Walk the fashion hallways, front house or backstage during fashion week at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week and you are bound to see Stylist and Blogger Rosemary Kokuhilwa, in her uniquely styled outfits, running from one show to another. If you are unable to attend the shows to see Kokuhilwa in action, all you need to do is log on to www.fashionkjunkii.com for front row seats at her personal styling party.
Rosemary Kokuhilwa is a Fashion Stylist, Fashion Blogger, Co-founder of Global Fashion New York Inc. and an ex-model from Tanzania. Encouraged and supported by her father, Rosemary was fascinated with the world of fashion, at a very young age, while residing in her native country, Tanzania. Her love for all things fashion came into play immediately after she graduated from high school and started modeling for ‘Faces International’ and working for ‘M-Net Africa-Tanzania.’ This opportunity allowed her to gain experience working on diverse and exciting projects with some of the most reputable media brands in Africa, including ‘M-Net Rock Down Africa,’ ‘Chanel O,’ ‘M-Net Face of Africa,’ and styling for local runway shows.
Determined to find her niche in the fashion industry, in a capacity of her choice, Rosemary migrated to the United States and began her popular fashion website aptly named Fashionjunkii™. Rosemary has worked with many reputable photographers including world-renowned photographer Fadil Berisha.
A regular attendee and reporter at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week New York shows, in 2010, she produced the first Global Fashion New York Inc. fashion show, an organization she co-founded which uses fashion to educate and advocate for Human Rights and the empowerment of the underprivileged. Rosemary is currently the new Style Director for emerging fashion brand Prajje 1983. She is also a Social Entrepreneur and Philanthropist who continues to use her influence to raise funds to support charitable causes, locally and internationally.
Ms. Kokuhilwa is our Ladybrille Magazine September 2012 Woman of the Month!
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I know I contacted you almost two months ago about a feature on Ladybrille as Woman of the Month. How are you?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: Hi Ladybrille. I am doing great, thank you. Actually I think it’s a little more than two months but thank you for choosing me as Ladybrille Woman of the month for your September issue. It is such an honor especially considering September is a new fashion season. I feel very special. Thank you.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I felt like it was so overdue having watched your career in the USA and the many transitions and growth in positioning yourself as to the go to stylist, especially in Africa’s fashion industry.We have a lot to talk about.
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: Yes, we do. So much. I remember vividly when I started out and looking at myself now where I am, I feel like I have come such a long way. I have learnt a lot along the way and I am still learning.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Indeed. First, we see you a lot online and offline being about the business of fashion. But who is Koku?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: (Laughs) I love how you call me Koku. Very few people who are very dear to me use that name.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: (Oops! Sorry I had no idea. I thought I had heard some call you that around fashion circles. (Laughs))
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: If you ask my friends who is Koku, they would probably say she is a very nice lady with a good heart. A very down to earth person who loves life, to laugh, good company, good food, good wine and good music. She also enjoy travelling. She is God fearing and a family woman (very close to her family). Without God and her family, she wouldn’t be who she is today.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: You have such an intense love for fashion, how did that come about?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: I think it all started out at a very young age when I use to see my mother put on her white long sleeve blouse, Levis skin jeans and black pumps. Then she would go ahead and spray herself with Opium perfume from Yves Saint Laurent. I loved how she used to keep her hair in a natural fro. I dont think she new anything about fashion back then. She would wear whatever my father would bring her from his trips to Europe. I used to think and still think she is the most beautiful woman/ mother on earth and very fashionable. Then when I was in primary school, I started reading some fashion magazines that my friends would bring from abroad with their parents. That’s how it all started out.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What about your specific love for styling? What makes you want to change the way people look?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: Passion. Everything I do is because of the passion I have inside me. Some people think my job as a stylist is easy or is not a job but when i get a chance to work with them and they see the end results, they become happy. You could even see their confidence changed. And that my friend, for me is priceless. Seeing the transformation of my client, looking confident and happy means a lot to me.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: When and how did you get into fashion styling?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: I actually started out in the fashion industry back in 1998 when I was doing modeling back in Tanzania. However it wasn’t until 2008 when I chose styling as a career. When I started out at first I had no idea how to turn it into a business. Many people think Styling is just putting shoes and clothes on. What they don’t know is that it is a job, a business that requires a lot of paper work and good work ethic just like any other business. So, for me to learn the business part of it, I decided to take some courses which I think was the best move I ever made. I am so glad I did it. Then from there I started getting my name out there, did a few internship and assisted a few stylists. Assisting is something that I still do especially whenever there is an opportunity for me to work with a house hold name or a brand.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I have watched you develop a confident voice in expressing yourself that was not there in the past. What was the epiphany you had that made you step into your essence and own the styling space the way you have now?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: I think when I started out, I was all over the place and didn’t believe in myself what I could offer to the world. With time and confidence I came to realize that if I didn’t believe in myself nobody will. I made a conscious and concerted effort to push hard and get myself out there and have people hear and see my work. I knew it was not going to be easy considering how the industry is, but with determination and perseverance I think I have found my voice and space in the styling business.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What has been some of the challenges you have faced in working in Africa’s fashion industry?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: There are a few but I think for me the biggest one has been dealing with the wrong people or should I say trust issues. This industry is full of phony people and the ‘wannabes’ , pardon me. Just because everyone wants to be somebody in the industry, they tend to use or they don’t care to cheat and abuse others who have started out before them to get to where they want to get to. People wanna be friends with you not because they care about you, or like you, but it is because they want to use you to get ahead. During the few years I have worked in this industry I have seen people going to the extreme to try to hurt others and what they have built so that they could get that one contact or that one job or get their names out there as part of the circle. Then again, I guess it’s just a game right?
LADYBRILLEmag.com: I will get to your blog Fashion Junkii soon. But, tell us more about what you have been doing in Tanzania with fashion?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: I was in Tanzania to visit my lovely family . At the same time I took the opportunity to meet with three of my new clients. One of them is Rose Mhando a Gospel singer from Tanzania who has recently signed with Sony Africa / Rock Star 4000. I’m glad to say I have been contracted with Sony Africa / Rock Star 4000 to work with their newly signed talents in the East Africa region. For now, you get to know one, but you will know the rest of them pretty soon when they are officially announced. I am also working with Miss Universe Tanzania organization preparing the current Miss Universe Tanzania 2012 for the Miss World 2012 in December.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: It’s fashion week season so let me take you back to New York. You launched the Global Fashion Show Project in New York. What exactly is that all about?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: Global Fashion New York Inc is non-for profit organization which goal is to use fashion communication to educate and assist the poor, the underprivileged and the marginalized in society. We use fashion events to raise funds that support causes such as building schools and promoting unknown talents from different parts of the world particularly from Africa. While doing that, we also try to educate and advocate for human rights and the empowerment of the poor and the voiceless in society that are abused and neglected in society.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What is the long term plan for Global Fashion New York?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: So far, Global Fashion New York Inc plan is to stand itself as a global brand that is going to oversee and promote fashion especially for up and coming talents and giveback to the community in various ways. I have been in talk with different stakeholders and our well wishers who are very interested in partnering with GFNY Inc to achieve these goals.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: Let’s go to your blog Fashion Junkii, why did you start it?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: I started Fashionjunkii as a personal daily diary. I think I needed a place where I could have my own voice, a place where I could document what I wear, where I go, who I meet and also give a few tips about things I liked such as new trends etc. So Fashionjunkii was the right platform for me.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: The blog has receive makeovers over time. What would you say the blog now represents?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: I think since I started out, Fashionjunkii has always been the representation of ME. It’s my personality. Everything I do, blog about are things that I like. It’s very personal. I have had a lot of changes and at some point I had contributors which didn’t seem to work. I think it’s because I was having multiple personalities who were opposite of me or who didn’t either share my vision or didn’t have the same passion that I have.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What is your opinion on Africa’s fashion industry?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: African’s fashion industry is not like what it used to be. It has changed tremendously these recent few years. Thanks to social media and blogsphere now we get to see and learn and get inspired from someone who is very passionate from places like Adis Ababa (Ethiopia). However, people have become consumed and deceitful to themselves about African fashion or fashion as a whole. Sometimes people think just because they know a few tailors across the street and have a few dresses that they bought from Zara, they can take those and remake them and boom become a designer. Don’t get me wrong, there are a few fashion enthusiasts out there who take this very very seriously .
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What about African Fashion Media, especially online fashion blogs?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: I think without the African fashion media, especially the blogs, the world would pay no attention to African fashion. I think because of these platforms, now the industry has it’s own voice. Now, fashionistas from different parts of the world are paying so much attention to our designers, to things like African prints such as Ankara. These platforms are on the front row into promoting the industry and its talents to the world.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What makes a brilliant stylist?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: I think what makes a brilliant stylist is when you always meet your client’s satisfactions whether the client is a big ad campaign or is just an ordinary person who can only afford to shop at K-Mart. Providing 100% service to your client is a key to becoming successful. Give them what they pay you for. Also, always do your homework before and after meeting your clients and remember to be nice/ friendly to your client no matter how bad is your day.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: How do you define a Ladybrille woman, from your own personal experiences?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: A Ladybrille woman is woman of substance. She is confident, independent, ‘go getter’ and take chances and always look fashionable and stylish while at it. She is that woman who is an inspiration to others and everyone would like to know or learn something from her.
LADYBRILLEmag.com: What next for you?
Rosemary Kokuhilwa: There is so much in store, So much. One being a studio which is going to be international with HQ offices in Africa. This is an ongoing project, and it’s one of the reasons why I was in Tanzania. I am also rebranding GFNY Inc, things are looking very good. I thank God for that. I am also pushing into getting more clients especially in Africa where the indutsry is still fresh. I feel it is where I need to be right now. So much to learn, so much to offer.
NOTE: This interviewer got an opportunity to be styled, impromptu, at the request of Rosemary Kokuhilwa March of 2011. It was a fun styling session and photoshoot.
-Interview by Uduak Oduok
WOMAN OF THE MONTH: OBY NWAOGBE
A running feature for 10 years, The ‘Ladybrille Woman of the Month’ celebrates women in business and leadership, who empower themselves and others through their contributions and actions in their local and international communities. In 2014, the feature expanded to include a podcast show. If you would like to nominate a woman to be celebrated, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.