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Dede Reelia Kouevi: It’s okay not to have it all & still make your vision come to life

[bctt tweet=”Dede Reelia Kouevi: I bought a Christmas ornament from a $1 store & turned it into an earring” username=”SheLeadsAfrica”] When your grandparents, mother and aunts are tailors, you’re pretty much guaranteed to be a fashionista. Dede Reelia Kouevi was born in Togo to a fashion-forward family, now she’s made her mark as an accessories designer. Her brand UniqueByReelia features vibrant, colourful jewellery and accessories but Reelia isn’t limiting herself to accessories. In the three years since UniqueByReelia launched, Reelia has showcased her designs in shows such as Black Fashion Week Montréal, Fest Africa 2014, African Fashion Week DC and Ankara Fashion Week Miami. Now she’s trying to host her own show in Italy, the Afro Expo Fashion Week. Reelia is very familiar with the difficulty that comes with getting into shows as a young designer and wants to provide a platform for designers like her. Why start Unique by Reelia? I started UniqueByReelia because I always knew I was going to be a fashion designer. I started showcasing at different fundraisers since I was in high school with clothes my mother used to make me from Togo. I knew that I wanted to move to New York to pursue my dream and find a way toward my goal. When I moved to New York, I was hoping my school will have a few designing classes. But that wasn’t the case! It was just a regular private university. In my sophomore year, I decided to start making accessories. One day, I went to a $1 store, bought a Christmas ornament and turned it into an earring. I wore it around my campus and my friends loved it. That was the beginning of UniqueByReelia. I thought to myself if I can start with accessories and make my way up, in the future I will be able to dress people from head to toes. [bctt tweet=”Dede Reelia Kouevi: I wanted to be ambitious and a go getter, somebody who empowers others” username=”SheLeadsAfrica”] What was the spark that lead you down this path? When I was in high school, I attended modelling and acting classes at John Roberts Power. I wasn’t getting gigs and I met other young dark-skinned African girls who were in the same boat as myself. There are people who are driven to be models and willing to learn, yet they were not given the opportunity to do so. I thought to myself; instead of waiting for other people to give me the opportunity I’ve waiting for, I can create that opportunity for others. I loved the idea of being a designer and helping other young models live their dreams. Since I started UniqueByReelia, I have inspired other girls to find confidence through modelling as well. I’ve worked with all types of models, curvy, skinny, tall, starters, pregnant women, as well as some super models and top models. Tell us about being at the Black Fashion Week in Montreal. How did you get there? The Black Fashion Week in Montreal, was an amazing experience. I’ve been looking up to Adama Paris ever since I started my brand. Adama is ambitious and fashion icon, I felt like that was the woman I wanted to become. I wanted to be ambitious and a go getter, somebody who empowers others. So, when an opportunity presented itself, I did everything to make it happened. I’ve became friends with her on Facebook and Instagram. She posted about the Black Fashion Week event and was looking for designers. I applied, they loved my designs and accepted me in. The show participation fee, the transportation and my accommodation came up to a total of $3000. My school refund checks, my fiancé and my dad helped me go to the Black Fashion Week project. [bctt tweet=”Reelia realized at an early stage that many people don’t really value accessory designers” username=”SheLeadsAfrica”] Do you believe you’re limiting yourself by focusing solely on accessories? No, I am not limiting myself by solely focusing on accessories. I recently launched my clothing line 6 months ago and I’m currently working on my swimwear collection for spring/summer 2017, which am very excited about. I just wanted to push my accessories line to the top. First, because I get to create them myself and I wanted to do something different through my brand. I realized at an early stage that many people don’t value accessories designers the way they value clothing designers. So, I promised myself that I will be the best in order to inspire other accessories designers. Being an accessories designer is not easy, we brainstorm too, we sit down and create stuff. We use our hands more than machine. How can you not value something like that? Sometimes I cry when I bring some of my designs to life. I remember going to shows where I had the privilege to showcase my pieces on my own. At these shows, other accessories designers had to pair their pieces with clothing designers. Don’t get me wrong, pairing up designers is not as bad as it sounds. Still sometimes you just want the stage to yourself, you know. [bctt tweet=”Sometimes Dede Reelia Kouevi cries when she brings her @UniqueByReelia designs to life” username=”SheLeadsAfrica”] We stumbled upon your IndieGoGo page for the Afro Expo Fashion Week Italy. Can you tell us how you first heard of this event? Well, Afro Expo Fashion Week Italy, is my own fashion show. This is a show I’m organizing in Italy. My initial idea was to tour Europe and to do shows like I’ve been doing it here in the States. I wanted to start with Black Fashion Paris. But I thought about it and realized that, with all the experiences that I have already acquired, it was time to do my own show. Then again, most of my friends have had their shows here in the States already. I wanted to do something different, so I decided to bring my fashion week to Italy. The idea is to