Alphadi, born Sidahmed Seidnaly, is a 55 year-old fashion designer who has a big dream, though not so mammoth as that of Martin Luther King, Jr. He hails from the ancient city of Timbuktu in Mali, a West African country, but has settled in Niger, another West African country. (Niger is not to be confused with Nigeria, its neighboring country with its personified adjective ‘Nigerian’.)
We, the non-Africans, often find Timbuktu, also spelled ‘Timbuctoo’ and in French ‘Tombouctou’, in our metaphors as a mythical place or any faraway place, as in ‘from here to Timbuktu’. Known also as the “Corssroads of the World”, this city, which is now a UNESCO World Heritage Centre, was built by a nomadic ethnic group called Taureg. Alphadi belongs to this tribe, and when he was young left for Niger to be with his rich parents of royal descent – father Malian; mother Nigerien.
As he can wield some influence now with his fame and money, Alphadi has dreams of the people of his native land becoming self-sufficient in clothing themselves …in style. He often wonders why Europeans have to cloth Africans when there is enough material, resource and culture in Africa itself. He often asks himself why not Africans make their own fashions and show them to the world, even compete with the rest of the world.
Alphadi pursued his passion for fashion at a young age, a very daunting undertaking in an Islam dominated society in Niger. Against all odds, he joined the fashion studio of Chardon Savard in Paris but left to work for fashion giants of the day Yves Saint Laurent, Christian Lacroix, Paco Rabanne, etc. Eventually, the fashion world got a young and dynamic Nigerien fashion designer, Alphadi.
Alphadi released his first couture line in 1985 at an international tourism show in Paris and since then he has had his shows in almost all the cosmopolitan cities, from New York to Paris and elsewhere.
He created a new sportswear line in 1999, called ‘Alphadi Bis’, and with Wrangler he created ‘Alphadi Jeans’. In 2000, he launched “I’Air d’Alphadi”, a perfume which is the very first by an African fashion designer!
His apparel represents African fabric and cultural cuts blending with modern styles and cuts. He has his main workshop/studio cum boutique in Niamey, the capital of Niger. His designs range anywhere from $ 3,000 and above apiece. He has his prestigious stores in Paris, France; New York, USA, and several cities in African countries, including Ivory Coast.
He gets his inspiration from the centuries-old African handicrafts, especially from the ethnic group in West Africa, Hausa, and his own ethnic group, Tuareg.
Alphadi’s African designs are so attractive and elegant that wives of the presidents of African countries feel proud to wear his designs. He is known to have made some clothes for Hillary Clinton, the wife of former president, Bill Clinton, and former US Secretary of State, and they say the King of Pop music, Michael Jackson, donned his designs while on some stage performances.
The Upholder of African Fashion:
Alphadi wants the world to realise that “Africa is not just poverty, fighting and disease – Africa is also art and design.”
To make his dream come true, this fierce promoter of African fashion founded FIMA, African Federation of Couture and the International Festival of African Fashion, in 1998. The festival takes place biennially, bringing African and European fashion designers together on one platform to meet, learn and share their knowledge and skill.
With his battle cry “give Africa a chance to create”, he makes it clear in every one of his interviews and stage speeches that he is committed to the betterment of African fashion … in Africa.
He believes that with a little support from the decisions makers, African clothes makers can do miracles inland and abroad. He strongly feels that it is necessary to take the whole development policy of the textile industry in Africa into consideration and implement it, which in turn, will boost the weak African economy.
With generous support from the European countries, Alphadi has established a fashion school in Niger which is currently helping more than 150 African designers sharpen their skills.
Alphadi’s actions speak louder and bolder than his ‘strong words’ in his interviews. To show that he is an advocate for peace in Mali, he has been reinvesting his global earnings back into his home ventures under the banner ‘Fashion for Peace’. He raised 50 million CFA (African Financial Community) Francs which are approximately $100,000, in a telethon, a fundraising event on TV, and passed the amount over to the UN refugee agency to help about 50,000 Malian refugees suffering in refugee camps in Niger.
He strongly suggested to the bankers and economy policymakers of Africa in general and Togolese in particular at a round table conference on ‘Development of textile industry and fashion in Africa: challenges and perspective’ at the “Loincloth Festival”, organised by the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Togo in Lome that they must extend their generous hands to bring Togolese ‘loincloth’ movement out into the forefront.
In order to show his allegiance to the United Nations Trade Group that promoted “EcoChic Fashion” as one way of controlling the loss of world’s biodiversity, designating 2010 as the International Year of Biodiversity, to advance the idea of using sustainable use of natural resources, Alpahdi reiterated his commitment to the use of green clothes by exhibiting his several thousand dollars ‘eco-chic couture fashion’ and several hundred dollars ‘ready-to-wear’ apparel. He proudly stated that by going green he made money for himself and for his country!
The Obstacles on the catwalks:
For Alphadi, the Tuareg rebellious fashion designer, there have been several obstacles and rejections from his own family and also from the fundamentalists.
In 2000, his flagship workshop and boutique was shattered by some fundamentalists for making dresses that expose women’s body parts in several places. With a minor encounter here and there and now and then, he fought with the traditional dogma, and with every encounter, he has grown stronger and bolder.
In 2011, just a day before his FIMA event was to kick-start, his workshops in Niamey were set on fire. However, without showing any signs of fear or discouragement, he conducted the event to show that he was from Taureg tribe and that he was not going to give in to the traditional dogma all that easily.
The Flowers of the thirty years toiling in the desert:
Alphadi has toiled so hard withstanding all the hardships while at the same time supporting the budding fashion designers of Africa that the fashion world has decorated him with a huge garland of awards and rewards along with his career.
Apart from the wealth he amassed by making people live in style and the sobriquet the “Magician of the Desert” or the “Prince of the Desert”, Alphadi has been showered with several notable awards:
- He has been the President of the All-African Fashion Designer for 20 years.
- French Federation of Haute Couture and Pret a Porter awarded him the Best African Designer and raised him to the rank of Chevalier of the Order of Merit in 1987.
- Alphadi was one of the three African fashion designers to achieve the Prince Claus Award in the Netherlands in 1998.
- He was awarded Kora Fashion Award in South Africa in 1999.
- Niger, his own country, made him Commander of the Arts and Culture.
Let’s wish this African designer, his innovative wife, Mrs Kadidja Seidnaly, and their six children a happy, colourful and peaceful life!