Thursday, April 9, 2015

How do you know you are on the right path? (Africa Part 2)

This article is a continuation of Africa Part 1...

I'm just arriving back home in the states from the second out of three planned trips to Africa, where I'm co-creating this massive project to make a difference with malaria. Perfect timing, because I'm so excited to continue sharing more of my journey with you and how it relates to knowing when you are on the right path. If you missed the first part, travel back a post to catch up!

In part 1, I left off when Robin and I had our first fashion show together on World Malaria Day 2013. It was a great way to kick off our co-creativity together, and our first experience of doing something big outside of fashion week. We left a promise that perhaps the next big thing we do together would be in Africa. But the months and years that would follow would be tough for both of us. As with every passion business, especially ones that look to create a huge impact, there is a lot of work behind the scenes. Now I want to be clear, and not have that last part come out candidly...The road to every vision will require hard, committed, challenging, work to reach the point of success. This is the kind of work that should call into question if this vision of yours is what you are really supposed to be doing. I've seen dozens of people get excited about being a designer, a makeup artist, an actor, a painter, a musician... hell, even a salesman, a marketing exec, a teacher, a politician! They love the passionate part of the journey, but when it comes to the business grind - breaking through obstacles, maintaining a positive attitude despite the inevitable flops - a lot of people fold under the pressure. Running a business and being committed to something big, seeing it through to its fruition, can bring up many doubts about one's capability...and it can sometimes feel very lonely.

After our 2013, Robin and I had a lot of work to do in securing our visions with our businesses. I for one committed to take BoA to its next level, elevating its team members and its artistry, marketing and branding and developing and expanding its education and mentorship. This meant investing in education for myself, rebranding, hiring staff, taking risks on new classes and programs that were being tested out for the first time. It also meant cultivating relationships both new and old to reintroduce the brand and keep it relevant. Juggling all of this not only takes its toll on you physically, but artistically, mentally, and emotionally. It has you face feedback and failures head on...the type that had me break down in tears at times. It also had me need to really be conscious of my family and friend relationships so they were not neglected. I can only describe it as always being "on" my game all the time...pushing myself up when I fell down, getting support when I didn't want to bother anyone, and staying connected to the bigger vision to remember why I'm doing this, not just what I'm going to get out of it. It's not just doing amazing makeup everyday and getting paid lots of fact I'm not sure that day will ever come, lol! But the passion and the pure satisfaction of what I do would not be as sweet if it were not for these challenging times. I may not be doing my art everyday (in fact, I had to force myself to write and paint despite my lack of time just to maintain my sanity) but I am working towards something big that will make a larger difference for someone else.

During this same time, Robin was going through his own challenges necessary for Moskeeto Armor to be released in Africa as a viable product. Now I do not want to discredit my own experience but most times when I thought my personal journey was rough, I would look Robin's and say to myself "Girl, shit's not THAT bad". Because Moskeeto Armor is a technology rather than just a fabric, and because essence of the brand was about how it literally saves lives, it had to go through thorough medical testing. So for three months Robin had to be in country overseeing and pushing medical trials. The areas in which Robin had to do this were the very jungle type raw villages of Bathagory and Épée. In these places there is no electricity, no hot's like camping on crack, taking baths with a bucket in a grassy field, cooking over fire, dealing with all the elements. To top it off, when your body is not used to living in those conditions, it freaks out...I'll let you use your imagination for that one. It was dedicated, hard, non-creative work every single day. But absolutely necessary! Plus, imagine being in the heart of malaria's severity, being faced head on with the very thing you are trying to battle. Even in the most urban areas, Nigeria is a third world country. The main purpose of my first trip to Africa was to get acclimated to this; even in the finest of hotels electricity was unreliable, and cellular networks are shoddy. Remember our gas shortage during post hurricane Sandy? Try having that happen at least 2-5 times a month. Traffic there makes LA and New York seem like ride around the block. And most people drive with no rules! It takes a state of zen surrender to deal with it...which is why most people just hire drivers. Imagine dealing with all of this when you need to run to the trademark office to fill out one form...hoping its the right could take you all day for a single errand. All the while, leaving a loving fiancé and 4 amazing children at home all anxious to see him.

I really just wanted to illustrate how intense it can get when you are pushing for a dream. But after all is said and done...I have a growing and reputable brand that people seek out and want to learn from. Robin has successfully proven Moskeeto Armor reduces infections from 95% to 5%. Do you think it was worth it? This was the only way to pave the way for what was to happen next.

Fast forward to the beginning of this year, Robin texts me: "Block out the last week of April for Africa".

I stared at the text wondering if I was reading it right, because we have all been saying for years that I would go one day, but it always felt like a distant fantasy. But since I know Robin doesn't joke like that, I simply responded "Ok. What are we doing?". He began to tell me of his idea to create a series of pop up "Banksy style" performance art installations that would raise awareness and "change the conversation" around Malaria using makeup and body art, essentially illustrating the necessity for Moskeeto Armor. I said "Awesome. Let's meet to discuss".

Our next meeting began what I would call the birth of creative miracles. This is where ideas were born and faith differentiates a dream from a plan. The ideas we came up with in that meeting could be described as precocious, far fetched, ambitious, or just down right crazy to the average ear. But it was passion and faith that made them not only doable, but game changing. We really saw them happening. I can't really tell you the details quite yet, as the element of surprise is the power of the project, but I'll be blogging the week it actually goes down to fill you in. I will tell you that the things that happened so far on this journey have been the clearest evidence to date that Robin and I were supposed to do this. When you combine faith with committed action, everything around you conspires and aligns to open doors and free channels towards your desired result.

For example, the worst possible time for me to go away was in April. I had pending trips to Hong Kong and Paris to teach at the Make Up For Ever Academies, and of course they all wanted to book around the same time. But the Paris academy suddenly postponed, and the Hong Kong academy pushed my trip to me time in both March and April to go to Africa for prep and production. My first trip was a series of meetings to discuss our project with designers, photographers, politicians, architects, and anyone who could possibly help us achieve our vision. When I tell you every meeting ended with an " I love your idea, I want to help you take it further", I even astonish myself in how receptive and positive everyone has been. We have Reze Bonna, one of the top fashion photographers in Africa, Mai Atafo, one of the highest acclaimed fashion designers, Kunle Adeyemi, an accomplished architect, and our friend Nze Akachukwu Nwankpo, also known as A.K.

Our meeting with A.K. was the one of the coolest I think we've had. A.K. is the special advisor on technical matters to President Goodluck Jonathan. He also runs the Citizens Club which is an initiative for Nigerians to pursue empowering goals that promote the happiness and wealth of Nigerians. "Happiness is Local!" is their philosophy. We originally flew to Abuja (the capital) to meet with AK to talk to him about gaining his support with his in connecting us to the big news syndicates in Nigeria and spread the word about our project. But when he heard our ideas, and connected with our vision, he wanted contribute and make it bigger. He offered to fund a larger part of our project where the representatives of the Citizens Club across Nigerian states would get involved and bring our message to a wider audience. This would also include a personal meeting with the president! Robin and I couldn't believe the success of this meeting...but clearly this is what happens when you are on the right path. There are a number of other incidents where this level of receptivity boosted us to another level.

This is where a surge of energy comes in and fuels us for what's to come...

Hope you'll join us in 2 weeks when our project premieres. Get the inside scoop on how we artistically turn heads and create a platform for awareness around malaria