Aysha Jones-Ceesay
Organizers under the aegis of the Runway Productions International, formerly So-Fashion So-Aysha are putting the final touches on what would be the biggest week long international fashion extravaganza ever hosted in The Gambia.
The Gambia Fashion Week (TGFW) is the brainchild of Aysha Jones-Ceesay, a highly celebrated Swedish-based Gambian fashion stylist, a manager, public relations agent and chief executive officer of the Runway Productions International.
The Week is expected to put the country’s fashion and entertainment industry on a great spotlight given the caliber of people involved in the organization of the event, as well as those international stars that will be making their way to the Smiling Coast of Africa. Organizers hope that TGFW will make a giant leap in enhancing the country’s fashion industry, as well as promote its tourism sector.
In this exclusive interview conducted online, Aysha Jones-Ceesay, the chief organizer, spoke extensively about The Gambia Fashion Week, which she said would be organized in the month of February, 2013, the nationhood month of the country. The Week is particularly expected to spice up the country’s 48th Independence Anniversary, given the fact that both events will take place in the same month. The Runway Productions International CEO said she expects nothing less than a standard fashion week that the country has for long been awaiting to host.
Enjoy the chit chat with Aysha Jones-Ceesay
Bt: Aysha before going on the TGFW, let’s begin this interview with a question on your Solo fashion show that you held in Sweden sometime this year. I mean SoFashion-SoAysha pink & purple, and your recent show that was held in August. How successful were they?
Aysha: It was beyond my expectations and I'm very glad to say it was a huge success both as an event and as for the PR [public relations] aspect of me, my clients, sponsors and partners. It was held in the most exclusive part of central Stockholm called Stureplan where you find all extravagant designer shops like Gucci, Dolce and Gabbana and my personal favorite Louis Vuitton.
Our guests were some of Sweden’s elite among fashion and entertainment. We also had fashion bloggers there and managers of networks like Star; and one of Stockholm/Sweden’s most established radio stations conducted a live interview with me and my designers at the backstage room. It was crazy and hectic as we had a big designer with us all the way from the United Kingdom in the person of Stephen Arthur.
I was so emotional that I cried at the end of the show after my first and best friend said to me that “this was just over the top and by far the best” I've done. She also said she is so proud of me and we broke out into a joyful cry in front of everyone. It was so nice.
Bt: It's interesting to hear about that success. Aside from that, a lot seem to have happened since our last interview, almost a year now. You have made name changes from SoFashion-SoAysha to Runway Productions International. What was the rationale behind the changes?
Aysha: Yes a lot has happened since our first interview. The name change was some sort of cooking at the time of that interview, but you know I don't like talking much but rather proving it. Therefore, I decided to remain a bit humble and not to reveal it until I had credits to show for it. The name change was hard because I named it after the "so" parts of a woman who helped me a lot – her company name is So-Stockholm. So I named SoFashion-SoAysha as a tribute to her and in recognition of all the help she has given me.
All though, I had many reasons behind changing the name from SoFashion-SoAysha to Runway Productions International, but the main reason is that my company grew so fast for me to handle and those who know me knows I don't like attention. I'm very afraid of being known and having my name Aysha in the company name whilst people hardly ever see me on my events. It started somewhat of a "hunt" of everybody wanting to know who I am and how I look like.
It got to a stage where it became very uncomfortable for me. I realized this once when I went out with my kids and a group of youngsters followed me, and when I stopped, they asked if I'm Aysha J.C. They weren't rude or something, in fact, they were very supportive and friendly. But you never know who is who while everybody wants to know you. That to me was very scary as I was out with my kids and still wasn't left alone to spend time with them.
I have now changed my tactics by showing myself on my events after endless discussions with friends and colleagues. I hope that the quest of "knowing and seeing me" will end and that I will get some kind of a private life.
Runway Productions International also seems a bit more serious and international and as I'm starting to do shows on London Fashion Week; this is very important in that I set the record straight of being a hard working and serious chief executive officer and company. The states are higher there and one failure is harder to bounce back from.
Bt: Let’s now talk about your projects in Africa. You are of course bracing up for the maiden international Gambia Fashion Week. What is the state of preparedness of this event?
Aysha: Yes, it's been a project I've been waiting to do since early 2008. I promised motherland that I will give it a show that would never be forgotten or have ever seen. The Gambia fashion week is made out of two reasons; first is to complement the president of The Republic’s Miss July 22nd Pageant as a thump up for a job well done. This is because it is a rare initiative for a leader of his status to engage in these matters positive for the development of the industry.
The second reason of organizing The Gambia Fashion Week is to promote and benefit the fashion industry of The Gambia and Africa in general. I want the world to recognise Africa as a fashion nation to count on and invest in. We have some very talented human beings in The Gambia for example, not only in fashion but also in entertainment, journalism etc. Look at yourself for journalism and Fatou Camara [Fatu Show], one of my biggest inspirations in The Gambia!
Look at my partners like G. Faal and Pa Modou Mbowe in the entertainment arena. I can also mention Jaliba Kuyateh as a father of Gambian music and talents; and other young ones like Abu and Fafa, Nancy Nanz and my favorite Yusupha Ngum. Also, we have such an amazing and inspiring rich culture. So why should the world not give us the credit that we deserved so well? It's about time we show the world that we are ready to claim what's ours in the industries such as fashion, entertainment and likewise.
So right now, we are almost set and good to go. We just have some minor things to settle and then we will reveal all information to the public. The event will be held in February, 2013 and offer fashion shows, club and boutique events as well as restaurant events and more.
Bt: But if I can remember well, the GFW supposed to be held at the end of December this year. But there seems to be a setback. What caused that?
Aysha: The setback is actually not that much that I can call it, but rather than me not wanting to compete with other people trying to do the same type of event as I've planned on doing this ever since. I and my partners didn't either want to rush something that we know is a great concept and well needed in The Gambia and Africa. I also lack some financial sponsors to bring out my best team of models, photographers and styling team.
To move the date seemed like the best thing to do as I've got some amazing partners outside of The Gambia, such as Matafs Hair Studios and Africa Fashion Week London with others; and also to offer the Gambian companies a chance to embrace the original concept of The Gambia Fashion Week.
We also wanted to think outside the box and bring you all some niceness within fashion that can help promote the Gambian and African talents. The new date allows us to expand our ideas and make what was already a big initiative. I want everything that I do to uphold a certain standard and quality. If I can't guarantee that I rather not do it at all.
Hopes are now that we can get enough sponsors to send our best of the best to Africa in February. As I finished answering this question, I just saw a message from Mr. Mbowe telling me that Weave Crest Hotel offer to partner with us in providing housing for the whole team. As well as Mr Val Kabbey Banjakey was recruited to the team. Things like these makes it easier if all of us can stay at one and the same hotel. This would not have been possible if we were to have The Gambia Fashion Week in December. I'm grateful and even more convinced that we’ve made the right decision by moving the dates.
Bt: I will come back to TGFW, but in the meantime, I want to ask what is your personal impression about President Jammeh in relation to his commitment to the development and promotion of Gambian talents through initiatives like the Miss July 22dn Pageant and other things?
Aysha: I'm a fan, I told you in the first interview where he caught my interest and that was the keynote to me in wanting to know more about him and his leadership. I must say that I'm no fan of politics though as I really can't understand much of it or it might be that I don’t want to understand it (laughs).
I'm not that keen in discussing two topics – politics and religion due to those subjects being such jail breakers in people's relationships. Therefore, I will stick to the matters of projects established by the president in fields that I'm more schooled in such as fashion, event and charity. I was surprised when I heard that the Miss July 22nd Pageant is an initiative of the president.
Tell me one president who arranges a model competition to inspire the youths of his nation. That is fantastic of aleader. Also look at the Jammeh Foundation, which is never revealed outside of the Gambian media. Tell me which leader gives a personal donation to sports activities just because a cup has been won. Come on, he does so much and yet Europe only hears the so called bad things.
I'm not sure but I don't think there is another president that gives his people gifts on his way to airport, or to State House or likewise. I've witnessed it myself many times while I was in The Gambia. That to me is a man that shows his voters that I care enough to lengthen my ride to the airport just so to make sure that you guys can feel my spirit and gratitude. That's just my opinion and people are free to disregard it due to their own opinions.
Bt: Let’s come back to TGFW. How much do you think it would impact on the country in terms of enhancing the fashion and modeling industry, and also promoting tourism?
Aysha: I think that in the long run, we would see more fashion investors coming to The Gambia. By that I mean designers and brands producing their clothes in The Gambia. We would see more fashion tourists visiting the country to gain fashion experience and most importantly, inspiration. We need the tag in clothes to say "made in The Gambia".
The Gambia Fashion Week will give people hope and ambitions of going international. My job in promoting The Gambia as a fashion nation will be so easy because my fellow Gambians are great at what they do. All I want is for them to think bigger.
People would come out and branches would be able to present themselves to potential clients that otherwise would never have visited their shops or restaurants etc had it not been their participation in The Gambia Fashion Week. I don't want to give out too much information about the various events taking place on The Gambia Fashion Week, but I can say that we will help all participants in promoting themselves internationally.
I'm bringing people with me who can change their lives and businesses, (not in a day or two), but in the long run people would see touchable impacts that can be traced direct to their participation in The Gambia Fashion Week. I wish to meet with the ministers of Tourism and Culture, Trade, etc and I know they will be glad to bless this project once they know the ambitions and possibilities of it.
Bt: Do you hope to make it an annual event?
Aysha: Yes, those are the plans. We want to keep pushing The Gambia fashion and entertainment industry till it can stand on its own, after which we will give the fashion week to the people to run it themselves. We're already talking about how to make it bigger and better year after year; and making forms in which we will report all the things that needed improvement from the first Fashion Week.
We don't expect any hassle but one must always have a plan B, C and D all the way to Z in order to be able to give a good quality event. But inshallah by the grace of the Almighty Allah and the contribution of the nation itself, the TGFW will be successful and last for many years to come.
Bt: Aysha, how about the media coverage. Which media institutions in Europe are expected to cover this event?
Aysha: We have some magazines that will publish our designers’ pictures. Once again, I mention my partner, Africa Fashion Week London for media coverage. But we also have newspapers that are interested in doing something. I can’t mention them name by name, but what I can assure is that the media coverage will be huge. Also some fashionists from all over the world have been alerted and will receive promotional pictures and information prior, during and after the fashion week for them to be able to help promote it.
Bt: Aysha, you must be tired with my endless questions, but I can assure you that we are at the tail end of this interview. What do you expect from the local Gambian companies in terms of collaboration and sponsorship?
Aysha: Laughs! I don't get tired of your questions. Feel free to ask more if you want. That one is difficult to answer without giving away too much information about the various events. But in general I hope that for example the leading GSM operators will help out in the promotion issues. I hope all the local shops, restaurants, fashion boutiques etc give a complementary discount to their customers during the Fashion Week. Sponsors will be needed in terms of providing drinks and snacks for the fashion shows.
I want to state that The Gambia Fashion Week is a charity event and so none of us is getting paid for our hard work. The proceeds would go towards the establishment of a scholarship foundation for fashion, arts and entertainment.
Bt: Would you wish to elaborate more on what kind of different events would take place during the Week?
Aysha: There will be so much but I will just summerise it because remember that we will reveal all events as we enter 2013. So there will be a fashion show (with both international and Gambian designers); fashion events at various boutiques; restaurant events; club events; gala dinner; seminar and workshops on fashion, export and media awareness; model competition; photoshoots; live performance by some famous and new Gambian artistes, ete.etc. etc. You can now see that this is a big project and that we are thinking outside of the box.
Bt: It’s been an interesting long online [Facebook] interview, but finally, what would be your last comment?
Aysha: My last comment actually goes out to everyone that is working so hard in making this a reality. I thank my partners G. Faal and Pa Modou Mbowe, as well as the Daily Observer through you; all my sponsors and partners, my RareModels "it-girls" and my entire team that always stand by me and try their level best to help out and believe in my crazy ideas. Similar words also go out to my mum and partner, Madan Gaye, owner of Matafs Hair Studios and of course, my “Cherie” Ousainou Ceesay for always supporting.
These are all the back bone of The Gambia Fashion Week and Runway Productions International. I will see you all in The Gambia soon.
Bt: Thank you.

By Hatab Fadera

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