Lemmy Izengo has dedicated a lot of her life to creating fashion designs inspired by her Tanzanian heritage.
Clothing is not only an expression of identity for her, it’s also about keeping her culture alive.
“Clothing speaks to us, food, drums, storytelling, so all of that is a way of life and it goes together hand in hand,” she said.
“So that’s how I was brought up and I had that passion for fashion, I had that passion for bold and stand-out outfits … that was just the way of life.”
At the age of 23, she moved to Australia to find better opportunities.
“Those days [there weren’t] many people like me…. I could jump in a bus and someone says ‘Hey, can I touch your hair?’ or ‘Where are you from?’,” the now 46-year-old said.
“At least nowadays I can see a lot of people who look like me which is wonderful, that sense of togetherness and having people who they celebrate, or they have the same background as you … it makes a huge difference.”
While she left her country and family behind, she didn’t leave her rich culture.
For the last six years, Ms Izengo has turned her love for fashion into a business, which helps promote African design.
“For me, from the beginning, we started this for the kid who looks like me. We shouldn’t be ashamed, or not celebrate who we are in every different aspect,” she said.
She was one of 12 designers recently invited to showcase their creations at Kaleidoscope World of Fashion in Perth.
Event focused on diversity
The newly launched event was created by a group of industry veterans to highlight the importance of diversity and increase representation in the sector.
“This is a huge opportunity for our communities, to have this platform and to celebrate,” Ms Izengo said.
“It really encourages me to stand up tall, and to show the world that hey, we’re just the same as you.
“I hope the young girls who are dreaming to be fashion designers or models, whatever aspects of [their dreams], they should realise they can work hard on their dream and their dream can come true.”
Model Jeraldine Nshimilimana, who walked Ms Izengo’s main design at the launch of the show at the WA Museum Boola Bardip on Sunday, said it was an honour to be a part of the ground-breaking event.
“We’ve got people from across the world, and the native people of Australia as well [which] you don’t get that anywhere. It’s almost unseen and unheard of, so it’s great to have this platform,” she said.
Model Raquisha Kearing, who wore an outfit by West Australian Noongar artist Peter Farmer, said being able to represent her First Nations roots always made her proud.
“I think Indigenous fashion is very underrepresented in the modelling industry so it’s something really important for us as Australians to uphold,” she said.
“To pay respects to Aboriginal people past, present and future is very important and by including it in the fashion industry, it helps to bridge that gap between non- Indigenous and Indigenous people.”
Embracing multicultural design
Modelling for Australian-Indian designer Brinda Bajaria, 22-year-old Ashlyn Kaur said she hoped the platform would help multicultural design become more widely accepted in the mainstream fashion industry.
“It means so much to look around the room and see so many different faces and so much diversity… because I think the modelling industry has traditionally been not as diverse as it should be,” she said.
Event founder Astrid Tshidibu, who has worked in the industry for decades, said she wanted to establish a platform to specifically provide a space for those who are often overlooked or misrepresented.
“I wasn’t really having a voice as a black model,” she said.
“I didn’t have a platform to express my talent or even express my beauty or represent other young people who look like me.
“Then I started to work with young people and train them, and I saw most of us losing our roots, our culture… and really I wanted to change [that].”
Originally from Congo, she felt her appearance and background as a woman of colour was often a hindrance in her modelling career in Australia.
“For me it’s very important to showcase diversity in the fashion industry because we’re underrepresented, not represented or misrepresented and this needs to change,” she said.
“I think most young people love fashion and this is the only way I can turn it and push it back.
“To bring young people together to see that there’s someone there who looks like me, someone there who actually has the same culture as me and she’s proud or he is proud to show that, why am I hiding?”
The event’s project manager, Victoria Cappeau said she wanted all Australians, including migrants like herself, to see what representation and inclusion should look like.
“What we aim to build is a platform for young and older emerging artists who haven’t had the opportunity or the stepping stone and we also want to be able to give that support,” she said.
The group hopes to expand over coming years to include mentoring models and artists wanting to break into the fashion industry.