Imane Ayissi It is time for Africa to write its own cultural story

Imane Ayissi
Imane Ayissi | Photo: A.Schücke

It’s the end of the 4th edition of the Forum for Fashion and Design. How different is it, compared to the previous editions?

The difference is obvious. There are more people, be it at the level of creators, young designers, models,hairdressers, and make-up artists who are interested in this forum. It is a good thing; it shows that people are interested. But relationships need to be maintained for it to continue in the right direction and it is clear that it is not easy because it requires a lot of time and effort. Educating people, making them understand exactly what fashion is, knowing that at times some people get into this craft without knowing what to do with it, which is why it is important to be in touch with the right people, those who have a certain know-how about the fashion sector.
 
What was the moment that touched you the most during this edition of the forum?

There were very powerful moments. When one works in such an organization, there are moments of tension and fatigue given that the days are very long, thus it rises and falls. These are waves of tension. It is as well interesting because one discovers the real side of others and ascertains if they have understood or not. It is for this reason that sometimes during events tensions are high. Even if we do not agree, we confront each other. Two forces facing each other through debate and trying to find the right direction and the right ideas is always positive. Nevertheless, the learners cannot understand everything in one day, one has to be very patient.
 
Do you notice any development in designers during workshops and conferences?

I’d say yes. There is some development. I do not require evolution to make them change in two days, one shouldn’t dream. It’s just like when one wants to do medicine; one can’t practice medicine after two days of training. I know that in France it is after ten years and more of studies.Of course, fashion isn’t necessarily ten years, but it requires studies, a lot of will, information, training and good fashion schools. I think it requires at least four years, or even five to six years. It depends on the schools or institutions. That is also evolution. They come to learn. Apprenticeship in the field of fashion is not yet well developed in Africa; there is the aspect of beauty with regards to our heritage which is very rich and there is the aesthetic aspect as well, but we don’t have a fashion culture. The fashion phenomenon was developed in France during the epoch of kings’ courts. It is interesting to know how fashion functioned here in Cameroon before the arrival of Europeans; to go back in time. It makes one respect the heritage and history of a country. I think that most people do not know how fashion was before the arrival of Europeans; it will be interesting to know this.
 
Do you think that is evolution is reflective in the awareness of fashion in Cameroon in general?

I always talk about education and awareness of the real values of this country, its culture and heritage. We have a problem in Africa because things are not said as they are; we try to hide certain aspects. I think that in other to make things clearer, we should present them as they are, so that people can make their own choices. One also notices that after the German era in Cameroon hard times followed. They left edifices after their departure. The Central Post Office is of that period, I think. Nevertheless, most of these buildings were destroyed in order to build something else in their place, which at times did not even last and had no value. We have to endeavour to respect this heritage and maintain it. Fashion is a way of life; it is everything which accompanies us in our quotidian life. It is a matter of clothing, including all the fashion accessories: bags, shoes, jewellery. From that we move to architecture; to the design of cars and to furniture. Fashion is thus a phenomenon which touches everything which accompanies us in life. At times, people here are unaware of this, even in school. I wonder if some people who have studied it extensively know this and put it into practice. When one does fashion and design here it is usually underestimated, as if one couldn’t do better. During a preview at the Goethe Institute, there was a Cameroonian man who approached me and told me that he didn’t understand how fashion could contribute to the development of the country. Can you imagine this? I took both of us as an example, saying that we were both dressed. Whether we buy cheap or expensive clothes, even if we produce them locally, we purchase them from a vendor. This vendor pays taxes thus giving money to the government which enables the economy of the country to function properly, thus, participating in the economic development of his country in a way.
 
With designing experience from Africa as well as Europe, how would you ascertain both environments?

They are very different, like day and night.Given that here we do things the opposite way. It is important for African fashion designers to unite and create concrete foundations for fashion. A reassessment of the weather is also important, such that when it is hot, or cold, one can create the appropriate clothing depending on the season, thus enabling the fabric industry to grow as a consequence of this knowledge. This can be followed with trends, meetings, presentations of collections, exhibitions with presentation of fabric and all this contributes to the fashion industry.So long as this is lacking, there is a real problem. That is why I very much appreciate the work done by CCMC and Yves Eya’a. Yves is someone who tries to encourage professionalism in his own way by showing us its relevance. Here, people are prejudicial towards the fashion industry.This is ignorance. Fashion designing is a very noble and real profession. Besides, it has a huge economic impact worldwide. It is high time that African fashion players worked harder, educating themselves because training is essential. We need to evolve. It is time for Africa to start writing its cultural history.