The African Teddy bears

Sometimes , when you least expect it, you create an accidental HIT. This is the remarkable story of Emily Croxford an acclaimed children’s clothes designer who did not want to waste the off-cuts from a line of afro chic clothes she had just sewn. A spur of the moment decision to make teddy bears from the scraps of cloth has turned into a blossoming business with orders from Johannesburg to Toronto.

In an interview with Emily Croxford, she detailed how she created the most sought after toy in homes and daycares.

AS: Emily, What led you to the world of fashion.

Emily Croxford: I graduated from the London college of Fashion in 1991 and I have been making some made-to-measure clothes for adults and children since. But in the last ten years, due to the overwhelming demand for my brand of children’s clothes, I have been focusing on kids wear .

AS: You have a lovely line of children’s wear, but I sometimes wonder if the market for African styled clothes is not over saturated. How do you handle the competition?

Emily Croxford: I have a really unique approach to designing children’s wear. The collection I have for children is not done in the generic way that you find on the market. I just returned from Ghana Fashion Week and I was the only designer showcasing children’s wear. The response to my line was amazing.

AS: You definitely have the gift of style in kidswear, but what drew me to you is your fabulous line of African teddy bears. I am in LOVE with the African teddy bears and this is coming from someone who has never been crazy about stuffed animals yet I just can’t stop gushing over the Afro-teddys. They are to die for. What inspired them.

Emily Croxford: We were going to fashion show last year and we had off-cuts from the finished dresses lying on the floor. Now I could not bring myself to waste the random pieces of cloth so I decided to make teddy bears out of them and I tell you, they were a hit. Everybody wanted the teddy bear. Now the african teddy bear has a life of its own.

AS: I have to be the biggest fan of the Afro teddys. They are different yet so beautiful. How long does it take to make one.

Emily Croxford: I am so glad you like them. You will be happy to know that they are hand made and it takes about 4 hours to make one. They are not mass produced so you can rest assured that no single teddy bear is the same. There is the odd time that someone will ask us to replicate a specific style they saw but for the most part, we customize the teddy bear to your desire. We can emboss your initials or a special message on the teddy bear if you so wish.

AS: Fantastic! What is next for the afro teddys

Emily Croxford: We have a new line coming out with crystals and rhinestone which is just beautiful.

AS: I cannot wait to get my hands on them. Do you ship to North America?

Emily Croxford: Absolutely! If you go to www. and place your order, we will ship your teddy bear to any part of the world.

AS: Emily, I wish you all the success and I can’t wait to see the Afro-teddy at every toy shop around the world.

Emily Croxford: Thank you.

photo credit:

Santa in Africa

Canada’s Prime Minister Stephen Harper just wrapped up a visit to two African countries at polar ends of the development spectrum.

On October 9th, he arrived in Senegal like Santa Claus bearing $20 million worth of gifts to assist in food distribution in areas hit by famine. This is in addition to the $57 million the government has directed towards humanitarian relief for drought victims. The sacks of cash ‘Santa Claus’ is giving to Senegal is a signal of Santa’s approval of the country’s progress.

Since Independence in 1960, this West African country which used to be a major depot for transatlantic slavery, has enjoyed bonafide political stability which has made it a popular holiday destination for tourists around the world. Although Senegal is a predominantly Islamic country, women have made significant strides in becoming decision makers in politics and the economy. The Senegalese are politically savvy and are known for delivering shocking political upsets to governments that they deem irresponsive to their needs. President Abdoulaye Wade got a taste of this trait when he altered the constitution to run for a third term in office. In March, Senegal raced to the polls in record numbers and delivered a resounding defeat to Wade by electing opposition leader Macky Sall as the new President of Senegal. The power of democracy prevails in Senegal.

As Santa Stephen Harper toured the capital, Darkar, he continued to shower the country with presents; $5 million to support youth development, $7 million to improve map technology and $70 million from CIDA. Though there are still gaps in literacy, access to health care and corruption, Senegal is a model country in Africa and the message from Santa was clear: Rewards are reserved for they that have been ‘nice’.

The next stop for Santa was the Democratic Republic of Congo, a country that has been rocked with instability since 1965 when Mobutu Sese Sekoe overthrew anti-colonial freedom fighter Patrice Lumumba from power. After 32 years in office, Mobutu was driven into exile and the Democratic Republic of Congo spiralled into a bloody civil war. An uneasy peace agreement was signed in 2003 and last year, Joseph Kabila was sworn in as President amidst accusations of a rigged election.

Santa Stephen Harper arrived in Kinshasa on October 11th to attend the Francophone summit. His visit was condemned by Canadians like Romeo Dallaire who criticized the Premier for visiting a country that has a notorious record for human rights abuses. But still playing the role of father Christmas, Harper offered a $20 million investment in programs that support responsible and transparent mining of natural resources.

Ironically 2 years ago, when the DRC badly needed international assistance, President Harper refused to increase Canada’s support for a UN mission in Congo. Canada, thus lost an opportunity to curb flagrant human rights abuses and unprecedented level of sexual violence against women. But the country is on the mend, albeit slowly. Addressing a news conference, Mr. Harper made it a point to express his disapproval with the DRC and urged the next summit to be held in a democratic country.

The situation in Senegal and the DRC is a snapshot of Africa. On one hand, you have countries that are building on economic and political stability and then you have others that are trying to find their footing after decades of civil war. Judging by the size of the gift bags, the message from Santa was clear. Reprimand is reserved for the naughty ones.

Banking on Women

One of the women leading change in Ethiopia is Meaza Ashenafi. She is a devoted women’s rights advocate and a promoter of social change. In the past decade, she has galvanized support for laws which have criminalized female genital mutilation and early childhood marriages. Her new venture, ENAT bank, is geared towards making women financially independent.

Beware of smiling politicians

Omar al-bashir of Sudan and Salvo Kiir of South Sudan just concluded a meeting to resolve a bitter dispute about oil production. After four days of talks in Addis Ababa, the two leaders emerged to announce that an economic and security agreement had been reached. Flanked by their delegates, Kiir and Bashir hugged and smiled at the flashing cameras. Yet beneath their confident smiles lies a contentious issue that has riled both leaders for months.

Over a year ago, South Sudan seceded from Sudan and became an independent country. However it attained this status without reaching a categoric agreement on how the 1200 mile border it shares with the North should be demarcated. Under the terms of independence, South Sudan maintained ownership of two thirds of the crude oil whilst Sudan controlled the oil refineries. But in January 2012, a dispute over oil transit fees and the unresolved border issue almost thrust the two countries into war. South Sudan shut down oil production forcing Bashir to implement austerity measures which sparked uprisings in Khartoum. In South Sudan, the lack off oil production also weakened their economy. To avert a financial crisis, the two leaders met in Addis and brought an end to the economic and security stalemate.

The newly signed agreement resolved three core issues: The two countries agreed to reopen oil exports from the South to Northern Sudan. They also agreed to demilitarize the zone between the border and end all hostilities that almost led to war in April. Inspite of these significant achievements Bashir and Kiir were not able to reach a decision about how to mark their border or how to resolve the disputed border region of Ayebi. Without a clearly demarcated border which shows where Sudan ends and where  Sudan begins, dazzling smiles and firm handshakes are insincere and irrelevant. All it will take is another skirmish at Ayebi for the former foes to draw their guns again.

Catherine Hamlin

Generous, hardworking and unstoppable, 88 year old gynecologist Dr. Catherine Hamlin is the co-founder of Hamlin Fistula Hospital. Located in Ethiopia, this medical centre provides free health care to women who suffer from debilitating child birth complications called obstetric fistula. Dr. Hamlin arrived in Ethiopia in 1959 with her husband Reginald Hamlin to train midwives in Addis Ababa. But even after their contract was over she and her husband stayed in Ethiopia to provide life saving surgery to women from every part of Ethiopia. In a remarkable demonstration of character, Dr. Catherine Hamlin continued to live and give to Ethiopia even after her husband died in 1993. She works tirelessly to raise funds so women can receive free medical treatment in her hospitals. In a June 2012 visit to Ethiopia I visited a rehab centre in Desta Menda which was established by Dr. Hamlin to treat more severe cases of fistula. Beyond medical treatment, the women who are admitted to Desta Menda are also taught various skills like poultry farming so when they are discharged they can become self sufficient members of their community.

Dr. Hamlin’s selfless commitment to the welfare of women makes her an angel on earth.


Young Parliamentarian

Here’s a name to remember: Proscovia Oromait - the youngest person to win a parliamentary seat in Uganda. Proscovia contested elections in Usuk located in eastern Uganda after her father died. Her win is a major boost to President Yoweri Museveni’s ruling party which has been plagued with accusations of human rights abuses and elections rigging.

Whilst some see this as a milestone for Uganda, many wonder if this college bound student has what it takes to represent a town where access to decent schools and health care is still limited. Proscovia confidently responds to this criticism by saying that ‘Its not about the age… its the brain.” Criticism not withstanding, Priscovia has her work cut out for her.


Grading 2010

If you were asked to rate 2010, what grade would you assign to it? I would give it a solid C+ with no grounds for an appeal. See when I left 2009, I had asked specific things of 2010 that have not been accomplished. I am still carrying that blasted handbag from the Spring 2008 non-leather collection which has so many holes that coins leak from its base. I still have a mortgage hanging on my head, and an insatiable appetite for procrastination. I still eat after 10pm, I do not work out, and most importantly, I have not mastered the art of filtering my thoughts. If you can imagine the physical and emotional repercussions generated by this cocktail of flaws, you can understand why I confidently give the year a ‘C’ for effort. The ‘+’ is for the mere fact that I am alive.

Judging by peoples’ Facebook status, the dissatisfaction with 2010 appears to be a common sentiment. This has been a year of deaths, debt and divorces. Many lost their jobs, some lost their homes, others lost their faith and or their sanity. Considering the fact that I am one of the fortunate few who suffered no such tragedy, a C+ makes me an ingrate who finds cheap comfort in complaining. For although I want many things, I lack nothing. I am surrounded by people who know my flaws but love me anyway. Unlike millions of women around the world, the barriers to success only materialize when my Faith or ambition waver.

With that being said, I can confidently reassess 2010 and give it an A+. ‘ A’ for the Ammazing opportunities that have come my way and the ‘+’ for finally having the guts to execute them. It was the year that I decided to respond to disappointments with a smile. It was also the year that I stopped waiting for happiness and started creating happiness. With that mindset, I found happiness in the details of a phone call, a good mattress, a good book, a leisurely walk, and of course, a tub of ice cream. 2010 was a fantastic year! It was the year that I nervously launched my AmmazingSeries. 23 videos, 73 posts, 386 comments later, what was supposed to be a shot in the dark is shining a light on my path.

Thus, if you also started out by meting a measly grade to 2010, do reassess. So what if you did not achieve everything you set out to do? The results may not have been great but the lessons are bound to be invaluable. If you have the strength to update your Facebook page or receive a phone call from the comfort of your home, then 2010 has been good to you. Happy 2011. May it be a year where we align ourselves with that which is edifying and contagiously joyful.