Mompreneur and designer, Aprelle Duany, quit a high flying job to go back to fashion school and pursue her dream, she shares her story with Afrinado
When did you first discover your desire to create?
I knew from a young age that I had a love to design and create, though I didn’t have the courage to pursue it until I was much older. I remember as a kid, making clothing and gadgets, I had a desire to know how things worked.
What prompted you to take the leap into fashion and why did you think it was necessary?
I was at a point in my life where moving forward on my career path was no longer an option for me. I was drained and burnt out, but living the life of what was expected of me, instead of pursuing the life that excited me. I remember saying to myself, “I would rather have no money and do what I love, than get a million dollar salary and stay in this field”. At that point I didn’t just want a job, I wanted a life.
What was your experience going fashion school? What are some of the key lessons you learnt there?
Being accepted into the prestigious Fashion Institute of Technology as the oldest and least experienced person in my class was a complete validation of my dream. It was so exciting and the time flew by, that is how I knew in my soul that I had made the right decision. Some of the lessons that I learned included going after your vision with passion and persistence. Never doubt yourself, there are too many other people that will do that for you. In order to succeed you have to believe in your gifts and the drive has to come from within you. Although I started in my fashion education as the oldest and least experienced, I worked hard everyday, and I ended up graduating Suma Cum Laude, the first in my class.
“Never doubt yourself, there are too many other people that will do that for you.” —Aprelle Duany
Life happens..you got married, moved to Juba, had a child… how did you deal with this transitions and how did you stay focused on your goals?
Transitions are always difficult, especially because most of the time you don’t see them coming. It wasn’t easy, when we moved to Juba; we were basically starting our lives over again. In the beginning, there were many challenges and hurdles, but God was always on our side, we have to remember that even though we are surprised, nothing is a surprise to God. So I just started getting out of my own way and tried not to control every aspect. That’s when I was able to refocus and continue on my path. Again, it’s not easy, even once you have identified your gifts and vision, it’s a journey and you have to be willing to earn each victory, big and small.
How was your stay in Juba and what prompted you to start the initiatives you did there?
Living in South Sudan, was originally a shock to me. Coming from New York City where life is 24/7 and everything and anything is accessible at your fingertips, moving to South Sudan, everything seemed to slow to a halt. I had no sense of life outside of my comfort zone. Many things that I experienced in Juba were a first for me. Lack of roads, lack of electricity, lack of everything it seemed like. This is what made the transition difficult in the beginning because instead of appreciating a “new experience” I continuously compared and contrasted my life in Africa to my life in America and that always made it an uneven playing field. I honestly, thought all of Africa was like South Sudan, from a Western perspective, the only images we see of Africa are children with flies on their faces, poverty and war. After some time, I began to see Juba in a different light, I thought instead of complaining, how can I use my skills and talents to help. That’s when we founded a nursery school and a NGO for adolescent girls. When I started to give back, I was able to see Juba in a different way. As I started to travel throughout Africa, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Cape Town, Nairobi, even North Sudan, there was so much development; I never knew that existed in Africa. It’s a special moment when you realise that you have been completely wrong about something you whole life, it leads you to open your awareness and challenge other areas of your life. This has actually has been the foundation of my brand, I want to give others access to the true experience of African through a luxury lens. I also strongly believe that once we as Africans and African Americans see African in a different light, a positive light, we will also see ourselves differently as well.
Is work life, love balance possible for today’s woman entrepreneur?
This is a very powerful question, and probably deserves its own post. I believe that work life/love balance is possible when you are pursuing your passion and gifts. It won’t always look and feel the way you want it to, but that’s just the way life is. As mompreneurs, we don’t have to compromise on our dreams, but we do have to make sacrifices in order to have balance. For instance, I want to be a great wife and mom and also be a titan in the luxury industry. I can still pursue my titan dream, but I have to also make room for my family. Finding the right balance is an exercise of truth, planning, and commitment.
Why did you choose the luxury brand direction instead of the ‘mass market’ path when it came to your bags?
From the beginning, I knew that a luxury platform would be the only vehicle to communicate my mission, which is to expand the image of luxury and elevate the image of Africa. I wanted to be in the same conversations as influencers and decision makers to provoke their ideas and thoughts on Africa and the lack of diversity in the luxury industry. I want my brand to fill the gap in the market where African women, black women, people of color are only able to “buy in” to other people’s ideas of luxury. I wanted to be a part of the growing conversation where we as a people can create our own image of luxury based on our heritage, legacy, and DNA.
Would you say that there is a demand for these products here? Or are wealthy Africans more inclined towards the well-known brands such as Louis Vuitton and Chanel?
Yes, there is growing demand; many Western luxury brands have already opened up retail outlets on the continent so the demand for luxury in Africa is apparent. I see this as an opportunity for African-based designers to challenge themselves to design and produce the best products possible in a timely manner, that is why the affluent are buying Louis Vuitton and Chanel, its because they have developed a relationship with those brands based on trust. They trust that they will get the value from the product they are buying. That can also happen with African brands, which we are seeing more of now. I think the affluent African consumer, wants to “buy in” to African brands, because as they travel, it’s also a badge of honor for them. Also, these consumers are not saving up to buy one or two items, with the affluence we are seeing in Africa, our target luxury consumers can typically buy 100 handbags if they wanted to, we as designers have to give them a reason to “buy in” and it has to be based on the value and quality of the product, not only because its an African brand.
What is different about an APRELLEDUANY bag?
I think my approach to design has been able to set my brand apart early on. I develop and design from an investigative, problem solving approach. I never want to replicate what is already out in the market. My products are meant to be investment pieces with classic silhouettes that will never go out of style.
Tell us a bit about your childhood, growing up and discovering yourself..
From childhood, I have always been a disrupter, someone who is very curious and always asking why. I was intrigued with math and science and always wanted to know how things worked. I would take things apart and rearrange them, I was a bit of a handful, and looking back that explains why my mother put me in school at such a young age. In addition to my fashion and design degree, I also have a technology related degree which started in computer engineering and morphed into Information Studies & Technology, my plan was to get a “good job” out of college so I would have security and stability. What I didn’t realise at the time was that having a “good job” is more taxing than creating the career and life you desire. I’m glad I learned that lesson.
How do you stay inspired?
My children inspire me everyday. When I reach the valleys of the entrepreneurial journey, they always motivate me to keep pushing on. I think to myself, if one of my daughters came to me and said, “Mom, I’m so passionate about X, but its too hard and frustrating, I want to give up”, I would tell them to keep going, the things worth pursuing in life take time and aren’t easy. So in essence, I give that advise to myself.
For more on Aprelle Duany’s bags visit: http://www.aprelleduany.com/