Photo courtesy of Vanessa Azar.

The Influencer's Insight: Vanessa Azar Is the Beauty Blogger Challenging French Brands To See Black Women

Our third feature in this four-part series highlights Vanessa Azar—the Cameroonian beauty blogger and businesswoman who does it all.

"The Influencer's Insight" is our four-part series for April's theme "The Hustle." The series features women content creators who've achieved influencer status through their social media platforms. These influencers will give their insight on how they built their brand, challenges they've faced, influencer marketing tips and more.

The third part of the series features Vanessa Azar of beauty blog, Vanessa's Secrets. ICYMI, read part two here.

Vanessa Azar is the Cameroonian-Lebanese beauty content creator behind her blog, Vanessa's Secrets.

What's her secret, you ask? Triumphing over two distinct adversities: the loss of her mother and a period of severe depression brought on by terrible bullying. The details behind the latter are reserved for a blog post she hasn't quite found the strength to write, but will certainly come with time.

At 31, the trajectory of her career is one she's been working towards her entire life. Azar shares that at age 7, she was gifted a Polaroid and documented her family's travels with a photobook. As a teen, she filled a journal. The internet wasn't a thing then, but when the boom hit, a Skyblog centered around a Gossip Girl-related theme came. Later, when she moved to France from Douala, Cameroon, she opened a private blog for her sister in Canada and a friend in Florida. She made it public out of curiosity and it was viewed by 80 eager followers. At 23, she was hacked and from a year of darks days, came an understanding of how important it is to be happy to have a notable beauty blog.

Photo courtesy of Vanessa Azar.

A scar remains, but the way in which she's managed to control her narrative is worth noting. Describing to us what a typical day looks like, Azar wakes up early to do her hair and makeup for an hour, shoots for a brand, changes her clothing to attend a press event for the launch of a product or magazine and returns home to gossip on Skype about anything and everything outside her blog. It's no surprise that behind the glitz and glam is a simple girl who wears no makeup or heels, is down to earth and typically found in her pajamas.

She's come a long way. In 2013, she was a writer for France's notable Stiletto magazine. A number of the companies that would come to her would be from the relationships she formed while working there. The first was a cream brand and later, Estée Lauder would come knocking. Her hustle was comprised of emailing brands at the start of her career but at this stage, they reach out to her.

Brands like MAC, Jo Malone, Mizani, L'Oréal and Chanel have sent her an arsenal of nail polishes, fragrances, mascaras and foundations. The beauty has a penchant for timeless products that work and have for years thereby straying away from trends. The Estée Lauder group holds a special place in her heart because of its social aspects and support of women from all walks of life. She's even spearheaded an initiative selling their products to use the profit to assist a school. "[I blog] to change how brands portray us and how we can impact the industry," she says candidly.

Photo courtesy of Vanessa Azar.

As you could imagine, Azar has faced some challenges. "French brands are crazy for a 'certain' black image; darker with bigger lips. They want one person to represent us all," she says. "Brands don't know what to do with relaxed hair or the many different tones of black women." This firecracker plays no games when it comes to advocating for her own. She attended a Clarins event in which she was one of only two black people there, and responded by sending them a harshly worded letter about their lack of representation and shades available at their makeup stations. The result of this act was rewarding, to say the least. The brand took heed and expanded the shades they had available across their product lines. In a day and age where black women account for a large portion of profit for beauty companies, we should always be regarded. Individuals like Azar should be applauded for speaking on our behalf in spaces where there are less of us.

We also discuss pay, another hurdle. Where some companies have a strict budget they adhere to, others pay white bloggers in Europe more than their black counterparts. When negotiating, Azar inquires as to the criteria being used, like followers, engagement and experience.

Photo courtesy of Vanessa Azar.

She's also passionate about her home country and the broad narratives available to us. "We have a strong heritage and stories we should lift. I want to show how it looks like to be an African woman my age living, working and blogging," she says. Azar's sought and collaborated with brands from the continent for free just to give them exposure they may not be afforded another way. In Cameroon, she created a sandal with the designer of Shoes by Vidal. When attending last fall's Heineken Lagos Fashion and Design Week, she dawned the designs of Style Temple, Grey Projects, Mazelle Studio and House of Izzi. More recently, she can be seen slaying in Andrea Iyamah and Tongoro Studio.

She's currently based in Lagos working as a project manager for Trace Nigeria and has her sights set on working with Marc Jacobs, Guerlain, South Africa's Lulu & Marula and Skin Creamery, Nigeria's Epara Skincare and opening up a living, breathing beauty temple—home to dermatologists and a variety of products that work for women with melanin.

Azar laughs as she refers to her work as "passion pay."

"It's not a career when you are being paid to do something you love." She has always felt this way.

Audrey Lang is an alumna of Northeastern University and a Boston-based site merchandiser. A surveyor of life who's enamored with all things fashion, art and Africa, keep up with her on Instagram and Tumblr.

Photo courtesy of Shekudo.

Made In Africa: Shekudo Is the Accessories Brand Putting Nigerian Craftsmanship & Artisans First

Shekudo founder Amy Akudo Iheakanwa speaks in-depth on the challenges of relaunching her brand in Nigeria and more.

Shekudo is the brainchild of Nigerian-Australian designer Amy Akudo Iheakanwa. She uses textiles to create luxurious accessories that draw women in. Where Nigeria offers her her aesthetic, her Australian background contributes to the way she markets her free, easy-going products. Produced in Lagos, Shekudo prides itself on local artistry and social responsibility. It's purpose is to employ artisans and expose the craftsmanship that is alive and well in Nigeria.

Iheakanwa co-founded the brand with Shetu Bimpong but is now the sole creative director, and the February repositioning of the Shekudo has been critical. The brand is now backed by inspiring and necessary narratives of all sorts. It is the story of a founder who has embarked on a journey of self-discovery. It is the story of finding inspiration in the kaleidoscope of colors found in the bustling city that is Lagos. It is the story of Nigeria's 500-year-old aso oke process. It is the story of the number of hands that contribute to making a shoe, bag, or earring from scratch and a community of weavers, silversmiths, shoemakers and carpenters.

Though in its early stages, Iheakanwa has great plans to expand her production and incorporate community through training and capacity building for destitute women with limited options and skills available to them. With today's African diaspora serving as the frontrunners of cultural influence, brands like this one can only shine.

We sat down with the founder of Shekudo to learn more about the brand.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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The Influencer's Insight: Kamo Mafokwane Is the South African Content Creator Pushing Brands To Value Influencers

The final feature in our four-part series highlights Kamo Mafokwane—the South African fashion and beauty blogger who's steadfast in developing her craft.

"The Influencer's Insight" is our four-part series for April's theme "The Hustle." The series features women content creators who've achieved influencer status through their social media platforms. These influencers will give their insight on how they built their brand, challenges they've faced, influencer marketing tips and more.

The final part of the series features Kamo Mafokwane of fashion and beauty blog, WILLKATE. ICYMI, read part three here.

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Image courtesy of Lula Ali Ismaïl

'Dhalinyaro' Is the Female Coming-of-Age Story Bringing Djibouti's Film Industry to Life

The must-watch film, from Lula Ali Ismaïl, paints a novel picture of Djibouti's capital city through the story of three friends.

If you're having a tough time recalling the last movie you watched from Djibouti, it's likely because you have never watched one before. With an almost non-existent film industry in the country, Lula Ali Ismaïl, tells a beautiful coming of age story of three young female Djiboutian teenagers at the cusp of womanhood. Dhalinyaro offers a never-before-seen view of Djibouti City as a stunning, dynamic city that blends modernity and tradition—a city in which the youth, like all youth everywhere, struggle to decide what their futures will look like. It's a beautiful story of friendship, family, dreams and love from a female filmmaker who wants to tell a "universal story of youth," but set in the country she loves—Djibouti.

The story revolves around the lives of three young friends from different socio-economic backgrounds, with completely varied attitudes towards life, but bound by a deep friendship. There is Asma, the conservative academic genius who dreams of going to medical school and hails from a modest family. Hibo, a rebellious, liberal, spoiled girl from a very wealthy family who learns to be a better friend as the film evolves and finally Deka. Deka is the binding force in the friendship, a brilliant though sometimes naïve teen who finds herself torn between her divorced mother's ambitions to give her a better life having saved up all her life for her to go to university abroad, and her own conviction that she wants to study and succeed in her own country.

Okayafrica contributor, Ciku Kimeria speaks to Ismaïl on her groundbreaking film, her hopes for the filmmaking industry and the universality of stories.

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Stogie T Enlists Nasty C, Boity, Nadia Nakai and More, for ‘The Empire of Sheep’ Deluxe Edition

Stream the deluxe version of Stogie T's EP 'The Empire of Sheep' featuring Nasty C, Boity, Nadia Nakai and more.

Stogie T just shared a deluxe version of his 2019 EP The Empire of Sheep titled EP The Empire of Sheep (Deluxe Unmasked). The project comes with three new songs. "All You Do Is Talk" features fellow South African rappers Nasty C, Boity and Nadia Nakai. New York lyricist appears on "Bad Luck" while one of Stogie T's favorite collaborators Ziyon appears on "The Making."

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