Bridging the Fashion Gap: Tejumola
Bridging the Gap conference, a celebration of style, culture, and innovation, designed to bring together students, fashion enthusiasts, industry professionals, and inquisitive minds alike, organised by The Fashioned Museum recently in Lagos, was a vibrant celebration of Africa’s rich fashion heritage, and a catalyst for fashion’s promising future. In this interview with MARY NNAH, Tejumola Maurice-Diya, Founder of The Fashioned Museum says that ‘Bridging the Gap’ is an integral part of the Museum’s mission to activate a broader and timely conversation around contemporary fashion in an ever-changing world with an immediate aim to celebrate the ever-evolving world of fashion by bridging the gap between the younger generation and the older generation as well as between the Western World and the African continent
Tell us about the programme “The Bridging the Gap” and the idea behind it.
“The Bridging the Gap” is an event that we plan to have annually. So this is our maiden edition. And essentially what we’re trying to capture is we recognise that it’s important to catch people at the grassroots level. So this event is specifically targeted towards students. And the underlying theme here is to help them to identify who they are. It’s time for the youth to embrace themselves as Nigerians and as Africans. Very often there are negative associations that can be made with being Nigerian. For me, it was very important to help the students recognise that every single country in this world has negative associations. But it all depends on what you choose to focus on. So for me, it’s it was important to change that narrative to help students recognise that they need to focus on the bright side of things. They need to embrace being Africans and embrace being Nigerians, and they should be able to know that at the end of the day, their dreams are valid, and they have a place in the world.
So regardless of where they find themselves, they can shine their lights and they can identify as a proud Nigerian that is making waves and contributions to the world at large. So that was the essence of this event for the students.
The second part of the event is specifically targeted towards business owners in the fashion industry. So these are people that are, maybe, new to the fashion scene that are thinking about ways that they can scale their businesses, they’re looking for ways that they can strategically partner themselves to be ready for partnerships with international brands.
So we brought speakers that lecture them from a legal perspective like what are the things that they need to do to make sure they are ready for the future. How do they make sure that people do not steal their designs? There are different areas in which people need to make sure that they’re fully covered and prepared for such partnerships.
So we brought in people that are established and people that have successfully done fashion to talk to them. People like Lisa Folawiyo, who is highly recognised in terms of her designs. She uses African prints and she prides herself in that. In every collection, you see Ankara or you see Adire and you see different patterns and designs. And so it was important for me that we had people that were using our designs.
Then we also had Emmy Kasbit founded by Emmanuel Okorowho is known for using Akwete. So for me, the students needed to be able to see designers that use the natural resources that we as Africans produce, and so I thought it was a great idea to have people that have successfully done that and that they can be able to inspire the students to recognise that the future is theirs in terms of making a global impact and doing it well as they establish themselves as Nigerians here in Nigeria using our natural resources. Not having to import goods from other countries. Not that importing is a bad thing. But let’s start with what we have to use and then we can export our goods thereby positively impacting the economy of Nigeria.
The general idea behind the programme was to get them thinking about the future. And so the idea is for them to see that okay, this is what the future of fashion is looking like now, this is where we are in Nigeria right now. Where can ‘bridge the gap, that’s where ‘Bridging the Gap’ comes in. It is for them to identify with, and then think – what do I as an individual need to do to make sure that I get to that place where other countries are and even past them, so it was more of an idea of getting them to stimulate their brains and minds towards thinking and knowing that literally, they have no limits in achieving their goals.
Can you tell us some of the things we’ve done before now?
I’ve dabbled in the fashion industry for over 12 years. I’ve modelled in the past, and I’ve worked with the Macy’s Fashion Incubator. I’ve also at some point started a children’s clothing line. And with all that experience, I’m fully aware of the challenges that business entrepreneurs have. And as a result of that, I also style people and so I’m fully aware of the challenges that a lot of brands have. There are certain reoccurring themes that most designers complain about in terms of scaling, in terms of the quality of their designs, and in terms of finishing there are certain things that need to be addressed. And so that was why this idea was birthed. Overall people need to get to a point where they find solutions to that problem so that we can take our rightful place in terms of fashion to the world.
What informed your choice of the students that you brought in here?
At the beginning of the session, we did a presentation that walked them through the actual history of Africa before we went into the history of African fashion. So by going through the history of Africa, in general, we talked about culture, we talked about natural resources, food and culture in general so that they even know what Africans represent. And then after that, we went into the fashion – African fashion aspect. And what we essentially did was we helped them to see that there’s a rightful place for them to be able to express themselves through fashion, or even through whatever it is that they want to do. So the essence was to help them to understand that their dreams are valid.
So it was targeted towards students who were passionate about fashion in general, but then overall, it was just helping them to recognise that at the end of the day, they can be successful in whatever it is that they choose to do. But at the end of the day, it’s just having the right mindset towards achieving those goals is critical.
Tell us about your experience as a model.
I modelled over 12 years ago. I was born and raised in Chicago, Illinois. And so very often I went to the University of Illinois, Urbana Champaign. I studied communications. And so we had a panel like we had an association of African students. And so every single time we would have our parties or themes, I would always model and so in essence, that was when my modelling started. And then when there were other opportunities for me to model I always took up those opportunities as well.
So why did you establish the fashion museum? What does the museum show?
So the fashion museum stems from the fact that I’m a fashion historian. And so with that being said, what I do is I walk people through the history of fashion, and then I kind of help them, to see the difference between history and the future. So for example, if you go on my page, which is @TajumolaMD on Instagram, you will see that do a reel, talking about Shade Thomas-Fahm, who is one of the first fashion designers in Nigeria, and she came up with the design of the bubu, so I will put a picture of how bubu was won years ago, and how we worn today. So you’re able to see the contrast in all. So the reason why it’s called the Fashion Museum is because it’s an accumulation of beautiful history in general of you know, what it is that we do and what it is that have to offer as Africans. So it’s beyond just now. It’s a collection of the years past and even the future to come.
Where do you draw your inspiration from?
It might sound like a cliche, but my inspiration is the Holy Spirit. I can’t help it! Everything that comes to mind is me partnering with the Holy Spirit which helps me to identify what it is that I need to do or where the gaps are, that need to be bridged.
Are you thinking of having a fashion brand yourself in future?
I don’t know what the future has. I mean, let’s see what God has in mind. I don’t know what the future says. If it’s if it’s meant to be then I will go for it. I’m very, very passionate about fashion. So I would I would love to have a collection someday. Maybe potentially partner with international brands, you know, I am open to them partnering with me, whoever it is. I’m open to international partnerships. If you would like to create designs, it’s something I’m very passionate about.
Tell us about your style.
I love African textiles. As you can see I’m wearing Aso Oke and I’m wearing Ankara today. So I’m very passionate about using our beautiful prints. We have amazing prints, and they’re actually sustainable and very comfortable for me. So that’s what inspires me to be honest, using our own natural, sustainable fashions and designs. This particular dress was made by Shakara Couture.
Do you still model?
Not really but I’m open to modeling, like it’s something that I’m very passionate about. As I said, if you go to my page TejumolaMD, you see that a lot of the reels that I do are as a result of my modelling, to be honest, I’m kind of used to it. So I’m very open to modeling in the future if there are brands that want to partner with me.