Afua Sam (Studio D’Maxsi): If Ever You Needed a Reason to Dream!

| January 4, 2010

Afua Sam Cover2By: N. Amma Twum-Baah; Published January 4, 2010

Imagine hearing the story of a little girl who survived the death of her father when she was barely a teenager, lived through two close encounters with death, grew up in a family that constantly struggled to survive each new day, a little girl shuffled back and forth between relatives after her father’s death, barely able to dream beyond the little that circumstances had afforded her. Then imagine this little girl grew up to a life no better than what she was used to; married at a young age, and divorced at a young age. Imagine she made it to the land of dreams and opportunity with nothing more than perseverance and a dream, where she would find that her luggage never made it across the Atlantic with her, in addition to finding herself stranded in a foreign land; and you might be thinking: “How much more can one person take; where is this little girl today; and what became of her life?”

Nothing in life is guaranteed – except the purposes that have been laid out by a higher power. Many believe in coincidences and chances. Some believe in luck, and others believe in destiny. There is no doubt that the life Afua Sam, founder and owner of Studio D’Maxsi, has led up until now is neither by luck, chance or mere coincidence. Her life is a reflection of a purpose for her very being – a true testament to what can happen when we believe in our purpose on earth and work hard to attain it. What better way to start the New Year than to bring you a true life story brimming with inspiration, and a life reflective of what can happen when dreams do come true.

Afua Sam was born in Teshie Nungua in the Greater Accra region of Ghana, West Africa to a father she remembers as having the creative genes in the family; and a mother she credits with her very survival, drive and success. Afua describes her childhood as “difficult” and “unstable.” Because her father was a musician, the family moved around a lot until his death. Her fond memories of her father are also her last vivid memories of him – sitting under a tree in the family compound, guitar in hand, and striking melodious tunes to the serenity that engulfed him as he indulged in his passion, music.

After the death of her father, Afua found herself separated from her mother while she was sent to live with relatives. It would be years – well into her teenage years – before she would be reunited with her mother. As purpose would have it, her reunion with her mother was also her moment of revival, the moment she would get to live again and experience the strength of a mother’s love and sacrifice – something she had been denied for years. It was her mother who saw to it that she got an education. It was her mother who saw to it that she believed in herself and in her capabilities as a woman. And, it was her mother who first manifested a combination of emotional and physical strength that Afua believes she inherited.

Afua SamAn encounter in 1995 led Afua’s footsteps in the right direction when she landed at JFK International Airport as part of an arts club visiting the United States. She was introduced to the club by a friend, and would later find herself on American soil through her links with the club. Her first attempt at marriage had just failed and left her feeling dejected. She saw the opportunity as a way to pick up the pieces of her life. So she picked herself up, dusted off her wounds and looked forward to the next chapter of her life. Having always known her hands were blessed – from her first vegetable garden that blossomed without the use of fertilizers, to the beautiful hand-made kente bags and pillows she displayed at an exhibition at Panafest in Accra that earned her recognition from retailers willing to buy her handiwork – Afua knew her life’s purpose was slowly beginning to unfold in the touch of her hands. 

She describes her arrival in the United States as totally unplanned, unexpected, and full of mishaps that could have discouraged anybody – but, not her. She was determined to bring new meaning to the life she had come to know but would not accept as her final destiny. Her quest to find her footing in the US would lead her to work various odd jobs, including working in sweatshops doing sewing work and embroideries.

Afua says she decided to focus solely on her natural talent as a seamstress, and before long she was making connections with some of the most noted fashion trendsetters in the Washington, D.C Metropolitan area. It was two such encounters with Glynn Jackson, most known for the Golden Scissors Awards, and Vusi Mchunu, designer and CEO of Mchunu House of Style, that Afua says really gave her a boost. She designed outfits for both men and struck relationships with them that continue today. The first time Afua says she saw her handiwork displayed in the public media, she was the ‘ghost’ seamstress behind the beautiful designs featured under the designer’s name.

This, Afua states, questioned something deep inside her: “seeing my work of art featured in the Washington Post got me thinking why I was sitting there doing nothing to gain the recognition that I deserved. My work was being shown and featured under someone else’s name. This got me motivated to strike out on my own – this awakening plus all the comments and enthusiasm from people on the streets who kept asking me if I bought my ‘self-made’ outfits from Nordstrom.”

Afua Sam 3And so Studio D’Maxsi was born! A design label made by her, labored by her, recognized as her own and that continues to grow successfully as her own. The name D’Maxsi, Afua says, is derived from the combination of the first names of her two children – Mawuko and Selasie. Her journey to the United States meant she had to make hard choices and difficult decisions concerning them. They were separated from her for sixteen years while Afua struggled to make it in a land far away from home. Her hard work and perseverance paid off, and she has since been reunited with her children. She named her line after them as a legacy to serve as a constant reminder of her unfailing love and eagerness to make up for the lost years.  

Afua Sam is going places, and half her work is not yet done – that’s how much ability and motivation is left in a woman who has already survived so much.

Since officially starting D’Maxsi, Afua has appeared in several fashion shows and charity events across the United States. She has a thing for charity given her disadvantaged background. According to Afua, “I have done so many charity events because I believe the Charity platform is a wonderful way to reach out to young people. To try to open the door for them to step up and think they can do something with their lives – to make a difference!”

Among her many achievements: Afua was chosen as the official national stylist/designer for the Miss Black America pageant. She is in the process of designing a dress for the winner of the pageant as part of the grand prize package. She is also the designer behind most of Glynn Jackson’s opening designs for the Golden Scissors Award shows. Afua is the recent recipient of 3G Magazine’s Award for Excellence in Fashion Design, and recipient of the African Women in the Arts Award, alongside Africa’s music queen, Angelique Kidjo. She is also a contributing designer for Council Magazine, a fashion and entertainment magazine. She designed the bra dress unveiled at an event held by Steps to the Cure to honor breast cancer survivors.

Afua believes her success and achievements are not complete until she has had the chance to influence the lives of others, especially young children and women. It is for this reason that she founded Afua’s Foundation with a mission to empower women and young people. Under the Foundation’s first major operation, known as Operation Prom, Afua seeks to make one high school senior’s prom a night to remember. Read all about Operation Prom and how to enter here

Afua Sam 4Afua believes her life’s story is a perfect example of what can happen when one is not afraid to go after their dreams no matter how poor or disadvantaged they may be. She believes “you don’t have to be rich to help anybody. As long as you have a voice and a will, don’t think you can’t have an impact on someone’s life. You don’t have to be ‘somebody’ in order to make a difference.”

Take this from a woman who narrates her trips to school with no shoes on her feet, a woman who survived a scorpion sting as a young girl, without seeking medical care because her family just couldn’t afford it, a woman who survived being struck by lightning as a young girl, without seeking medical assistance because, again, her family was too poor to afford treatment. Take this from a woman who did not allow anyone – including the first man she ever loved and married – to tell her she couldn’t do it. She is a woman who believes in the steadfast love of God, believes that when you trust and have faith in Him, He will lift you out of any situation and raise you up high for all to see the results of his goodness. Afua is a living example of what can happen when you dream and work your fingers to the bone to make your dreams come true. To learn more about Afua Sam, Studio D’Maxsi, and the Afua Foundation, visit www.studiodmaxsidesigns.com

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