Edith Tialeu: The woman who wants to make Douala a creative capital
This coming May, furniture giant Ikea will introduce a number of products resulting from its collaboration with ten designers representing seven African countries. From Dakar to South Africa via Abidjan, the world will discover the creativity and culture of the oldest continent. As a Cameroonian, I was a little frustrated to yet again not see my country on the creativity map.
Every time I travel around my country, I’m always fascinated by the talent shown by local artists, craftspeople and designers. Their creativity is, I believe, limitless. For my first article of the year on Instants Africains, I wanted to meet with Edith Tialeu, a designer in Cameroon and the founder of the Frida brand.
Edith Tialeu was born in France and grew up in the Paris region (Puteaux, next to La Défense). Following a glittering career in the fashion industry (Chloe, Kenzo, APC, DIM and MOA), she decided to move to her parents’ country of origin, Cameroon. In 2016, she bought a one-way ticket to Douala, our economic capital. Why? She wanted to fulfil her dream of creating an interior design brand combining Cameroonian and African know-how with global influences. “I don’t feel as though I’ve come home, because I never left. However, I grew up in a family circle with a mixture of both cultures, Cameroonian and French. I’d spend my holidays in either Cameroon or Côte d’Ivoire. I’d always told myself that one day I’d go and live in Africa. I didn’t have a precise timetable; things happened naturally”, says the entrepreneur.
I wanted to know whether her motivations were linked to financial security or quality of life. They are two factors that are frequently mentioned in conversations between “repats”. The security issue too. “They weren’t really major factors for me. I just wanted to know and experience my Cameroonian culture. I was already very much “in sync” with my French culture, but I needed to get closer to the land of my ancestors and build my African dream”, adds Edith Tialeu.
Success: in September 2017, Edith brought out her brand. It is sold online, in France, in Los Angeles, in Ghana, and soon she’ll expand into Canada, the UK and other northern countries. Her team is currently putting the finishing touches to her distribution points.
In a few days, Frida will launch its first collection of 2019: “free your mind” (see photos). The brand remains very attentive to its “Made in Cameroon” aspect. “It’s Frida’s DNA. It’s important to work with local artisans and materials. I love travelling around the country’s towns simply to discover new talent, know-how. I’ve always heard that Cameroon is a miniature version of Africa, so what is more important than preserving our heritage and passing it on to the next generation?” she asks.
I know the challenges that Cameroonian entrepreneurs can come up against, especially those who set up without having experienced the way the system works. “Definitely! The hardest aspect is human resources. My artisans often use archaic work methods. The other real difficulty is the lack of training in managing a business. There’s a difference between what you learn at school and what it’s really like on the ground. I feel that we have a lack of technical training courses (management, marketing, taxation, etc.) but also personal training (decision-making, management, self-confidence, etc.) We need more people who address these issues when they talk about returning to Africa”, says Edith Tialeu.
Nevertheless, she remains motivated, aware that the world is looking closely at this continent. From Abidjan to Johannesburg via Lagos, the dynamism between creative people is continually growing through fashion weeks, art fairs, etc. There is little doubt that in a few years Edith Tialeu will achieve her second objective and make Douala a creative capital.