Always stay connected to who you are. In any high-impact industry it’s easy to lose sight of who you are with all the changes, adjustments, and constant new experiences. It’s very important to have a strong sense of who you are so you’re not changing who you are and becoming like every environment you’re in.
I had the pleasure of interviewing Flaviana Matata. Born and raised in Tanzania and currently based in NY, FLAVIANA MATATA’S modeling career kicked off after she was discovered by Hip Hop mogul Russell Simmons while attending a charity event in New York in 2010. Since then, FLAVIANA has been named one of Essence Magazine’s Breakout Models of the Year, and in 2011, she took home the Model of the Year title at Arise Magazine Fashion Week in Lagos, Nigeria. She was also named one of 2014’s Most Influential People in Africa by New African Magazine, one of the Top 10 African Models by Forbes Africa, one of Top 10 Black Models by Models and Moguls and one of the Most Influential Icons in Contemporary African Pop Culture by Africa.com. FLAVIANA has walked the runway for major brands and designers, such as Tommy Hilfiger, Jason Wu, Rachel Roy, Charlotte Ronson, Tory Burch, Diesel, Vivienne Westwood and Catherine Malandrino, and has appeared in campaigns for Topshop, Selfridges Beauty, Tigi, Sony, Aritzia, Clarins, Kenzo, New Look, Kenneth Cole, Express and Warby Parker, Aerie Real, Diesel and Edun. FLAVIANA has also graced the pages of countless magazines, including Forbes, Vogue, Grazia, Essence, Nylon, Glass, Arise, L’Officiel Paris, Hunger, Vision China, Elle, Marie Claire and i-D, as well as catalogues for Macy’s, Sherri Hill, Garnet Hill, Ralph Lauren, Truworths, Avon, Aritzia, Dillard’s, Hockley, Kohl’s, Nordstrom, Athleta, Ann Taylor, Revlon and MyHabit. Throughout her storied career, she has worked with an impressive roster of photographers, including David Sims, Patrick Demarchelier, Russell James, Klaus Storm, Nick Knight, Fadil Berisha, Josh Olin, Mario Torres, Jenni Hare, Rankin, Haifa Wohlers Olsen, Victor Demarchelier and Caroline Templeton just to mention a few. In addition to modeling, FLAVIANA has a lengthy list of philanthropic ventures, including her Flaviana Matata Foundation, which empower young girls in Tanzania through education. She is an Angel Ambassador of the Diamond Empowerment Fund and has worked as a Goodwill Ambassador for Tanzanian charity Mitindo House. She’s also worked with Life project for Africa, Malaika for Life, Usher New Look, Malaria No More, SOS Village and the Hassan Maajar Trust. Flaviana is also a successful businesswoman. She is the founder Lavy Products, a line of non-toxic, cruelty free nail polish that’s available in more than 60 stores in six countries. She has recently spoken at the UN, the Forbes Summit and BeautyCon, to name a few.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
It’s amazing the things that happen when you’re doing what you love. I was discovered at a charity event that was raising money to build a hospital in Tanzania. It was at a pivotal point in my life. I was deciding between continuing my education as an engineer, and the opportunity to model was presented. I took a chance on myself and the rest is history in the making.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began this career?
There have been so many, I can’t select just one. However, the most interesting set of experiences would be the opportunities to travel all over the globe working in and learning about different cultures, people, foods and traditions. Travel broadens and teaches you more about who you are, the values you hold, and what you cherish than I ever would’ve imagined.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
I can’t say it was a funny mistake, but definitely the most valuable one because of what it taught me. When I started in the industry I showed up on time, fulfilled my agreement, and would go home. I didn’t realize the importance of creating my own contacts in the industry just as I’d need to do in any other industry. I realized much later that developing and maintaining relationships would help to ensure my continued growth.
Ok super. Let’s now jump to the core focus of our interview. Can you describe to our readers how you are using your platform to make a significant social impact?
Fashion is the industry that continues to assist me in providing opportunities for so many. I then used education as the tool we’d use for greatest impact. My organization was created out of a need, and at the heart of the foundation is opportunity. Opportunity through education. There are millions of girls all across the globe who are denied the access to education. I decided my foundation would provide that for the young girls in Tanzania where I was raised who have not been as fortunate.
One of the biggest challenges for young girls in Tanzania is access and resources. Access to educational opportunities and the resources to maintain their education if they’re given the chance to go. For instance, a lack of sanitary pads and proper feminine hygiene products for girls from underserved communities means that they end up missing 4–5 days of school every month when they are menstruating. This harsh statistic is one that FMF is actively committed to eradicate. We believe in providing not only scholarships, but also everything a girl needs to attend and stay in school — ensuring they complete their education, find employment, and/or start their own businesses. I created a line of sanitary pads under my company, LAVY, which continues to support FMF’s mission. A percentage of the profits goes toward WASH projects, which will then provide free pads to girls, starting with a few select schools that FMF is currently working with.
Wow! Can you tell us a story about a particular individual who was impacted by this cause?
Since 2011, we have built proper latrines, provided educational supplies to over 4,500 youth, and sponsored the primary and secondary school for 15 young ladies. It made my soul smile knowing we are fulfilling our mission to provide opportunity through education and I’m honored to be in position to do so. These young ladies are in college and we are continuing to support them in the attainment of their greatest dream — to be educated.
Was there a tipping point that made you decide to focus on this particular area? Can you share a story about that?
I was raised by one of the most bold, kind and proud fathers I know. He not only ensured I was educated, but my siblings, our relatives and the community we lived in as well. There was no tipping point for me in that what I’m doing is not new, it’s simply a continuation of the legacy my father began. I decided to create a way to give them the opportunities I was given. There was no option for me in that I was raised to see a need and where able, assist in providing its solution.
Are there three things the community/society/politicians can do help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Identify, acknowledge, and actively provide a solution. We all have the potential to solve communal and global issues. It begins with the first three steps I’ve listed and consistently implementing the last. In Tanzania, if a choice must be made between whom to educate, the boy child is usually chosen. We each must shift the narrative and come to the understanding that educating girls transforms nations and economies — they matter too.
What specific strategies have you been using to promote and advance this cause? Can you recommend any good tips for people who want to follow your lead and use their social platform for a social good?
It’s not a strategy per se. It’s me being me. I live boldly in my truth, and my actions and mission are clear. We all are the authors of our stories, and I use my platform to lift and honor my story while fulfilling my life’s purpose unapologetically. My willingness to openly support causes that matter to me continue to provide other opportunities for me to do so. My suggestion is to do the same. Don’t be silent about what matters to you. Your voice makes an impact, use it for good.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why? Please share a story or example for each.
-Build relationships as you grow, just doing your job isn’t enough.
I didn’t know how important it was to build and nurture relationships when I begin. I wish I was told to build relationships before you need them.
-Always stay connected to who you are
In any high-impact industry it’s easy to lose sight of who you are with all the changes, adjustments, and constant new experiences. It’s very important to have a strong sense of who you are so you’re not changing who you are and becoming like every environment you’re in.
-Listen to your instincts and hold true to your values
As women, too many times we don’t listen to that small voice telling us the best option for us. We’ll listen to everyone around us and ignore the instinct that is right most of the time. Use it as a guide.
-Be open to new experiences
There’s such beauty in stepping out of the box and being open enough to enjoy experiences that may be foreign at first. Life is to be lived.
-Your ego is unnecessary
Ego has no place when looking to grow and impact. We all have a path, honor where yours leads without ego to distract and limit.
You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
I’m a firm believer in teaching a person to fish, not simply giving them a fish. If I could inspire a movement, it would be to provide educational opportunities and resources for girls all over the globe, especially in my native Tanzania. Education changed my life and ensuring all girls have access to education is my life’s mission.
I believe you start where you are. For those looking to make a difference, take a look around you at the problems in your community. Start there and understand the greatest change starts with one. And even if it’s just one it matters to that one.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” — Mahatma Gandhi
I’ve lived my life based on this simple, yet profound principle. I’m a creator and I live every day creating the change I want in the world.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Oprah Winfrey because of all the work she’s done in education for girls in Africa and beyond. She moves at the beat of own drum and proudly walks in her truth while providing pathways for others to discover and live out their dreams too. That type of confidence, vision, and execution is masterful. I’d be honored to learn directly from such a profound example.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
-You can find me on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook: @flavianamatata
-You can stay up to date with my foundation on Instagram and Facebook: @flavianamatatafoundation and on Twitter: @fmfound
Website: Flaviana Matata Foundation
Lions Portfolio: Lions Portfolio
Thank you so much for joining us!