It all began in London. Mariângela Almeida travelled to the British capital to study marketing but when she got there she found much more that she was looking for. In the five years she spent wandering the streets of that city she was enthralled by the amount of cultures and was inspired by every object and by every situation to design clothes in which African patterns stood out. She gave the brand the name Fiu Negru, the link with Angolan tradition, and a year and half after its launch it is already forging successful partnerships, such as, for example, Casa Paris by Fiu Negry, a collection of exclusive pieces. Designing to clothe confident women, Mariângela Almeida dreams of achieving Fiu Negru's internationalisation but, before this, she wants to conquer Angola with her modern cuts and patterned designs.
How did you get into the world of fashion?
I have been fascinated by fashion ever since I was small. If I were to say that I have always dreamed of being a fashion designer it would be a lie, but when I went to study marketing in London, one of the fashion capitals, it became obvious what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. London was an explosion of cultures! I found it interesting that, in spite of all of London's globalisation, it was possible to notice that certain cultures remained distinctive. For example, I saw a Nigerian wearing traditional patterns. But not Angolans. So I joined business with pleasure: my passion for fashion and the passion that came about for African fabrics.
How did Fiu Negru begin?
I've been in the market for a year and a half. It's somewhat recent but I have already had some success, fortunately. After completing my course in London, I returned to Luanda and started making propaganda videos. Then I did my first bazaar, with just 100 pieces to see how the public would react. In ten minutes I had sold out! I thought I should keep going. I did a second bazaar and in less than ten minutes they had sold out too!
Do you recall the first piece you ever made?
Unfortunately I don't make things, I just design them. My first design was a gown and the entire process, from designing, choosing the fabric to seeing the finished piece, filled me with such pride. It remains the most special piece I have to this day.
Why the name Fiu Negru?
Fiu Negru [meaning ?Black Thread?] refers to our past. It is the link that we have with our ancestors, our culture and our traditions.
How would you describe the brand?
Fiu Negru is an Angolan clothes brand, which has African fabrics as its base. The theme is innovating and evolving, with more modern cuts and designs, without hurting our culture. I use our padrão-mãe traditional pattern. I think that we need to keep our identity here and around the world. We have to highlight the best things we have, to show our culture and tradition. I usually say that Fiu Negru, more than a clothes brand, is a movement for internationalising what is ours.
You want to internationalise Fiu Negru. What catwalks do you want to appear on?
I think that internationalisation should be the dream of any fashion designer. In spite of wanting to have a solid base here in Angola first, and then Africa, I dream of reaching other markets such as Milan or New York.
While you are yet to reach these catwalks, you have already taken part in national events such as Moda Luanda. How do you feel when you take part in these events?
Extremely grateful! I think that it should all begin in the country that witnessed my birth. Fortunately it has gone well and my work has been recognised.
You also have a partnership with Casa Paris. How did this opportunity come about?
The proposal came about last year, from Casa Paria, which has existed for about 15 years. Ever since I was small I've been walking down the Rua Rainha Ginga, seeing Casa Paris and loving it. It was the first luxury store in Luanda. So, having Casa Paris want to go into partnership with me is something really great. We did our first experiment in December, 2014 and, as it went better that we were expecting, we decided to continue it in March this year.
What do you expect from this partnership?
I only expect good things from it as I believe that the two brands have a lot of potential. We can take national fashion that bit further and also show that it is possible to combine different target groups to make something beautiful. This is what this collection brings. Mixing the clientele of Casa Paris, who are more ladies, with mine, who are more young women. What I did was to design piece that the two groups could wear.
Do you feel fulfilled?
Not yet. I don't feel I am a successful person yet. But I think that I am on the right path. There is still much that I want and hope to do.
What advice would you give to young Angolan fashion designers looking for a place in the world of fashion?
I would like it for them never give up on their dreams, just as I never gave up on mine. Being a fashion designer in Angola is hard because of the lack of material. It's not an easy path. But it is worth it. If you have passion, focus and determination, nothing can stop you.
Do you have any project for the future that you can tell us about?
What would a fashion designer be without secrets? (she laughs)