Gambia and her co-worker started the African Queens Association in 2013, mainly creating accessories. After four years of designing and tailoring they opened their studio and shop in downtown Palermo. Her entrepreneurial spirit is nourished by the will to break down barriers and in line with this she explains to us how fashion can function as a bridge between people: “If someone wears a dress made of African fabric and sees someone else wearing something similar, they can interact through this common meeting point.”, she tells us in her shop. African Queens was in fact born from Gambia’s will to find a link between the Western culture where she was born and the African culture in which she has her origins. She also felt the need to show how fashion is not restricted to western styles and cuts, but can also include a wider range of cultural expressions. She makes us aware of how African Queens’ clothes can positively influence the dignity of her customers and the diversity in the fashion industry. Gambia designs clothes whilst keeping in mind the different notions of aesthetics and beauty. This provides for a broad set of designs that she can tailor to fit individual customer needs without discriminating between body types, as is common in the commercialized fashion industry. “We would propose something that makes her [the customer] feel more beautiful in the mirror. This is what fashion should do”, she mentions. Gambia and her partners worked from home in the beginning and were able to expand with financial help from a governmental fund for young second-generation migrants. She however points out that this was not enough to cover all costs related to the start up, and that they received a bank loan to acquire sufficient tools and fabrics for the business. Her part time job at Moltivolti, a local restaurant in the historical Ballarò district of Palermo, helped them cover extra expenses. She underlines that keeping the business going has not always been easy and that African Queens’ financial and creative backbone was gradually developed during the four years before they settled into their studio.
When asked whether she would proceed differently today if she were to plan a new business project she replies: “I would change the structure”, meaning she would seek more support for daily administrative and logistical tasks. She would also try to find a more visible location for her business, as the present one lacks in visibility. The fundamental idea of African Queens though she would never revise, because its strong social and cultural aspect has made them well known among their customers and local textile vendors where they buy materials. The strongest advice she would give to someone who wants to start their own entrepreneurial project, is to spend time developing a clear idea. “It’s like a fruit”, she says, “plant the seed and wait for it to mature”.
For more information: https://www.africanqueens.it/