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Photo courtesy of GTBank Fashion Weekend.

In Conversation: Omar Salam of Sukeina Wants Women to Realize Their Limitless Power Through His Designs

We caught up with the Senegalese designer to dig into his most recent time in Lagos, his upcoming menswear collection and more.

This year's GTBank Fashion Weekend attracted numerous personalities in the world of fashion for a weekend of interactive masterclasses, runway shows and fashion retail in the heart of Lagos. We got to chat with Omar Salam, the Senegalese-born fashion designer and pioneer of Sukeina—a clothing line which aims to change the conversations happening in the world of fashion.

In the conversation below, we learn about his journey with Sukeina thus far, as well as Salam's plans for the future in womenswear and menswear, his little list of brand loyalists and his time in the exciting city of Lagos.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

Baingor Joiner for OkayAfrica: How did you venture into fashion?

Omar Salam: Early on I was just mesmerized and fascinated by the power of communication and telling stories. I thought the way I was going to do storytelling at that time was through screenwriting. I went to college at Old Dominion in the state of Virginia, where I was in a screenwriting program for two years. It was after my program that I realized the highest form of communication wasn't verbal, but really in how one was perceived prior to even speaking. I started being very interested in the power of dressing as a way of addressing. I came back to New York and enrolled at Parson's School of Design—and that's how I started my program in fashion in the year 2005 or 2006. I'm bad with numbers, I count ruffles.


Omar Salam. Photo by E. Sidney Paul, courtesy of EGM NY Management.

What year did you found Sukeina and when did you know you were ready?

I founded Sukeina in early 2012 and our first show was Feb. 12, 2012. I don't know that I am ready, I might never be ready. What I do know is that I am enthused and fascinated by the ability of putting a woman in a complete trance where they are no longer insecure, they no longer feel any way other than speaking their truth. And that is such a good journey, and that's what we've been doing for the past 6 to 7 years.

How did your parents take it?

I lost both of my parents quite early, and I was adopted before coming to the U.S. Sukeina is named after my late mother, but I've been very supported. I come from a family where expression was welcomed and a precursor so I've been quite supported.

I see Naomi Campbell is a big fan, what's your relationship with her like?

She's a beautiful, beautiful, beautiful woman with a heart to match. Her support has meant so much to us. Given her beauty and ability to connect different worlds and how she's embracing Africa has been very good to us, so we just love her so much and are very grateful to have her as a part of the team.

Photo courtesy of GTBank Fashion Weekend.

Photo courtesy of GTBank Fashion Weekend.

Any news regarding your upcoming seminal menswear collection?

There is a menswear that is about to drop. The collection will be carried and stocked at Polo where we'll have a small party to welcome everyone. The menswear collection will be dropping early 2019 at Menswear Fashion Week. We've been on the calendar for the past 7 years in NYFW for the fall/winter and spring/summer so it won't be new, but it's just a first showing for mens [designs].

Will you be coming to Lagos as well when you release the collection?

I hope so. Listen, all you need to do is call me and invite me. If I have time, I will come. If I don't have time I will make time. There's something about Lagos that's quite exciting, the people are amazing.

What are the themes for your men's and women's collections?

The womenswear is more an expression of womanhood without the need for compensating or pandering to the same set of rules set for manhood. It is an unfiltered expression femininity in all it's power.

On the flip side, the menswear is more quirky and designed for the guy who loves Pharrell and roller skates to work. It's really the antithesis to the womenswear collection and we're excited to finally be sharing it with the world.

Photo courtesy of GTBank Fashion Weekend.

Photo courtesy of GTBank Fashion Weekend.

How did you find your experience presenting at GTBank Fashion Weekend?

The experience working with GTBank was incredibly strong and memorable. The discipline, kindness, affection, aim and want from every end for it to work was something that I cherished and I'm so grateful.

What is your take on the state of the arts in Africa?

To be quite frank with you, I haven't stayed long enough to have a full deep understanding of it. What I am able to say is how the collection and I have been received, how people are rooting and supporting me here and how they respond to the collection. I hope that this can be inspiring to the young generation of new young designers.

What conversations do you want people to have around fashion?

I want people to have conversations of openness and possibilities, as opposed to references. What it could be, not what it has been. The importance of supporting and affirming women, because they are the brainchild and domain of life itself. But they also curate life in the first 7 years of everybody else's life and that's why it's important to support them. As we support them, they will support and launch people into the world.

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