Lemmy Izengo has devoted much of his life to creating fashion models inspired by his Tanzanian heritage.
Clothing is not only for her an expression of identity, it is also about keeping her culture alive.
“The clothes speak to us, the food, the drums, the storytelling, so it’s all a way of life and it goes hand in hand,” she said.
“That’s how I was raised and I had this passion for fashion, I had this passion for bold and remarkable outfits … it was just the way of life.”
At the age of 23, she moved to Australia to find better opportunities.
“These days [there weren’t] a lot of people like me … I could hop on a bus and someone’s like, “Hey, can I touch your hair? Or ‘Where are you from?’ “Said the 46-year-old.
“At least nowadays I can see a lot of people who look like me, which is wonderful, that feeling of oneness and having people that they celebrate, or who have the same background as you… it feels like a huge difference. “
While she left her country and her family behind, she did not leave her rich culture.
Over the past six years, Ms. Izengo has turned her love for fashion into a business that helps promote African design.
“For me, from the start, we started this for the kid who looks like me. We shouldn’t be ashamed, or celebrating who we are in all aspects,” she said.
She was one of 12 designers recently invited to present their designs at the Kaleidoscope World of Fashion in Perth.
The newly launched event was created by a group of industry veterans to highlight the importance of diversity and increase representation in the sector.
“It’s a huge opportunity for our communities to have this platform and celebrate,” Ms. Izengo said.
“It really encourages me to stand up and show the world that hey, we’re like you.
“I hope that young girls who dream of being fashion designers or models, whatever aspects of [their dreams], they should realize that they can work hard on their dream and that their dream can come true. “
Model Jeraldine Nshimilimana, who showcased Ms Izengo’s main design at the show’s launch at the WA Museum Boola Bardip on Sunday, said it was an honor to be a part of this groundbreaking event.
“We have people from all over the world, as well as natives of Australia [which] you don’t get that anywhere. It’s almost invisible and unheard of, so it’s great to have this platform, ”she said.
Model Raquisha Kearing, who wore an outfit by Noongar West Australian artist Peter Farmer, said being able to represent her First Nations roots always made her proud.
“I think indigenous fashion is very under-represented in the modeling industry so this is something very important for us Australians to champion,” she said.
“Honoring Indigenous people past, present and future is very important and by including them in the fashion industry helps bridge the gap between non-Indigenous and Indigenous people. “
Embrace multicultural design
Model for Australian-Indian designer Brinda Bajaria, Ashlyn Kaur, 22, said she hopes the platform will help multicultural design become more widely accepted in the mainstream fashion industry.
“It means so much to look around the room and see so many different faces and so much diversity… because I think the modeling industry has traditionally not been as diverse as it should be,” said she declared.
Event founder Astrid Tshidibu, who has worked in the industry for decades, said she wanted to establish a platform to specifically provide space for those who are often overlooked or poorly represented.
“I didn’t really have a voice as a black model,” she said.
“I didn’t have a platform to express my talent or even express my beauty or represent other young people who look like me.
“Then I started working with young people and training them, and I saw most of us lose our roots, our culture … and really I wanted to change [that]. “
Originally from the Congo, she felt that her appearance and past as a woman of color were often a barrier to her modeling career in Australia.
“For me it is very important to showcase diversity in the fashion industry because we are underrepresented, unrepresented or misrepresented and that has to change,” she said.
“I think most young people love fashion and that’s the only way I can transform and push it away.
“To bring young people together to see that there is someone there who looks like me, someone there who actually has the same culture as me and she is proud or he is proud to show it, why I’m hiding ?”
Event project manager Victoria Cappeau said she wanted all Australians, including migrants like her, to see what representation and inclusion should look like.
“What we aim to build is a platform for emerging artists young and older who haven’t had the opportunity or the stepping stone and we also want to be able to provide that support,” she said.
The group hopes to expand over the next few years to include mentoring models and artists keen to break into the fashion industry.
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