Over the years, Tanzanian-born designer Gisella Asante‘s designs have become a cornerstone of African-inspired couture in London. Her collections have been shown at the V&A, London Fashion Week, London Design Festival and the Royal Society of Arts and everyone from Erykah Badu to actress Kelly Brook have been seen sporting her designs. After almost 22 years with a successful line and her own retail destination Gisella Boutique, Parlour sat down with Gisella for some insight on her journey as our latest Parlour MAVEN.
Next week, Gisella will be featured alongside Winsome Cornish and three other outstanding women at the next I’mPOSSIBLE Conversation, taking place as part of the Women of the World festival during International Women’s Day at London’s Southbank Centre.
Parlour: How did you get your start in the fashion business?
I set up my business in 1991. Having worked in the airline industry as well as local government for almost 12 years, a third redundancy prompted my resolve to retrain and pursue the self-employment route.
Was there a moment when you realized that fashion was your path?
From an early age, I’ve always had a keen interest in style and a desire to own a boutique. Moving to England from Kenya in the early eighties actually intensified my cultural radar by focusing my passion for African design traditions and textiles. As I gathered my research during the course of studying fashion design in London, it became clear that there was a huge gap in the UK market with visible engagement and African designers.
By the time I graduated, I’d managed to acquire a small portfolio of return clients. Between full-time study and mothering a teenage daughter — whom I’d regularly rope in to be my young apprentice! — I’d use whatever time and resource I could spare to test the market and refine my skills at small craft fairs and trade shows. It was necessary in building my confidence until eventually I felt ready to start seriously looking for commercial premises and start-up finances to get my business officially up and running.
What are the biggest inspirations for your designs?
I am mostly inspired by beautiful fabrics, particularly rare hand woven pieces, tie dyes and a whole host of silks, linens and laces. Because we are primarily a couture establishment creating individual commissions for each client, we are blessed with an endless flow of creative collaborators. It’s truly humbling and gratifying to play an intimate part in helping someone feel their best, and knowing that something I’ve made contributed to their special moment.