Business Box Interview with Fashion entreprenuer-Aysha Jones-Ceesay


GeneAfrique: Can you tell us a little bit about your background?
Aysha: I was born in The Gambia during the eighties to an aku father and serer/jola mother. My mum took me and my older sister to live in Sweden when I was two years old and I've lived here since then. I've also lived in England and Africa in various periods of my life as I love those places and can’t really decide where to stay.

GeneAfrique: What was it like growing up? Where did you grow up?
Aysha: I was raised in a small town called Örebro but that place was never big enough for me and I always spent holidays in the capital with friends and family.

I also have three younger siblings and due to my mum being somewhat of a single mum I had to grow up fast and help out a lot in the house.

It made me and my siblings very close and we still are up to this day, even thou we don’t get to see each other that often I know they will always have my back when I really need it.

It was not easy growing up in a small town being who I am as I tend to get misunderstood a lot and went through crazy much things as a child and kind of took it out on others. I don't believe in regrets but some things I wish I could have dune different.

Growing up I used to have loads of friends and was always seen out in the mix. I've always been into fashion and style and used to have a very unique style even as a child. Loved dressing up in colours and prints. Me and my friends were always seen out looking stylish and cute, we tired our best with the little things we had and often borrowed each others things and styled each other.

GeneAfrique: Did you always want to be a stylist, and when did you realise you are really good at it?
Aysha: I actually wanted to become a model and had way to many opportunities to reach far with it but I guess I didn't want it enough because I'd always let the opportunities slip and never thought much of it. Others would kill for the chances I was given but I wasn't hungry for it back then, had it been now I'd be more up for it and take all chances that comes. Since I love fashion and people often complimented my style and always asked me for advice on dressing I just decided to start styling and been a professional stylist since 2011 but I now do so much more than only styling.

I've changed a lot from being the outgoing girl that everybody knew and always was spotted everywhere to being a shy girl that rather stay at home and only connect with people when I really have to. I'm not a people's people anymore and I think it's difficult for people to handle that I'm a very private person even thou I work in a field where I'm expected to be outgoing and love attention. My close friends and colleagues literary has to force me out of the house to attend events or even just to socialise with them. It's not that I don't want to or think I'm above or better than others, as many do say. It's more like I don't wanna get into others drama and nonsense haha! Also I got kids now and my main priority is to not have others raise my kids.

I used to say that my social networks will do the hanging out and being seen, I do have a blog in which I try to allow people to get close yet I keep a distance and don't post the most private things. All thou I'm about to close my blog as I don't have time to update it and I'm also looking to moving it to a magazine platform and make it more of an editorial blog.

GeneAfrique: If you could choose a celebrity to ‘make over’, who would it be and why?
Aysha: Wow that's a real hard question, there are so many haha!

I think the person everybody would die to style right now is Beyonce. Just because she is such a trendsetter and icon, styling her might be the ultimate dream of all stylists. She doesnt really need to get a make over but it would be fun to get the opportunity  to style her. I think Ty Hunter needs to hire me as his assistant or intern even haha, tell him I said so!

GeneAfrique: What/who was your favorite shoot/client that you styled?
Aysha: Gosh another hard one. It's really difficult to say as I tend to love all my clients and put so much into all of my styling even if I don't always have much time do execute them I never present a styling that I can't say that I like.

GeneAfrique: Does styling your clients ever inspire your personal style?
Aysha: My style does change from day to day but that's what makes it my style, the fact that I don't have a style haha!

All my clients do affect my style as I think all stylists lives through their clients in somehow, we tend to dress them the way we would like to dress where we put in those situations. Or something like that haha! They do inspire me thou and I'd never style someone if their style isn't something that I can stand for and get inspired by, I think it's important for the execution that you can relate to your clients style only then can you as a stylist make your client comfortable enough for them to trust you with something so important as their style.

GeneAfrique: What are your basic guidelines when styling someone?

Aysha: Oh my, this just keeps getting more difficult for each question haha!!!

Guidelines is a fancy word which I don't really know how to reflect upon. I think the important things to take into consideration when styling someone is, no specific order:

-Who is she/he?
-Who does she/he want to be?
-What is the styling for?
-Comfort zones and body type
-Image (then, now & future)

GeneAfrique: What are your thoughts on fashion blogs? Do you have any favorite you visit regularly?
Aysha: I wish I could say that I read blogs or anything at all but I rarely do and if I do read a blog it's mainly because I'm doing research for a styling job or an article.

All thou I do acknowledge the tremendous impact bloggers has in our society and especially within the fashion industry. I wish I could find time to read blogs more but I wouldn't even know whose blog to read/follow haha!

I do follow bloggers on Instagram thou, mainly cos I love seeing stylish pictures that I can use in my work for moodboards and such.

GeneAfrique: Which was your most difficult styling assignment to date, how did you manage it?
Aysha: I think styling Werrason and Mohombi's video shoot for "I found a way" was a bit though as everything was so complicated due to communication issues (both in what was expected of me and actual language as some of the clients only spoke french) and everybody wanting different things leading me to get different directions of how to style. Not to mention the time crunch it was seriously like non existing haha!

I had been waiting for my oppertunity to style Mohombi and in my mind I had my vision of how it would be and the reality was nothing like it haha! I was sooo frustrated and sad it was actually the first time I wanted to resign from an assignment.

Mohombi's manager was really nice thou and got his brother, Patrick Silvermarck, to help me pull the garments I wanted from various shops.

Patrick was so supportive and understanding. I was all ready close to tears when he said that I just had to give it my best and that would have to due, after all I'm just a stylist and I can't do magic haha!

Now after it all I'm glad I didn't cos I met so many cool people and beautiful souls during that shoot, some that I have a very good relationship with up to this day.

Oh and I also met and styled one of Africa's legends within music plus a famous Swedish dance group, all in one shoot haha!

GeneAfrique: From fashion styling to organizing a fashion show in your country of origin, what inspired you to start your own business?
Aysha: I think that seeing my mother be an entrepreneur is the main force behind me also wanting to own my own business. She is such an inspiration and good example of a woman whom always fights back when the world tries to put her down, that's a quality crucial to an entrepreneur and without it you can't really survive in the world of business.

I also wanna leave a legacy in this world that will live on far longer than myself. I want to do something that will make my family and nation proud to say I was one of them.

My kids are also a driving force, I really don't want them to live the life I've lived and for that I'm prepared to do almost anything!

GeneAfrique: Tell us more about Runway production international?
Aysha: RPI is an small but fast growing multitasking agency that deals with mainly PR and coaching services for people/companies within fashion, arts and entertainment.

We have clients from all over the world and both unknown brands to more famous ones!

RPI is the main name for all projects produced by me and my team; we call it projects as they are produced by us but also are their own branches in a way.

We do also assist people with their projects, both short term and long term. This is something we will be focusing more on this year as we love to help others reach their dreams and goals. Two examples is Matafs Hair Studios and Miss Fab which we have been branding and managing.

One of these projects produced solely by us are RareModels International which is a agency dealing with coaching and management of models. It's a stepping stone for aspiring models where we assist them into becoming a professional fashion model worldwide.

We also have The Gambia Fashion Week which is a charity project for the African fashion scene, with our main event happening in December every year in Africa. It's produced by RPI in collaboration with Glamorous models Africa and its owner William Brown.

Fashion 9one1 is a magazine based online which aims to promote new talents and inspire the new fashion generation to peruse a career within fashion. This project is still in the making and hopefully you will be seeing and hearing more about it soon enough.

GeneAfrique: A lot of logistics and details go into event planning, what challenges were faced planning the Gambia fashion week from your base in Sweden?

Aysha: I wouldn't advice anyone to do that unless they have someone they can really trust and relie on to get the job dune and did!

First year doing TGFW was just silly, nothing was dune and I had to rush to Africa leaving loads of work for my team here in Sweden to try and save TGFW. It was a complete disaster and I was so sad cos I had put all my faith in the people I left in charge of TGFW only to find out nothing was dune properly causing me not to only loose a lot of money but also cred as a pr manager.
Thank god there are some honest people left in this world and thru a sponsor I was linked with an amazing man and promoter whom is now the director of TGFW. He, William Brown is always on point and handles TGFW just as I want it to be. Making my job very easy as I don't have to worry about things any more. I'm so grateful for all he does for TGFW and together we are an incredible team whom nothing and no one can stop!

The second edition of TGFW can rally prove it as we filled Seaview Gardens Hotel with guests and put on a show that made our critics praise us and really made up for what the first edition was lacking.

I also wanna say that it wouldn't have been possible without our sponsors and all designers that participated. They really came through for us and all of it matters, one needs to deal with reliable people and go getters in all aspects or you will end up pulling your hair haha!

GeneAfrique: You are currently working on various projects right now asides from the
recently concluded Gambia Fashion week, the Fashion9one1 which is an online magazine and also a modeling agency, which of these challenges you the most?
Aysha: I think Fashion 9one1 is the one most difficult to handle as it requires alot of time and money to manage and promote properly. Both are two subjects I lack at the moment, even if money is easy to find I can't buy more hours of the day or an extra Aysha.

But also managing the models of RareModels Intl takes up a lot more psychological energy than anyone can imagine. I love it but sometimes I wonder if it’s really worth the fuss.

GeneAfrique: What do you find to be the main differences between conducting business in Sweden and Gambia?
Aysha: Most definitely the lack of respect for deadlines and not putting to the table what was promised at first. It's extremely frustrating to do business in Africa for a person like myself whom wants structure and order, I give out tasks and a deadline and expects them to be dune in full without issues. This clearly doesn't work overseas haha!!!

But I also admire the hakuna matata thinking of many in Africa as they don't tend to stress themselves over things like we Europeans do. It's like they know at the end (most things) will be ok.

GeneAfrique: What do you believe will be the biggest challenge that Runway production international will face in the next five years and how do you intend to resolve it?
Aysha: Had you asked this two weeks ago I'd say not being around to say RPI exists, but thank god I think I finally found a good assistant ready to work for her position and for the upcoming of RPI.

So for now I think our main issue will be not being able to decide which projects we should get on and not and also that RPI will grow faster than we can handle.

I plan on setting up a solid and reliable team in hopes of being ready for whatever comes. All thou finding people that understands this industry and the fact that it takes a lot of work, mostly unpaid ones until the big checks starts piling in is not an easy thing to do!

GeneAfrique: Wife, mother and business owner! How do you make it all work?
It's a cliché but the truth is that my loyals as I'd like to call them are the reason to me being able to do everything that I do. All the people that I met during my life, both haters and supporters they give me the strength to carry on even when times are tough and I feel like giving in.

Like for real, no one would ever understand how blessed I'm to have all of these people around me and lord knows I can never pay any of them for all that they give me in terms of support and love but I do intend to make them proud one day and hopefully that will be a small token of my gratitude.

GeneAfrique: What is the most important lesson life has taught you?
Aysha: Most definitely to never give up, failure is not an option!

My sister once said this "when you wanted and worked for something for so long but didnt get it and you feel like giving up and giving in, that's the moment God will come to your rescue". Can't really remember what we were discussing but that line has stuck with me ever since and I always remind myself of it when things get hard, no matter what field it's.

I also use to think of a advice I got from an old friend. He said "sometimes you have to take what you get, in order to get what you want".

Those two phrases said by my older sister and my friend has stuck with me through life and I think I'll always have them in mind whenever I feel down or like giving up. Lord knows in this world one will want to quit living once in a while and things tend to seem hopeless and bad unless you got a mantra to get you back on track and hanging in there.

GeneAfrique: What three pieces of advice you would offer young entrepreneurs starting out today?
Aysha: Don't do it?!

No but I'd advice them to question themselves if this is something they really want to do. Being an entrepreneur is a rocky road and many sleepless nights, no social life and time for fun for the building up period of the business.

A lot of people will have bad things to say and one must be though enough and really love what they are doing to continue and not get discouraged.

Structure and order. A solid plan and time schedule is worth more than anything for an new business. One must make small goals/plans to reach prior to reaching the finish line. Backtrack everything and award yourself with something of your liking once you reach/completed a goal.

Even thou there won't be much time for fun respecting your work hours and off hours is crucial if your in a relationship or a business that takes a lot of mind power.

Don't be afraid to dream and set high goals, nobody build their empire in a day or two but they dared to believe that they could and so many did!

I always say that the sky is the ground and beyond is the limit, with that I mean that when people only dream of reaching a certain level you must dare to dream of and want more.

The fashion industry is so competitive, how do you stay on top of your game?
By surrounding myself with people that are a competition to me, due to that I have to remain creative and on point or they will be light years ahead of me in minutes. It keeps me focused and always ready.

I work harder than most and one day it will all pay off and I can slow down a little but until then it's "full speed and ever ready" mentality that goes for me and all of my team!

GeneAfrique: What do you love the most about owning your own business?
Aysha: I don't necessarily love/like owning my business rather than I love being able to work with what I love and that's due to me choosing to be my own boss. If I could find a company ready to hire me with a good salary and in which I'd be able to still work with that I do now I'd be more than glad to sign that employment contract haha!!!

© 2015, GeneAfrique. All rights reserved

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