Note from BW of Brazil: If you’ve been following news out of Black Brazil for any amount of time you must’ve noticed that there is a sort of ‘fever’ catching on among Afro-Brazilians. Particularly among entrepreneurs, this fever that continues to spread is leading more and more Afro-Brazilians to stop waiting on a market that seems intent on ignoring their existence, culture and particular tastes, doing for self and tapping into a segment of consumer that is starving to represent with African and Afro-Brazilian styles that proudly show off ancestral origins. Designer Ana Paula Xongani is one of the women leading the charge and judging from the piece below, it’s only a matter time before her business blows up! Much success to you Ana Paula, keep it movin’!!
“I’ve never straightened my hair”, says afro fashion designer
By April Branded Content
“Xongani!” The word comes from the changana, the African language of southern Mozambique, and means something like “get ready”, “get dressed up” or “get beautiful”. This is the inspiration that led Ana Paula Xongani, 29, to create a fashion and accessory brand focused on beleza negra (black beauty).
With a degree in design from the department of Fine Arts of São Paulo, Ana Paula is a founding partner and stylist from Xongani, in partnership with her mother, Cristina Mendonça. She was the matriarch, artisan and seamstress of good things, who always stimulated her only daughter girl to value cabelos crespos (kinky/curly hair) with bands and colorful accessories.
Growing up listening to compliments like “que cabelo lindo” (what beautiful hair) made all the difference in the self-esteem of Ana Paula, who also has a YouTube channel that talks about Afro-Brazilian fashion and style, black beauty, black feminism, self-esteem and empoderamento da mulher negra (empowerment of the black woman). “It’s no use just to feel empowered. Empowerment only makes sense if it is collective. This is my mission,” she says.
Today, maintaining her studio in the Artur Alvim neighborhood of São Paulo, she dresses celebrities like actresses Taís Araújo and Sheron Menezes, as well as preparing to export not only fashion, but culture and self-esteem to the rest of the world. We went to check out the space and talked to her. Check it out!
“I never straightened my hair. I am a gigantic exception in the universe of blackness. That’s because my mother, an activist of black causes, always encouraged me to like my hair the way it was, creating beautiful hairstyles and accessories. What she did not have in the market she invented. My ballet tiara was colored and embroidered with beads. So I was highly complimented. ‘Que cabelo lindo’ (what beautiful hair), people would say. Today, I know that they might have exalted the care more, the way I dressed myself, but that told me to cultivate a self-esteem that has protected me throughout my life. At home, it was just my big brother and me. My mother had the wisdom to realize that the world reacted differently to a menina negra (black girl) and made me feel special.
On my birthdays, if I got six bonecas brancas (white dolls), she would ask me to pick only three. The others that remained were replaced by black dolls. I was one of the first girls to have a black Barbie in the 1990s. She managed to get someone to bring one from the United States, just imagine. Today, I have a collection of black Barbies and I told this story in one of my videos on YouTube. With a 3-year-old daughter, we collected the dolls together. I try to educate her in the same way, because I see that, although many questions about racism have evolved, prejudice is reinvented and takes on other forms. For example, on my YouTube channel, I don’t get direct attacks, but there are people who make comments trying to disqualify me, saying I’m ‘burra’ (dumb) or ‘feia’ (ugly), just because I’m black.
In college, I suffered from ‘invisibility’. I was the only black woman in the classroom, and I felt myself being deferred in the work groups. I was following my life, working from an early age with design, until, at the age of 21, on a trip to Mozambique, I discovered the capulanas, African printed fabrics, full of charm. It was an awakening. I thought, ‘There is something beyond.’ Something that inspired new colors, new uses, new ways to value black beauty. I called my mother at the time. She told me to leave my clothes there and bring the suitcase full of fabrics. Thus, Xongani was born. With great passion and dedication, we opened an atelier and were creating earrings, tiaras, tunics, turbans. The stock was coming to an end. Suddenly, we could not handle so many requests. We opened a virtual store.
Today, we produce about one thousand pieces per month and we are structuring ourselves to export. We even make wedding dresses, always using references from African culture: instead of pearls, beads and embroidery. When it comes to empowerment, I think of self-knowledge and self-esteem. It’s no good for me to feel empowered if I don’t inspire and empower the women around me. This is a personal transformation and of the environment in which I live. Using fashion and my YouTube channel, I try to contribute to the redeeming and appreciation of cultura africana (African culture) in Brazil. I want more and more black women to feel beautiful for being just the way they are.”
Source: M de Mulher