Designer, model, events organizer, Cameroonian-born Diana Tambe has a big passion for African fashion. She became one of the best known black models in Holland a couple of years ago. Still in her twenties, she is the CEO of Blackpearl Secret, a design company based in Amsterdam, Holland.
She describes herself as a “business tycoon” and “celebrity stylist” and recently created the African Fashion Week Amsterdam (AFWA). Like similar African themed fashion shows in London and New York, the event will bring together fashion designers, models and stakeholders in the African fashion industry in Africa and the diaspora. The first AFWA will take place later this year (date unspecified). She has already managed to get assurances from some big fashion names in Paris and New York ,who have promised to attend the AFWA.
Despite all this, Diana still manages to find time to go to school. She is a student at the London Metropolitan University.
She has been talking to Francis Ngwa Niba.
Q. Why did you decide to start an African fashion week in Amsterdam?
A. I did because there was a need to celebrate the culture, arts and fashion of Africa in Amsterdam. This is something that we did not have before now. Africa is the second largest and most populous continent on earth so it is good to celebrate anything African.
Holland is quite a small country but its population is fast growing and so is the African community. So, We decided to begin the African Fashion Week in Amsterdam (AFWA). We are not only looking at the current but also into the future African population in Holland. The occasion is targeting both Africans and Africans-inspired in Holland and the diaspora.
Q. How big is your target audience?
A. For now, I can’t give you a precise figure about the number of Africans in Holland but there are many. So, AFWA will have a large base. Our ultimate aim is to educate and develop the African fashion platform to a worldwide audience. We will be showcasing clothing, accessories and everything that has to do with African culture. AFWA is a luxury event that will include runway shows, exhibitions, and industry networking events with the sole purpose of cultural exchange and raising awareness about the existence of the African/ African American fashion and entertainment professionals.
Q. There is also an African Fashion Week in London and New York , which I know about. Are you working in collaboration with any of them?
A. I have connections with African fashion weeks in London and New York. I have met the organizer of AFW London twice.
Q. Who are some of the big name designers who will be attending the Amsterdam fashion week?
A. There will be Sir Joe-Exclusive and Alphadi (Le Prince du Desert) who will be coming from Los Angeles, and Paris. Others from Paris will be Adama Paris, Maze Couture and Patoustyle. I have a really long list of invitees I cannot mention here.
There will also be designers coming from Ghana, Cameroon and Nigeria. I am still making some other contacts and can’t give their names now.
Q. How will the designers, especially those from Africa, get to Holland? Will you be organising and paying for their trips?
A. No. However, one of our sponsors is Destination Management Platform, a transport and accommodation company known as airport2lodge. The designers, exhibitors and models could gain discounted air tickets, taxis and lodging by this company. That will not only be for the designers but also for everybody who will be attending the occasion.
Q. This will be the first time an African fashion week will be taking place in Amsterdam. What are the main challenges you are facing like the main organizer?
A. We could speak of challenges like: the necessity of getting good team members with different skills, preparing a budget, and contingent expenses. I am making sure of keeping team members and supervisors ‘up to speed’ with my plans.
Getting the trust of people, especially designers, is not easy. I need to get to know those I will be working with and they also need to get to know me. The organisation is also very time-consuming. I need to put in a lot of time contacting people and all that. I am working with quite a good number of people in the fashion industry, ranging from models to make-up agencies . There will also be a lot of volunteers we will need to work with. Coordinating all these people is not exactly easy.
Q. Before deciding to organise AFWA, you are a designer in your own right. What exactly have you been designing?
A. My design company is known as Blackpearl Secret. I specialise in designing high fashion outfits for women and men for red carpet occasions. I also do some designs for casual wears; I design swim-wears too. I have been doing this for the past two and a half years and the business is doing just well. I mostly target celebrities. For casual customers, I get commissioned almost every week. For the celebrities, I get one or two a month. I will be designing the outfit for KasBeats ( A Nigerian musician) for his new video single , “That Waist”. A complete high fashion suit for a man will cost anything from £700 to £1400. For women, their dresses begin from £400. For kids, I am more reasonable and average kids’ designs might cost a couple of hundred pounds.
For an occasion like a wedding, anything from £500 to £1000 . That might appear a bit expensive; that has got to do with the quality of fabric I use for a garment and the amount of time and effort involved in the production. My designs are quite affordable, depending on your request.
Q. How does your design process work, do you design and produce or you design and others produce your designs?
A. That depends. If they are my casual customers, I design and produce the dresses myself. May I be caught up in a tight schedule, I usually just design and get my tailors to do the production.
Q. How did you become a designer?
A. It is quite easy to become a designer. You just need to look around and see what people are tired of, what is lacking and what people cannot get from shops. You then design to fill that gap. You need to be very creative when you are a designer. You really need to be inspired and this usually comes naturally. I usually get my inspiration when I am alone at night. I get new ideas about my new creations in the new season. It is all about being creative, bringing new trends, designing things people want to wear, looking around and being innovative.
Anybody can be a designer. You just need to be creative about your ideas. You need to follow trends very closely. To be trendy, you need to travel and read a lot of magazines. The way people dress in London is different from the way others dress in Paris or in Amsterdam. People, therefore, dress differently depending on where they live. As a designer, you need to be up to date with the latest trends.
Q. Why do you think there is a difference in the way people dress in say London and the way others dress in Amsterdam?
A. I live in Holland and I study in the UK so I have seen the difference in both countries. People in London are very fashionable so long as it makes them stand out. You will see somebody wearing a hat, a suit and green socks in London. You can’t see that in Amsterdam. People in London really do make the difference from the crowd and so dress accordingly to impress. In Amsterdam, people just make sure they dress OK. They will wear what is casual, the regular shirt, trousers or jeans. I prefer Amsterdam to London because I can see those crazy styles on the street. I will have preferred to design for people in London but I am not here to market myself. I shall consider that in the near future.
Q. You also happen to be a model. How did you also get into modelling?
A. I got into modelling when I was about 17 or 18. My uncle got me involved. He thought I had a great figure and a great face. He took me and registered me in a modelling agency . I worked with a couple of agencies. We lived in a small town but eventually moved to The Hague which is big and I was one of the very few black models around. Everyone wanted to photograph me and I was getting a lot of work especially for multicultural products. I’ve done some advertisements and commercials in Germany, Belgium, France & of-course Holland for Car magazine, Lingeries, telephone provider, runways for Dutch designers and loads of other products.
Q Despite all this, you still find time to be a student.
A. That’s right. I just finished doing Accountancy and Business Management at the London Metropolitan University; I am now doing a course on International Tourism and Travel Management.
Q. How do you find time to do all these?
A. I work hard and stay humble. I’m addicted to pursuing knowledge. I encourage education and, therefore, I create time to pursue it.
Q. You are also an events manager?
A. I create events. I also can create sub-events within a bigger event. For example, I just got a call from Canada. They want to celebrate Africa and they want me to organise an African fashion show during that event. It is because I am an event manager that I decided to start my own main event which is the Amsterdam African Fashion Week. I get most of my work through contacts on Linkedin.
Q. You were born in Cameroon but you are now based in Amsterdam, Holland. What is it about Africa that still inspires you?
A. I just felt there was a need for me to do something positive for Africans in the continent. On my facebook page, I got a lot of messages from people from different parts of Africa asking me to help them with a good number of things which I never expected. They just need help. Most girls will want to know how I became a model in a white country. Some will ask how they could become designers. Others want to know how to organise events.
Evidently, I can’t answer all of them personally so I sometimes read their questions and post answers on my facebook wall so that they could read. Most of the questions have to do with fashion. I guess that is because I just love everything concerned with African fashion.
Q. How did you first get to Holland?
A. My mum re-located to Holland and I just followed her.