Tina Lobondi – from fashion to philanthropy; putting Congo on the map!
The stereotypical narrative of the African Francophone dream is based on an aspiration for all things French, with the ultimate goal being to leave Africa and live and work in Paris. It is not surprising that this is the perception that many have, as for years countries such as the Democratic Republic of Congo have struggled to shake off the “war and Ebola brand” that the media has ascribed to them, presenting the country as unlivable. Congolese (DRC) born fashion designer and philanthropist Tina Lobondi, took a hiatus from her life of couture to reverse engineer this story for herself and her country.
The first time I met Tina Lobondi at the New African Woman Awards in London in 2016, she exuded grace and an understated elegance that I’ve come to know as distinctly French. Once she opened her mouth to speak it was clear that the Kinshasa born amazon is intensely proud of her Congolese heritage, and unapologetic about her European influences – a statement that is boldly apparent in her designs.
The civil war in what was Zaire at the time forced her to be uprooted from her home country while she was still in school, and was relocated to Paris. She later moved to London where her fashion brand was founded, and then later expanded to Paris. The choice to pursue fashion was not popular with her family, although it would almost seem that fashion is second nature to the Congolese. Their eccentric and adventurous style sense has popularized what is now known as “Les Sapeurs” or “Dandies” – a trademark style of dressing that has captured the world’s attention. However, Tina persevered in spite of criticism to become a part of this global conversation with Congolese fashion at its center. Her brand has been featured across major platforms from fashion magazine ‘Elle’ to BBC Africa, she has also dressed celebrities such as Angelique Kidjo. In spite of this international success, her bond and childhood memories from her motherland ensured that she passionately grabbed any opportunity to bring her wearable art to the runways of Africa. This nostalgia has been a major element in her evolution.
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Her love affair with her homeland flirted with her from the diaspora, until she finally decided to get actively involved with the creative industry in the DRC when she took the leap to establish ESIMBI. ESIMBI is a non-profit social initiative that promotes the Arts, Fashion and Culture of Congolese origin through educational events, apprenticeships and workshops for underprivileged children and adolescents in Congo. The organization currently supports over 200 children in the DRC and boasts the likes of A list actress Thandi Newton as a brand ambassador.
ESIMBI also has a magazine which showcases Francophone excellence, from the likes of Ivorian rapper Suspect 95 who is featured on the most recent cover, to Congolese artist Mohombi, it is a celebration of a category of African excellence that is often overlooked by the Anglophone dominated mainstream media. This year the platform has grown even further by the creation of an award show that will recognize and celebrate outstanding African women both on the continent and in the diaspora.
Strong women have no doubt left definitive footprints on Tina’s identity as she credits her inspiration as having the privilege of a comfortable upbringing around admirable women in the DRC. Her love for wanting to uplift her community is majorly influenced by growing up watching her grandmother doing the same – she would give selflessly to all who lived in their area.
Through Tina’s work in fashion and philanthropy, a new story about the beauty of the DRC is being carefully crafted as she works tirelessly to pay her success forward to as many of her people as possible. From London, to Paris, to Kinshasa, her colorful brand of African excellence cannot be disputed.
Vimbai Mutinhiri- Ekpenyong is a Pan African TV host and Executive Producer who established herself as a personality in African media after hosting shows such as Star Gist on Africa Magic, and the Africa Magic Viewers Choice Awards. Originally Zimbabwean, she has worked widely across the continent both in front of the camera and behind it.