56. Sophie Zinga

The Hand of Fashion - - CONTENTS - In­ter­view

She may be a grad­u­ate of Par­sons, the pres­ti­gious New York De­sign school, but Sene­galese born de­signer Sophie Zinga con­sid­ers her­self a cit­i­zen of the world and her de­signs a ‘dis­tinc­tive blend of her artis­tic ex­pe­ri­ences and an eclec­tic cock­tail of her voy­ages’. Grant Fell finds out about lessons learned from Par­sons School of De­sign, set­tling back in Dakar and why Abyssinia is one of the ‘most un­der­rated civ­i­liza­tions of all time.’ Pho­tos: Fabrice Monteiro, Ibra Ake and Man­dela Gre­goire

Grant Fell: Sophie, you were born in Sene­gal. Where­abouts in Sene­gal and did you grow up there?

Sophie Zinga: I was born in Dakar, Sene­gal. I left for the US, when I was about 22 months old. I later re­turned to Dakar for a short pe­riod of time be­fore my fam­ily and I moved to Kenya for a cou­ple of years. We moved back to Dakar when I was 10 and we ended up mov­ing back to the US by the time I was 13. My high school years were split be­tween Dakar and Tri State area where I’ve been liv­ing up un­til I moved back to Dakar 3 years ago. I still go back to New York quite of­ten. Tell us about your child­hood. Can you re­mem­ber when you first be­came in­ter­ested in fash­ion? I had a re­ally happy child­hood. I was the last child and grew up with my two big brothers who were al­ways very pro­tec­tive of me. I was also quite stu­dious and was com­pletely con­sumed by books and lit­er­a­ture. In fact up un­til now, I al­ways have a book in my bag out of habit. Hav­ing said that I was al­ways drawn to beauty and art. I also grew up sur­rounded by art ev­ery­where, as my par­ents are avid art col­lec­tors. I re­mem­ber watch­ing in the 90’s, a Naomi Camp­bell doc­u­men­tary, which gave me a glimpse of the fash­ion world and I was com­pletely fas­ci­nated from then on. You were on course for a ca­reer in Pub­lic Health be­fore ap­ply­ing to en­ter Par­sons, in New York. The pres­ti­gious school has launched the ca­reers of some of fash­ion’s true vi­sion­ar­ies; Marc Ja­cobs, Alexan­der Wang, Pra­bal Gu­rang, Zac Posen and so many more. Talk us through how Par­sons has shaped Sophie Zinga, the de­signer… I grew up be­ing drawn to de­vel­op­ment work and so­cial is­sues in Africa be­cause both my par­ents worked in that. From a very young age, our fam­ily dis­cus­sions/de­bates were about world pol­i­tics, Africa and African Amer­i­can his­tory. In fact, while study­ing eco­nomics at The New School, I in­terned in the UN and worked on a Columbia Univer­sity-led team on Mil­len­nium De­vel­op­ment goals re­lated to health in Sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa. How­ever all through­out this time, I al­ways said “in another world I’d be a fash­ion de­signer.” It was not un­til 2009 that I ap­plied to Par­sons and when I got ac­cepted, I knew it was my call­ing. Par­sons was in­stru­men­tal in shap­ing the de­signer I am to­day. It truly is a world class school. It was highly com­pet­i­tive en­vi­ron­ment but in a pos­i­tive way. A reg­u­lar school day be­fore midterms or fi­nals would end at 3am with stu­dents still work­ing on projects. My ed­u­ca­tion there taught me the im­por­tance of rigor and ded­i­ca­tion. Do you still work or col­lab­o­rate with any­one from the school? Not as of now, but I still keep in touch with my pro­fes­sors and a cou­ple of class­mates. I am ac­tu­ally work­ing on a project to be launched in 2016 in which I’d like to col­lab­o­rate with Par­sons. Did you cre­ate a stand­out piece while you were at Par­sons that has in­formed your work to­day? If so, please de­scribe the piece… I was al­ways drawn to clean lines and I fo­cused much on per­fect tai­lor­ing and fin­ish­ing the inside of a gar­ment. I took this haute cou­ture tech­niques class and it still very much in­forms my work. The metic­u­lous fin­ish­ing that is seen in my pieces stems from the rig­or­ous train­ing I re­ceived. Drap­ing classes were one my fa­vorites but cu­ri­ously enough I haven’t ven­tured much into drap­ing in my col­lec­tions, how­ever, my school sketches and fi­nal projects al­ways bring back great mem­o­ries and ideas as well.

Your first line was launched in 2012, what was it called and what was dis­tinc­tive about the col­lec­tion?

I did not give a name to my first col­lec­tion.

Hand dyed Alençon lace dress by SOPHIE ZINGA (S/S 2014 col­lec­tion)

I re­mem­ber when I first started work­ing on it, I had just given birth to my daugh­ter and a month later I was run­ning around New York City sub­ways and the gar­ment dis­trict. I have al­ways fo­cused on us­ing high qual­ity fab­rics and my first col­lec­tion was no dif­fer­ent. I wanted it to have an African touch and rather than us­ing the popular “Ankara” fab­ric, I used a Sene­galese hand wo­ven fab­ric called “pagne tissé.” I used the fab­ric to de­sign a cock­tail dress and a maxi pleated skirt which even­tu­ally got the at­ten­tion of one of Elle France’s ed­i­tors. In 2013, you set up pro­duc­tion and opened a 1200 ft con­cept store in Dakar, Sene­gal’s cap­i­tal. Why did you de­cide to re­turn to the coun­try of your birth to es­tab­lish your brand?

I think even though I grew up abroad I al­ways made a con­scious decision to go back to Sene­gal to ei­ther work or cre­ate jobs and im­pact my com­mu­nity. My par­ents, sib­lings and I spent most of our sum­mers in Dakar so I al­ways felt a strong con­nec­tion with the cul­ture and spoke the lo­cal lan­guages flu­ently. For me, when I launched the line it was just a mat­ter of time be­fore I set­tled back in Dakar. What is the fash­ion scene like in Dakar? Is there a common thread to the de­sign com­ing out of the area? The fash­ion scene in Dakar is grow­ing. I’m so proud of what the lat­est gen­er­a­tion of Sene­galese de­sign­ers are do­ing. We all have our own dis­tinc­tive styles. Plat­forms such as Dakar Fash­ion Week spear­headed by Adama Paris helps grow and bring aware­ness to the grow­ing Sene­galese fash­ion scene. We still have a lot of work to do but I’m con­fi­dent that we will catch up with the rest. Sene­galese women are known for be­ing el­e­gant and gra­cious. When did you first learn of the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive? I first learned of the ITC Eth­i­cal Fash­ion Ini­tia­tive though a tal­ent contest that was launched in 2013. Ex­plain how you work with the ITC EFI now… It has been great col­lab­o­rat­ing and work­ing with ITC. They have pro­vided me with great feed­back dur­ing S/S 15 col­lec­tion and have also fa­cil­i­tated and spon­sored my pres­ence in plat­forms such the Vogue Tal­ents dur­ing Mi­lan Fash­ion Week. I think they have ar­rived at the right time as African fash­ion has been boom­ing and hav­ing in­ter­na­tional plat­forms to get our work known is cap­i­tal. I love their motto “not char­ity, just work”. It echoes the “trade not aid” sen­ti­ment which more Africans have been push­ing for. They are mak­ing his­tory. You have shown at a num­ber of fash­ion weeks now: New York, Paris, Mi­lan, Dubai, MBFWA in Jo­han­nes­burg and more re­cently in La­gos at the La­gos Fash­ion and De­sign Week... Do you have a favourite show to date?

New York is like home so my S/S 14 col­lec­tion pre­sen­ta­tion in New York will al­ways be spe­cial to me. Hav­ing said that, each city and each fash­ion week has its own dis­tinc­tive ben­e­fit. For ex­am­ple I love the spon­tane­ity of Dubai, they have that cul­ture of buy­ing off the run­way. La­gos’

en­ergy and cre­ativ­ity was un­par­al­leled and I think MBFWA’s pres­tige and beau­ti­ful pro­duc­tion still has me nos­tal­gic. I re­ally try to get the the best out of all of my shows and pre­sen­ta­tions. One of your sig­na­ture tech­niques in­volves the use of a Malian tie-dye tech­nique ap­plied to beau­ti­ful French Alen­con lace, chif­fons and other fab­rics. Are you de­vel­op­ing other de­sign and pro­duc­tion tech­niques like this, where African ar­ti­san pro­cesses are ap­plied to Euro­pean fab­rics or de­sign? Yes, I am an avid fan of fus­ing cul­tures and aes­thet­ics. In fact, I am cur­rently con­duct­ing re­search on the use of old Sene­galese dy­ing and batik tech­niques. Batik and dy­ing are tech­niques that have been used all through­out West Africa. For 2015, I plan on de­vel­op­ing my own silk printed fab­rics while us­ing old age West African tech­niques. I think it al­ways adds a spe­cial el­e­ment to clothes. Your roots are in West Africa, yet your lat­est col­lec­tion is called ‘Abyssinia’ the re­gion in East Africa now known as Ethiopia. Why did you call the col­lec­tion Abyssinia? My roots are in­deed West African but I spent part of my child­hood liv­ing in East Africa. I think the Ethiopian civ­i­liza­tion has been one of the most un­der­rated civ­i­liza­tions of all time. It also helps that my fa­ther wrote a book and did ex­ten­sive re­search on African writ­ing. I am very much drawn to re­vis­it­ing his­tor­i­cal as­pects of Africa to not only raise aware­ness, but to also get peo­ple in­ter­ested and start con­ver­sa­tions. Sim­i­larly, talk us through the use of the cross in the col­lec­tion from the Ethiopian Ortho­dox Church… As I was con­duct­ing more re­search on Ethiopia I stum­bled on the Ethiopian Ortho­dox cross which is deemed the “African cross” be­cause of its dis­tinc­tive shape. I also no­ticed that many of tra­di­tional Ethiopian tra­di­tional at­tire fea­ture the cross. In the col­lec­tion, the cross is em­broi­dered onto some the dresses and jump­suits. It was my way to pay homage to Abyssinia. What is next for Sophie Zinga? What does the next year hold for you? In 2015, I will be de­vel­op­ing an ac­ces­sories line. A dif­fu­sion line is also in the works, which will be launched to­wards the end of 2015. I am also work­ing on a larger scale project to be launched in 2016. It is a quite am­bi­tious project and will be linked to train­ing and de­vel­op­ing the African fash­ion in­dus­try. What mu­sic are you lis­ten­ing to at the mo­ment? Nina Si­mone on re­peat - “Aint got no” Your fa­vorite city? New York City. Your fa­vorite book? Too many to choose from. You are hav­ing a din­ner party and can in­vite four peo­ple from any time or place. Who would they be? Michelle Obama, Oprah Win­frey, Malala Yousafzai, Lupita Ny­ong’o. If you could do one thing to change the world, what would it be? Erad­i­cate poverty.

This page: Sophie wears a Hand dyed Alençon lace dress from her S/S 2014 col­lec­tion) Op­po­site: Silk satin top, han­dem­broi­dered with Swarovski de­tails by SOPHIE ZINGA (S/S 2015 col­lec­tion)

Op­po­site:Hand dyed om­bré Alençon lace gown by SOPHIE ZINGA (S/S 2015 col­lec­tion) This page left: Cot­ton piqué top with dyed and Swarovski in­crusted ap­pliqué by SOPHIE ZINGA (S/S 2015 col­lec­tion) Right:Ts­trap hand-beaded chif­fon cock­tail dress by SOPHIE ZINGA (S/S 2015 col­lec­tion)

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