Last summer there were rumblings through the grapevine about a New York-based model launching a sustainable water project in West Africa. That tenacious individual is the statuesque Burkinabe, Georgie Badiel.
My love and everything that I have comes from Africa.
Fashion lovers familiar with African models are sure to recognise her. Svelte and chameleon-like, Georgie stormed onto the stage when she swept the title of Miss Africa held in Tunisia during 2004. Paris was soon to follow making her debut appearance for the prestigious house of Lanvin, helmed by Moroccan-born designer Albert Elbaz.
Her lithe legs have graced the catwalks of fashion’s hallowed names – from the staid to the avant-garde. Louis Vuitton, Diane Von Furstenberg, Rick Owens, Martin Margiela amongst others can be found in her repertoire along with being featured by designers Zang Toi, Chado Ralph Rucci and Arise magazine. In March of this year the publication honoured Badiel, awarding her female model of the year at the Arise Magazine Fashion Week held in Lagos, Nigeria.
Georgie’s long list of successes and accolades within the fashion world are numerous however, her ambitious path extends far beyond the catwalks of New York, Paris and Lagos.
I met with Georgie last summer where we first began this conversation. Though expecting to hear primarily about her water project, over the course of our talk unfurled a story to marvel.
As one of ten children, Georgie grew up in a household where giving a helping hand came as second nature. “I love helping, I was born in a big family” later adding “waiting for life is boring; I can’t be just a model walking the catwalk, my life does not stop there. I want to live life and be able to do many things.”
Badiel is a passionate woman marshalling her experience garnered in fashion to launch her own brand – a lingerie line called Georgie’s Garden. She quips, “All the inspiration for my garden is everything that I love. It’s Africa. Everything that I have, comes from Africa! I want to show the diversity. I can be inspired from Morocco, from South Africa, from Eritrea, from Burkina Faso, or even Cape Verde. The cultures from the south to west, north and east are so different. I want to show this diversity. Africa is the last continent to progress in terms of fashion. Now is the time for Africans to express ourselves.”
It is clear that this is no elevator pitch. She is aware of the challenges prevalent on the continent which she sheds light on a bit later, yet these words effortlessly roll off her tongue, suffused with a deep sense of pride, a respect for her history and heritage.
Over the course of our conversation questions hardly need to be asked; her poignant belief that Africa’s time is now propels our exchange forward. Georgie has no desire to wait, she wants to be a catalyst now. Her family still lives in Burkina Faso yet her vision is expansive. She is rolling up her sleeves to help her proverbial Burkinabe ‘sisters’ and ‘mothers.’ Though born in neighbouring West African nation Côte d’Ivoire [Ivory Coast], Badiel grew up in Burkina Faso calling it home until she was eighteen.
This country’s standard of living ranks depressingly low. As of 2009, according to the World Bank, 44.6% of the Burkinabe population was living well below the poverty line. The trend has been slowly inching towards improvement since 2003, however the continued severity of the economic problem for the masses indicates that much work lies ahead.
Like the metaphor of the humming bird by Kenyan environmentalist and Nobel laureate, the late Dr. Wangaari Maathai, Badiel is not standing by despite seemingly insurmountable odds. She believes that investment in skill building and job creation will work towards poverty alleviation and furthermore to the creation of sustainable economic growth, not only in Burkina Faso but also throughout the continent. Naturally this is not something that she anticipates materialising overnight, but nobody needs to tell her otherwise. After all this is the very woman who propelled herself from Ouagadougou to Paris, hard work and tenacity are not lost on her.
So she has decided to leverage her experience and relationships, developing her lingerie brand to be produced in Burkina Faso for the African market. “My vision is to create lingerie that flatters the African woman’s figure – we have rounder hips, thighs and derriere. My goal is to capture this market becoming the Victoria’s Secret of Africa.” In September 2012, Georgie’s Garden will launch in New York.
Between jet setting to fashion shows and shoots as well as nurturing Georgie’s Garden, Badiel has simultaneously launched two other projects. Georgie by Georgie’s Garden, a non-profit working to improve the lives of women in Burkina Faso; and Models 4 Water, a water development project spear-headed together with fellow model Heidi Lindgren, the face of GUESS by Marciano and director Max Crespo.
“You know how African mothers are, they have lived a lot of pain but they always give love to their kids. So I want to give love back, and give them sunshine from Georgie’s Garden by giving them skills to design, encouraging their confidence and inspiring their creativity.” For the time being her non-profit is working with eight women in the capital of Ouagadougou mobilising their skills on the loom and initiating the production of various fashion accessories.
Burkina Faso is renown for its cotton. Like many places in West Africa, woven cloth has held great cultural significance with patterns and techniques emblematic of specific regions and tribes. Her weavers specialise in Faso Dan Fani fabric of the Mossi people, traditionally cotton cloth woven in blue, white and black vertical strips.
Less than a year into operation, Georgie by Georgie’s Garden has already made it to New York’s runways. Quick to enlist clients such as designers Zang Toi and Jose Orellana, during the Spring | Summer 2012 fashion week, both designers previewed looks featuring Faso Dan Fani fabric. A milestone that Badiel was eager to convey to her eight ‘mothers’ as she fondly calls them, sharing successes in the face of adversity to continually nurture their confidence.
Strengthening the Ouagadougou team’s creative and technical acumen is a priority. To this end, Badiel has enlisted the support of New York based milliner Ellen Christine. The designer is currently developing various hats and scarves that she will then train Georgie’s ‘mothers’ to produce in Burkina Faso under the auspices of Fashion 4 Development.
This global campaign, in line with Badiel’s philosophy, addresses poverty to gender inequality issues through fashion-based initiatives. They recently enlisted the eminent Editor in Chief of Vogue Italia, Franca Sozzani as their global Goodwill Ambassador. Since her appointment the media, both industry and conventional news outlets have been following her movements which included trips to Ghana and Nigeria. With one savvy move fashion and Africa, is now less rare on the fashion news cycle. More will follow undoubtedly with her announcement that she is slated to travel to Botswana, Mozambique, Kenya and Ethiopia as she told industry publication WSJ in March.
The Ghanaian economist George Ayitteh was certainly speaking about Georgie and her generation when he coined the term Cheetah, to refer to young Africans who are seeking innovation and knowledge, and actively looking for solutions to their problems rather than the older generation whom he calls Hippos. The later, a rancorous lot seeking handouts, quick to blame others with their only claim to fame being that they are sending Africa to hell in a hand basket.
As a matter of fact, it is a parched hand basket. The reality for more than 80% of the people in Burkina Faso is having to walk hours daily in search of water. Their reward, being forced to drink poorly sanitized or germ-infested water that will surely make them sick or even worse, kill them.
When you grow up with the advantage of turning on a faucet and having an endless supply of clean water, empathy is possible but that very ease distances us from the daily reality that somewhere else on the planet this is a mirage. In Badiel’s case she has experienced this problem first hand, and it continues to hit close to home for even her family faces this reality.
Now a hippo would see this as someone else’s problem, yet Badiel thought otherwise. A late night conversation with Heidi Lindgren on the subject turned quickly to action. The duo decided they would put their faces to a different kind of a product, Models 4 Water.
Light-years away from the glamour of the catwalk, they have staked the claim that water is a human right. With Max Crespo their operating director, the trio has partnered with The Water Project to implement well drilling and education programs in Burkina Faso. They have kicked off various efforts to raise funds and gain visibility bolstered by strategic partnerships so far with Gilt City New York and Modelina.
Operating out of New York is more than ideal, this city is recognised as hub for corporate philanthropy. Successes to date include hosting a dinner at New York’s trendy Laconda Verde in Tribeca, raising more than thirty thousand dollars in one evening and making high profile public appearances such as ringing the opening bell for the NASDQ this past February.
Georgie’s Garden | facebook
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All images courtesy of the respective artists. All rights reserved.
For Georgie Badiel exclusive images for Another Africa.
Photography | Josh Pushkin, Styling | Maggie James, Hair | Hikaru Hirano
Clothing courtesy of Inner Tubing and Georgie Badiel.