Women Talking caught up with UK-based Congolese fashion designer Tina Lobondi, after her official launch event of the social enterprise #ESIMBI. She tels us about life, career and the personal rewards that all her hard work has delivered.
Here’s our interview…
When did you start your career as a Fashion Designer?
And how did it come about?
I started my collections, under my label Tina Lobondi five years ago almost exactly. I was a student at the time and I just wanted to produce unique designs in small quantities, so that they remained special, and exclusive…. And because I always had more designs that I wanted to create. I now sell via independent boutiques around the world that I love. I have kept true to my format of offering limited items and it has been a great adventure so far.
Your designs are sexy and very vibrant, what is your inspiration?
My inspiration comes from anything and everything. It is a challenge to create things that you love and things people may or not like… But because I am often inspired by the women I meet or by the popular movies that I watch, I find most women relate to my designs and like them too. I'd like to think that I am similar to the women I dress, and I want them to feel confident and sexy in their body, just as I do, and so I am inspired by the female form, and by colourful patterns and the fusion between my Congolese roots mixed with my love for England.
As a strong, creative woman from Congo what is it that has given you your drive for success?
Maybe the drive comes from me just being stubborn… I am very simple in the sense that I like to do the things I enjoy and nothing else. I cannot give up on something unless I believe I won't learn what I need to. It is also essential to be surrounded by people that are also driven because they will motivate you to do better. I am very fortunate to be able to do the things I enjoy and earn a living from design, as well as be surrounded by like-minded supportive people.
Was it always in your plan to set up a
Not at all! I initially wanted to carry on helping charities I believe in, but something was missing.
This #Esimbi initiative in Congo is more than just a project to me and I am sure that the concept will make a long-term impact.
As an award-winning fashion designer do
you feel you needed this status to set up a social enterprise?
Not really. I think even with the status people will doubt your intentions. Some will see what you are trying to achieve and some will see it as a way of bringing the attention to yourself. I like to challenge myself and do what I can to help others, and that is all I want as an outcome to assist these kids to a better life in Congo.
Talk to our readers a little more about #Esimbi…
Esimbi means "it works" in Lingala, one of the languages spoken in the DRC. Our social business will partner with Congolese charities to assist them with their educational projects and create them if necessary. We will also be working with an organisation that provides to the street… so giving people a place to live and food to survive. We want to make sure that we can create educational opportunities for all the children, allowing them to live by our motto - ‘Inspire | Empower | Achieve’. The young adults will benefit too, from an apprenticeship program with mentors and secured employment, which we will negotiate in advance.
Where do you see the direction of your
We have a five-year plan, which defines our goals and projects… We are aiming to assist about twenty children each year with their basic needs such as clothing, a home, clean water, education… the basic needs we often take for granted, and so this is our main focus. We are looking to collaborate with companies to find volunteers to do workshops within the Arts industry. This is why our launch last week at Mallet Antiques in Mayfair… it was an evening to celebrate arts and education, and the venue was an ideal setting, with an exhibition of African art in the space during the event by Congolese artist Aimé Mpané. The Auction Room showcased Mpané’s first solo exhibition in the UK: “No More Candy”. The title refers to a tendency towards superficial gestures, such as giving sweets to children, rather than a long-term, holistic strategy in the Congo. The colours were vibrant, pieces striking and overall thought provoking… A perfect backdrop for the evening’s presentations, live music, display of stunning furniture, and a fabulous show with my latest designs, ended by the X-Factor/Celebrity Big Brother beauty Chloe-Jasmine Whichello. It was a great turnout and gave me confident in the support out there for Esimbi…
How can people support you?
We are at the moment seeking donation for building a school in Kinshasa and a library in Kalebuka. And also seeking sponsorship for the apprenticeship program. People can email firstname.lastname@example.org for any query. We sell affordable t-shirts via my website, http://www.tinalobondi.com, which are simple in design and the funds go to support the cause… even Thandie Newton has bought one.
Thanks Tina, good luck with the venture.