In Senegal, where it’s common for the ebony-skinned to use bleaching products, fashion model and actress Khoudia Diop had the self-confidence to name herself Melanin-Goddess. She didn’t get to that point without enduring bullying and pressure to lighten her skin, even though her skin tone is not uncommon in her homeland. It would be during a trip to Paris that she realized, amidst the contrast of a group of lighter-skinned people, that standing out was what made her beautiful. “...When I saw myself and how my skin was popping, it hit me: This is why people look at me,” she writes in an essay for Glamour Magazine. Diop is now an anti-bullying activist, and signed to The Colored Girl, a creative agency dedicated to confronting and pushing the boundaries of industry standards of beauty. “We share a joint goal: to inspire, empower, and uplift women of color worldwide, and I was excited when they asked me to be a part of something so positive,” she tells CNN. Last year she was cast in Makeup For Ever’s #BlendInStandOut foundation campaign. "For me, it's more than just a product, it’s the idea behind the product!" she told ESSENCE. "There are so many types of beauty that all deserve to be celebrated."
New York City native Abrima Erwiah has an almost two decade long luxury-brand marketing career, but she continues to be a student of the game. She earned her bachelor’s degree in finance and international business from the NYU Stern School of Business, a Master’s from NYU Gallatin School of Individualized Study, and is currently a part of the CFDA + Lexus Fashion Initiative, a program dedicated to inspiring leadership, development and change in sustainable business. But Erwiah has been successfully running a sustainable business for some time now. As co-founder and co-creative director of Studio 189 (headquartered in Ghana, West Africa and the USA) with actress, activist and friend Rosario Dawson, Erwiah has been making social impact on education, employment opportunities, and empowerment. The fashion driven platform has helped promote and curate African and African-inspired content through various projects for the past five years. “I am very interested in the handmade, and in preserving culture as well as innovation. I am curious and I like traveling and learning and strategic thinking and applying that for a greater purpose,” she shares.
Professional makeup artist and Youtube glam guru Jackie Aina creates content specifically for women of color. She launched her YouTube channel in 2009 to fill the void that she saw in the beauty industry and to do her part to shift existing, narrow standards of beauty. From product reviews to contouring tricks, the Nigerian-American Aina’s tutorials are the total package—witty, entertaining and informative and easy to follow. This year she won the NAACP’s first-ever YouTuber of the Year award and spoke at the YouTube Brandcast event on the importance of representing women of color in beauty. But beyond teaching and entertainment she’s using her voice and talent to promote inclusion, like working with Too Faced Cosmetics to further develop their Born This Way foundation line with deeper and darker shades.
A lawyer by trade, self-taught Nigerian fashion designer Lisa Folawiyo started her eponymous womenswear and accessories label in 2005. Since then her global remix on traditional African prints has caught the attention of an international audience. She stays true to her roots by producing her designs with Ankara textiles of West Africa. Folawiyo has explained her choice to exclusively use the wax-resistant fabrics, as a matter of heritage. “Our mothers, grandmothers and probably great-grandmothers have worn this fabric,” Folawiyo tells the BBC. Empowering her community and her homeland, Folawiyo’s line is handsewn by expert artisans in Nigeria. Aside from her contemporary spin on fabric of historical significance, Folawiyo’s keen attention to tailoring, fit and embellishment sets her apart from other brands.
Kenya’s Diana Opoti is a fashion consultant in strategy and communications through her business, Diana Opoti PR, and those strategies can take on many forms. “My services include a lot more than traditional publicity,” she tells LionessesofAfrica.com. “One day we are doing product reviews for brands, another we are facilitating a production for a fashion campaign, and the next day we could be recruiting on behalf of a fashion brand. I found a vacuum in the industry and it’s an evolving journey for my team and I.” Opoti merged her television production career with fashion in one fell swoop after identifying a missing story that needed to be told within the topic of African design. She embarked on her mission to show that all African design isn’t African print in 2012, launching the series Designing Africa in which she spoke with emerging designers creating contemporary African designs. She also developed a 100 Days of African Fashion social media campaign. This put her on the map as a fashion influencer as she profiled a look from a different African designer each day.
When twin sisters Hermon and Heroda Berhane lost their hearing at seven years old, their parents packed them and their younger brother, who is also deaf, up and moved from Eritrea to America for medical testing. For one year their mother worked with them on their speech before the family relocated again, this time to the UK where they could have a better education. It was in boarding school that they learned British Sign Language and found community. There’s still no explanation for how the twins lost their hearing, but one thing is for sure—the trendy fashion bloggers never missed a beat. "We believe that us being deaf separates us from the rest of the bloggers out there and that our disability actually enhanced our popularity within media. We never allow being deaf to limit our ambition and disability doesn’t mean inability. We had to do something about it and make our voice heard!" they told Blavity.
Susy Oludele, also known as Susy “the Purple Unicorn” or “the African Creature”, is a prime example of what happens when grade A hustle and affirmation pay off. The Bronx-born, first generation Nigerian-American is equal parts hair stylist and motivational speaker. As the owner of Brooklyn salon Hair by Susy, she boasts a host of services from box braids, crochet braids and cornrows, to faux locs, goddess locs and marley twists, with the celebrity clientele to match.
When OkayAfrica writer Jacqueline Traoré spoke with Sarah Diouf last July, we knew she would be on our 2018 100 Women list. Her ingenuity as founder and editor in chief of fashion, beauty and lifestyle publication NOIR, and creator of the affordable online retail brand Tongoro, accompanied by her deep sense of responsibility to “put on” for the city of Dakar, Senegal (and Africa as a whole for that matter), makes her more than worth celebrating.
Adetola Kunle-Hassan, better known as Ade Hassan, founded lingerie brand Nubian Skin in 2014. It was no surprise that the Nigerian Brit would become an entrepreneur. Raised by two parents in business, Hassan started her career in finance. In an interview with Elle, she lets on that is was encouraging words from a friend that sparked her venture into the lingerie business. “A really good friend, and at that point, the only non-family member with whom I'd shared my dream of Nubian Skin, sent me a birthday card with a message saying she loved the idea and hoped to see me on the cover of Forbes one day. The next day, I registered the company and started the trademark process,” she shared with Leah Melby Clinton. “It was as if a switch had flipped, and I couldn't stop thinking about it.” But even in her excitement, she never anticipated the resounding response to her work. “I thought people would be interested, but I never expected the amount of support or the amount of press attention we received. It’s been a real blessing for which I’m truly grateful,” she said on Abina.com. Success was eminent, as Nubian Skin speaks to every woman who has purchased a “nude” undergarment and realized it was matched to someone else’s nude. We come in all hues, and so should our lingerie. Hassan has matched her piece to four skin tones—Cafe Au Lait; the lightest shade, Caramel, Cinnamon and Berry; the darkest.
What happens when a six-year-old Somalian Muslim girl born in a Kenyan refugee camp moves to St. Cloud Minnesota? In the case of Halima Aden, she becomes prom and homecoming queen of her high school, a semi-finalist in the Miss Minnesota USA pageant, and makes history as the first pageant contestant in the United States to wear a hijab and burkini. Halima was a semi-finalist in the pageant, but scored a contract with IMG Models—the first hijab-wearing model signed to a major modeling agency. She makes waves in the industry by holding onto her values; continuing to wear her hijab and dressing modestly on shoots.