and even through whatever it is that they do. The essence was to help them understand what their dreams could be made up of. It was targeted towards those who are -passionate about fashion in general but overall, that they can be successful in whatever they find themselves that they choose to do. At the end of the day, it was towards achieving those goals that are critical.
What was your experience working as a model?
I modelled over 12 years ago. I was born and raised in Chicago, Elenore. So, I went to the University of Elenore, Obama Champaign, and I studied Communications, and we had a panel of African students and every single time, we would run parties and themes and I would start modelling for them. That was literarily how my modelling, and as an opportunity for me to model, and I always took up modelling as well. So, the fashion Museum stems from the fact that I am actually a fashion historian.
One of the things I do is that I work people through the history of African fashion history, to see the difference between the history and the future. On social media, you would see that I would do a reel for example, talking about Shade Thomas-Fahm, for example, who is one of the first fashion designers in Nigeria, and she came up with the design of the Bubu, and I would put a picture of how Bubu was wore years ago and how we wear it today.
So, you can see the contrast in all. The reason why it is called the fashion museum is because it is a combination of the beautiful history of what we do in general and what it is that we have to offer as Africans. So, it is beyond now. It is a collection of the years past and even the future to come.
What informed the choice of the speakers you brought?
It is important that we talk to people, who are established and have successfully done this thing called fashion, and the speaker today, we had Lisa Folawiyo. She is somebody, who is highly recognised in terms of her designs. She uses African trends and she prides herself in that, and in the very collection, you see her Ankara, Adire, and different patterns and designs. Emmy Kasbit is known also for using Akwete in his astonishing designs, which he sources from that region of the country. The students were able to see designers that have successfully used the natural resources that we as Africans produce.
I thought it was a great idea and we have successfully done, and they can be able to inspire the students because the future is really theirs, in terms of making a global impact and doing it well, and establishing themselves as Nigerians using our natural resources, not having to import goods from other countries. Not that importing is bad but let’s start with what we have, then we can export our own goods, thereby positively impacting the economy of Nigeria.
Where did you draw your inspiration from?
This would sound cliché but my inspiration is the Holy Spirit because everything that has come to mind is eventually me partnering with the Holy Spirit, and him telling me what it is that I need to do and where the gap is that needs to be bridged.
Are you thinking of having your own Fashion brand?
I don’t know. Let’s see what God has in mind. I don’t know what the future says. If it is meant to be, then I would actually go for it. I am very passionate about about fashion. I would love to have a collection someday. Maybe, potentially partner with an international brand. I am open to international partnerships, if you would like to create designs.
What are the things you love for your personal style?
I love African textiles. I love to wear Asoke, Ankara, and Adire, and they are very comfortable and sustainable for me and that is what inspires me. Using our natural fashion to create fashion dresses. I am open to partnership.
Do you still model?
No, but I am open to partnership.