Aysha Jones-Ceesay, an inspirational fashion stylist
Friday, February 03, 2012
From the family of William Jones [later known as
Sheikh-Tijan Jones] and Madan Gaye of Banjul, Aysha Jones-Ceesay is a
Swedish-based Gambian who is making her mark in the world of fashion and
She is a fashion stylist, a manager, public relations agent and chief executive officer of the Asyha’s Style, a reputable establishment in Stockholm, Sweden. Many people would not want to venture into such a domain for a living given its consistent urge for constant creativity and innovation to survive the industry, but Aysha is an exception, as she has been comfortably trading in this branch for a while with successes. This is attested to by the fact that recently her upcoming event named SoFashion-SoAysha; Pink & Purple, has been put into the Stockholm Fashion Week; a great achievement for any fashion stylists.
This columnist caught up with her recently to share her
wider experiences with the esteemed readership of this paper. In an online interview
from her base in Sweden, Aysha spoke at length about the trials and
tribulations of her life and what it takes to be in this lucrative but
Please enjoy the rest of the interview
Bt: Aysha thanks for accepting to be featured on Bantaba. Well, many Gambians might not know you very well even though you are an inspirational fashion designer overseas. Would you mind to tell us your family background a little bit?
Aysha: Let me start by mentioning the most high and powerful; He whom has made this all possible for me and blessed me with the loving family and friends I have! I am forever grateful and a proud Muslim. Well I am from the family of Jones and Gaye tribes. My father was William Jones later known as Sheikh-Tijan Jones and my mother is Madan Gaye. I don’t really know much about my “family roots”, I know who my aunts, uncles and granny are and so on.
Bt: Would you mind to tell us your childhood background and other experiences that shaped your destiny?
Aysha: I was born in McDonalds Street [in Banjul] but my mum took me and my older sister to live in Sweden when I was two years of age. I am blessed to have been raised up in Europe but sometimes I wonder had it been better if we stayed in Africa. I didn’t grow up with my dad and that has affected me a lot. Perhaps more than I knew growing up, but now as a young woman and mother of three I see how much my mum struggled to keep food on the table and how nice life can be if you have both parents around. That’s what I wish for my kids, for them to grow up with both of their parents.
A lot happened to me when I was a kid, many things that should not happen to anyone and I was so angry for a long time. I cursed the world and everybody in it, even its creator. I was so angry that I often wanted life to end. But at the same time, I knew I was stronger than that and in some strange way faith has always been a light deep down in my heart and soul. When I think of my childhood there was many bad moments but just as many good times as well!
Like Christmas with my family, Easter “knock on door” with
friends; playing until late at night in the community garden just outside of
our house with my siblings and some friends and much more. I guess what I am taking too long to say is I learnt early in
life that life is ups n downs. That one is stronger than we appear and that a
little bit of faith can take you far.
Bt: Madam you have been making your mark in the fashion industry down there. What is the inspiration that encouraged you to join this industry and what is your objective in this regard?
Aysha: Haha! It’s true, I have been hustling down this rocky road for long time now and it’s just starting to pay off!
I got in to fashion due to an old ex boyfriend of mine who knew someone that also knew someone that was a designer, and so I did my first ever runway show. I was hooked and craved for more!!! It’s safe to say it was an accident meant to happen. I always loved fashion though, I just didn’t know it and couldn’t afford it haha! That’s also why I strive to promote and work with garments/brands that are affordable for the masses and not just a small fashion elite. All though I do love the more expensive fashion brands as well, perhaps a bit too much?!
Some of the things that inspired me to be in this branch are the lack of people like me, underdogs of the underdogs! No experience, no education and no budget; just a whole lot of will power and courage. One of my strengths is– I go for what I see and want it!
Bt: What is your strength in the fashion world given its competitive nature that requires constant creativity and innovation?
Aysha: My impulsive nature and the gift of having “a running
mouth” laughs! By running mouth I mean that I am very good in networking and
that is what I owe half of my career to. What also helped me is the fact that I
am very colourful as a person and good in business.I am not like many of those stylists, designers, etc that
are available now.
I am an underdog in the sense that I started not even knowing what a fashion stylist does; how to set up a proper event etc. All of those things that I am doing, I taught myself by failures and the hate of hearing “oh, you can’t do this”. I hate that! (Laughs). If you want me to do something, just tell me that you can’t do it and wait for me to get fire in my ass – I will have the task done by all means.
Bt: What are the products of your enterprise – I mean the
type of attires and dresses?
Aysha: As a fashion stylist I have the honour of dressing both males and females all though it’s more fun to dress women. I am launching a web-shop soon that will show my love for female fashion since I got loads of girls’ stuffs and very little for men. What you can expect from my first real design collection is a lot of cocktail dresses, miniskirts and garments with loads of paste.
There will be many theatrical outfits as I love high fashion and crazy styles as those of Lady Gaga and Niki Minaj. Those are not made to be comfortable or wearable, more as art and for productions. A way of speaking your mind without words! I know I will launch a double collection since I do love to walk into a shop and see people queue for my garments or wear them as I walk by in the streets! That’s true fashion joy!
Bt: Do you do the work all by yourself or you employ other people to work with you?
Aysha: Currently I am working alone, but I used to have a
very good assistant in the person of Ella. I love her and soon I will re-employ
her again that is if she wants me as her boss again laughs! Its tough handling
it all by myself, but that is it and I have to deal with the cards I have been
given. But the hopes for this year are to expand my business and hire people in
Sweden and in The Gambia!
Bt: Europe is seen by many people, Africans for that matter as a destination with abundant opportunities. In fact some of the people are with a strong view that making it in Europe is as easy as taking a cup of water to drink. What is your take on this given your huge experience of working and living in Europe?
Aysha: I would like for all people of all nations to be able to travel free throughout the world, it’s ours to share and not any ones to divide! Although I want everyone to know that the real “Babylon” is not in Europe, but it’s in a country where your neighbor will knock on your door every once in a while to see if you are okay; where it’s okay to enter an unknown house and ask for a meal, or two. It’s a pretty hard knock life out here and our trees are just as those in Africa – growing leaves and not money!
We work hard all the months, pay our very costly rents and childcare fees, electricity and so on that are ten times higher than the price in Africa. In the end we are left with very little whilst some with nothing more than to feed themselves. And on top of that, we don’t have any relative that we can call and say “doma yonil darra, stand daffa hew boy.”
Bt: Aysha you also married in Sweden and with some children. How does it mean having to fulfill your family commitments and at the same time toiling hard under a competitive environment to make ends meet?
Aysha: Haha how many pages do you have for this interview? I could write you a book on this topic. Laughs! It’s just as hard as cracking a coconut open with your bare hands! I am the type of mum that hates to take my kids to daycare or even school for that matter.
Don’t get me wrong I think education is one of the most
important things that people can get and my kids rarely miss school. But I do
love to have them close to me all day every day! I know it’s not possible so I do
my best in the situation and I hope when they grow up they will understand and
forgive me for my shortcomings.
Reading this interview will surely help in
letting them know that I love them and all I strive for is giving them a better
future than what I can offer them right now. I want them to have a big bank
account because I know by lesson that it’s a fact that money makes life easier,
even though it doesn’t make you happy it sure can show you how or where to go
in order to reach that happiness! True story, like it or love it.
Being a wife of an African raised man and working in a branch where you either work hard or go home has been the biggest challenge to be honest. We are raised differently and therefore we also see things differently. We are learning as we go and I couldn’t have a better sidekick than my husband. He sure fills the shoes of a great mum when I am away. He does it so good at times and I even worry that our kids will have more love for him than me!
Bt: How many top fashion events did you participate in and do you work with top fashioners?
Aysha: I have been in a few, but most of the times I created events for others and let them take the credit for it while I chased some checks and took my time to learn more about the business. But my first solo event is coming soon! Yes, I have worked with some famous Swedish photographers, dancers and artists. My most famous person so far would be the Swedish award winning actress Haddy Jallow, whom also is a close friend and someone you should interview! I got much new collaboration with both famous and non-famous brands and persons. God willing, this year will be a good year for me business wise.
Bt:Aysha, have you produced any talented models yet through your creation or artistic job? If yes, who are these models?
Aysha: No, I have not. Although I am a mentor to some models and soon one of those will be seen in various events and adverts!
I mostly focus on myself right now, to label myself as a stylist, event manager and PR [Public Relation] agent. But I love helping people so I keep it as a side project for whenever I got some free time!
Bt: I am made to understand that you are currently warming up for your first ever solo fashion show in Sweden which is expected to be attended by top notch fashioners of the world. What is the inspiration for this initiative and what do you hope to achieve at the end of the day?
Aysha: Yeah, you are right and the event is named
SoFashion-SoAysha; Pink & Purple, in honor of a lovely lady that owns the
venue where I will be having the event. I am so excited about it and I am
getting great response from different angels and above! It’s a so called mingle event where we (I and my sponsors)
will give them a sneak peak at my recently made portfolio and launch my new
improved website including my web-shop. I will be having a minor fashion show
and some real models that will act as dolls, and stand still for hours!
There will also be some live performances, snacks and drinks for everyone. Also all VIP guests will get a goodie-bag, it’s like a bag filled with free gifts from me and my sponsors!!! The event is an exclusive one and so one needs an invitation to get in. All though after the VIP program we will allow the public to enter and I got some treats for them as well! I am so vain I want everyone to say my name that is why I really stretched myself with this event and took much time preparing it. I tried hard to get the best team for it and I can honestly say I am happy with everyone that are part of it!
Bt: But where did you get the inspiration to organise this event?
Aysha: The inspiration came from going to various events
like fashion shows, mingle events and club shows that designers, PR agents and
such invited me to as a guest. I just woke up one day and felt that it is something that I
want to do and I know I can do it well if given the right team to work with.
And as I said I really feel happy and honored to work with the team I have for
I just hope the outcome will be good because the event is made to open more doors for me in all fields that I am active in as well as for my team and my guests! The event will be attended by some “A-listers” within music and fashion industry. I don’t belief in talking too much but to show it instead. So I’ll keep the names secret for no.
Bt: Aysha, you are a Gambian and married to a Gambian for that matter. Do you have any plan for the country’s ailing or struggling fashion and modeling industry?
Aysha: The answer is yes! I did actually start a model school when I went back (first time ever) in 2008 although I had to rush home due to my oldest son being severely ill and in need of special doctors. I and my models were featured on Goodi Samdi [a GRTS Saturday evening entertainment show] produced and presented by adorable Ansumana Drammeh.
I had put fashion industry on hold back then because I got very religious for a period of my life. However a meeting with Papa J (former owner of Zinzani, a culture institute in Kololi) made me hungry for fashion and entertainment career once again! He was the driving force for me to get back into it and linked me with people like Oko Drammeh and more. If anyone knows where he is, Papa J, please do let me know.
I had planned on doing a Gambia Fashion Week with some people, but at that time I conceived and could not work as much as I or they wanted it. Recently I heard someone is launching a Gambia Fashion Week and that hurt me a lot since I put a lot of hard work into promoting it here and had done most of the work already. But I promise my country that I will also do a Gambia Fashion Week and mine will be off the hook!
Bt: In the next five years what will be your vision for the fashion industry?
Aysha: In five years I hope that my brand “By.Aysha” would be regarded as an online shop and a brand to reckon with not necessarily a super big brand like Gucci, Louis Vuitton and such but at least known to those in fashion industry and bought by those who love fashion! I would also like my event and PR branch SoFashion-SoAysha to be a major hit and deal with PR for many big companies and brands.
Bt: You have also shown interest in writing for a magazine or a newspaper to feature fashion stuffs. Are you still interested in this venture or may I still ask what your motivation for this is?
Aysha: Oh that is like one of my objectives! I would love to own or co-own a real high fashion magazine and I know one day by the grace of God I will achieve it.I have always been told I am good in writing and I believe and know it’s true. I love writing and I love fashion. So the best way to combine it would be to become the fashion editor of a magazine or a newspaper!!!
But I would like to write for two magazines or newspapers; one in Europe and one in The Gambia. I think one way of changing the fashion industry in the Gambia is by getting some good editorial pages of fashion in newspapers and magazines. It’s not an offense but really I haven’t seen a real good fashion editorial in a Gambian magazine or newspaper and I would love to be the first to do it. I have heard of some and contacted them for a collaboration and even offered to work free for the first issue (if they would bare all other costs) just to show how confident I am in what I do and for them to get hyped about setting Gambia on the fashion map.
Bt: Does your work revolves around African materials –
attires and so on?
Aysha: It’s difficult to do the kind of high fashion designs that I want to do with African materials [because] Africa is yet to prove itself as a fashion continent to reckon with even though we are getting there slowly. I would love to do more African inspired works and know I will do so in the future but for now I mostly design and style in European and worldwide influences; although I love using African inspired headscarves, bangles and such in my creations. But one thing that I am proud to state is that in all my shoots, events etc I always have a majority of African models.
Bt: We are at the tail end of the interview but may I ask what does it take to be in the fashion industry?
Aysha: A hard head and just as hard as a wall to protect your heart! People will tell it to your face that they don’t like you and your creations just as much as you will hear it behind your back; that is where you need the hard wall surrounding and safeguarding your heart. The hard head is needed when trying to make a name for yourself because you will want to give up once a day and only the hard headed and strong minded will be successful. One also needs to be able to know their goal and be prepared to compromise when a battle can’t be won and know when to change tactic and when to go all in.
Bt: Do you have any regrets in life with other experiences before discovering your talent in the fashion industry? Please share with us.
Aysha: I am one of those corny people who don’t believe in regrets! What I did in the past both good and bad is what has made me who and what I am today. Without those failures and mistakes I wouldn’t have the experience to know what is what and who is who. I don’t do regrets. I do admit having done things different that would have changed some aspects of life for the better. But I am happy with my past and I am proud of it forever.
Bt: Finally, what is your impression with the Gambia when you first visited in 2008 after almost nearly two decades away? How did you feel coming back home?
Aysha: It was a love story with more clichés than Romeo and Juliet or even Titanic! I had just come out of a horrible relationship and decided that I needed a break from vain and backstabbing Europe; so I packed my bags, gave up my apartment and dragged my (oldest) son with me to leave Sweden for The Gambia. I was scared at first because I had never been there [before] and didn’t know much about it except for the famous Senegambia that the only Gambian friend I had told me so much about.
But I loved it the Gambia from the time the pilot said “and if you look out your window you will see The Gambia a few meters in front of us”. Oh that’s when the first tears of joy came. Oh I love my country even though I was away like all of my life. I looked through both windows of the car while being driven to my grand mum’s place in Tallinding far in “farrow Kono” [swampy area] haha. It was as if I was afraid that if I looked too much at the left I would miss whatever is to be seen at the right.
The other most memorable experience from my first Gambia trip was when my cousins took me to see them dance for the [state opening of the assembly] or something like that and I saw the president [of the Republic]. He was so charismatic and verbally empowered – he spoke on interesting matters and I wish I recorded that speech to play for the Swedish government and others.
Bt: Finally what are new year resolutions and final words?
Aysha: Oh I don’t really make New Year’s resolutions but I started last year (2011) with yearly plans like setting up goals and aims for myself to complete before the end of the year. My best friend advised me to do that and it really worked. I completed many of my goals set in 2011. I will create new goals for this year but I haven’t really have time due to the upcoming event and photo shoots that are all happening at the same time!
Bt: Thank you so much for the time to talk to the Bantaba and we wish you all the best in your endeavour.
Aysha: Thanks a lot for your interest in me and my work. Thank you for
the never-ending encouragement and support! It’s an honour to have been
considered for an interview. Thank you dear Hatab and best of luck to you,
Bantaba column and the entire management of the newspaper.
Author: Hatab Fadera