Dare (verb): to have enough courage or confidence to do something. Gwen Madiba named her fashion line Dare with this definition in mind; a motto she adopted herself and encourages others to follow as well.
Madiba remembers starting to pay more attention to fashion at the age of 12. She enjoyed helping her mother put together outfits for galas and events, and taking trips to Ottawa fashion veteran Richard Robinson’s studio to choose hats.
Even though she didn’t go to school for design — Madiba studied communications and sociology — she knew she would end up working in the fashion industry. However, the beginning of her career wasn’t a walk in the park.
“For me, it was important to understand ‘to each their own,’” says Madiba. She learned that a designer can’t always please everybody. Even if there were people who didn’t like her clothing, Madiba focused on finding her own style and figuring out her brand’s image.
“When you are confident, you stick to your values and know who you are,” she explains.
Dare to be
“For me, Dare is more than just a clothing company: it’s a way of life [and] messages of empowerment that I try to bring through my clothes,” says the designer.
Madiba’s clothing line aims to inspire women to be confident in whatever they choose to wear. She is influenced by everything that surrounds her, but mostly by architecture and colours. She finds inspiration while walking the streets of Paris — a city, among others, that she calls home. She looks for the beauty of every street, even if it may not be that obvious.
Seeing colourful fabrics in a store inspires her designs. The traditional vibrant clothing of women from Gabon and Senegal also has a huge influence on her. Madiba often remembers flashy colour combinations of hot pink and royal blue, something she wouldn’t necessarily see in Ottawa. As a result, her focus is on dresses and bright colours for summer, as well as black, white and red for fall/winter.
Dare to inspire
Apart from travelling the world to places like Montréal, Paris, Dakar, New York and Libreville, Ottawa-based Madiba has worked as a model, entrepreneur and TV host on Malaika TV. She splits her time between designing and promoting human rights for women and children. In 2010, Madiba was on the Women’s Executive Network’s list of the Top 100 Most Powerful Women in Canada.
Her mother is the first person she shares any exciting news with: “She’s the reason why I’m here, and everything that my brothers and sisters and I do is really for this woman, for all the sacrifices that she’s done for us,” Madiba says.
Dare to dream
The first Dare collection was presented at Montréal and Ottawa Fashion Weeks in 2012. Madiba is currently working on her spring/summer 2014 collection, and she is excited to pack up and jet off to France to spend some time with her mother and to get a little bit more inspiration to complete the collection.
Despite the distance, Madiba and her mother are constantly in touch: when the designer was asked to be Ambassador of the Nelson Mandela Legacy in Canada, she instantly called her mother to share the news.
Madiba hopes to bring more independent fashion shows to Ottawa, saying there is a lot of talent and creative ideas that come from Ottawa, but emerging designers need support from the industry. She believes this can be done through a higher number of soirées and independent fashion shows.
“Having an idea is a great thing, but we must put it into something concrete. We have the possibility to do it, it’s just a matter of time and creating the right circumstances for yourself.”