Bee Arthur: The Reigning Queen “Bee” of Daring and Exotic Designs

Flamboyant, distinct, colorful, bright, fun, cosmopolitan and marketable, are just a few words used to describe Bee Arthur’s hot line B’ExotiQ. But what about the woman behind the label(s)? Who is she, and how does she define herself? In an exclusive interview (below) Afrikan Goddess got a chance to dig into the life of Beatrice Arthur, mostly known as “Bee” Arthur. Oh and don’t mind the “bees” in her sentences. They are there for an intentional reason. Just bee open-minded and bee informed!!!

Afrikan Goddess: Tell me a little bit about yourself and about your unique ‘mixed’ background

I’m a mix, blend, fusion and collage of African and European cultures. I have a Russian and a Ghanaian parent. I was born on the shores of the Black Sea in Odessa, the south of Ukraine. I spent my childhood between the two continents. It made me grow up into a very cosmopolitan human Beeing. I’m very comfortable everywhere I go, and I’m very receptive to other people’s cultures.

Afrikan Goddess: In a few single words, briefly describe your design (eg. Edgy, bold, etc).

Loud, bright, fun, cosmopolitan, marketable.

B’ExotiQ by Bee Arthur has been described by many as a very flamboyant brand. That’s beecause I usually go for colourful fabrics and trimmings and I love interesting accessories.  When I initially ventured into fashion 15 years, it was vital to stand out with a distinct image.  I won the Kora Award in 2001 precisely beecause my collection was bright, fun, cosmopolitan and marketable.  My clothes are meant to make people smile: both the person wearing the garment(s) and the onlookers. It’s for folks who like to bee noticed. It’s all about beeing positive and happy and seeing the fun side of life. I enjoy making one-of-a kind pieces beecause I beelieve every person is unique, so we need not look identical, unless it’s a prescribed uniform for a specific context: work, school, etc.

But not all my garments are “loud” because I cater for a very eclectic clientele, some of whom are classic or corporate people.

Afrikan Goddess: What is the inspiration behind the name of your label B’ExotiQ?

Growing up in Odessa, my friends always called me exotic. It was their way of saying “extraordinary”, “unusual’, “uncommon”. I always stood out in their midst because of my skin tone.  There was no way to blend in with them. So I embraced my difference whole-heartedly and started experimenting with my looks. I did the wildest hair and make-up and you could spot me from a mile away! (Laughs).

When I decided to name my brand, it didn’t take too long for me to come up with B’ExotiQ.  The message to the world was “Be Exotic” in the sense of “don’t bee scared to bee different“. Voila!

Afrikan Goddess: How long have you been in the fashion industry professionally?

I started “flirting” with fashion in 2005. I finished my BA degree in 2000 and officially became a Fashion designer. B’ExotiQ by Bee Arthur was born. My logo was BQ and a little bumble Bee sitting on it. The bee is a symbol of fertility, femininity and industry. That is why I love it. But I have rebranded myself now so you only see my bees on my website. It makes it look playful and light and funny. But once you see my clothes, you realize I don’t joke with my work. I like the contrast and the surprise element. It’s the same with my image: it’s flamboyant and daring, but there is a level-headed woman behind that.

Afrikan Goddess: You describe yourself as an “adventurous and flamboyant fashion guru.” What would you say led you to that description of yourself?

Actually, I’m not the one who said that. It’s the journalists and bloggers. But I totally agree with that description…It beefits me. I’m adventurous beecause I’m fearless when it comes to mixing colours and fabrics. I dare to Bee different. And I’m happy that I’m considered a guru. It means I’m on top of my game.

Afrikan Goddess: Is being “adventurous and flamboyant” with clothes a new trend within the fashion industry? How would you describe the demand?

Most people in the world seek to blend in, so no I don’t think there is a huge demand for adventurous clothing. And Ghanaians in particular are very cautiously flamboyant and not too adventurous when it comes to fashion. There seems to bee a slight change however, which I credit to the Ivorians who migrated to Ghana due to troubles back in their homeland.  My business would not have thrived had I done only colourful and flamboyant garments for sale. That type of clothing was usually for the fashion shows I was invited to across the African continent, and for the media to notice my creativity and fearlessness. I had to build a foundation, so to begin with I was selling wearable clothing to a rather classic and middle-aged corporate clientele. They were the back-bone of my business. Once I had built a solid foundation, I could now allow myself the luxury of making “eccentric” and “extravagant” pieces for the fashionistas from Nigeria, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, France, America , and South Africa. Also, artistes started coming for garments for stage performances, photo-shoots, video-clips and stuff. I dressed Becca, Samina, Kwabena Kwabena, Jordin Sparks and Keisha White, not to mention the numerous TV Presenters.

Afrikan Goddess: That’s swell! In the video on you ‘The Designer – Bee Arthur’, you make mention of the fact that you started designing clothes at an early age – for example, removing pockets and sleeves of your childhood clothes and matching/sewing them on others with your sister. Would you say those childhood fashion-play moments with your sister helped spark your interest in becoming an adventurous fashion guru, or did you find yourself stumbling into the fashion industry?

My sister and I loved fashion because everyone in Odessa is a die-hard fashionista.  We had no access to western funky clothing, so we became creative and personalized and transformed and recycled our old clothing. But I never imagined being a designer professionally. I have a degree in Sociology, Linguistics and Spanish Literature. I have been a private language tutor before. The whole designing thing was simply a passionate hobby. I won the Kora award after I finished the University of Ghana, Legon in 2000 as a totally novice and self-taught designer and that just sealed my fate. I guess it was meant to Bee…..

Afrikan Goddess: What would you say are some of the challenges you face as you compete to sell your ‘flamboyant ideas/clothes’ within the Haute couture and safe (so to speak) industry? Or do people easily relate to your style? Is this the ‘breath of fresh air’ they have so been waiting for?

I have my signature style, which is quite elaborate in terms of the art work, and most people come to me specifically for statement pieces. For everything ordinary and “normal”, they usually go to other designers and tailors/seamstresses. My favourite market is Francophone Africa, Nigeria and South Africa. People there are a bit more expressive and daring, and they have a better appreciation for artistic clothes. They see the amount of work that went into each garment I make, and they willingly pay good money for them.

It’s also worth noting that in Ghana, when I decided to make some toned down clothes last year my conservative customers didn’t even try them on! The point is people come to me for my peculiar style. They love me for being me. If I start making regular simple clothes that will bee the end of Bee. For the European market, however, I am developing a prêt-a-porter line that conforms to their life-style. Gradually, I shall sell couture pieces there too.

Afrikan Goddess: In other words, don’t come to Bee if you’re looking to remain a Wasp (laugh). Very well stated. And in case readers are wondering, prêt-a-porter means off-the-rack. Describe a few of the fabrics you use in creating your designs. Is it a general rule that you incorporate at least some African fabric in all your designs? If so, do you restrict yourself in terms of the countries whose fabrics you use?

I am less categorical now than I was 15 years ago when I first became a designer. I was a bit “militant” in the sense that as a matter of principle, I worked only with natural fibers – cotton, linen, silk- and the hand-woven cloths from all parts of Africa. I focused a lot on African symbolism. I was greatly inspired by the bogolan and Adinkra symbols.  With the years, I travelled to many faraway places and discovered amazing cloths and interesting symbols there too. This enriched me as an artist and broadened my horizon. I was the first person to ever do embroidery on a tuniq with Adinkra symbols, Cyrillic letters and Chinese hieroglyphics. Now you see that on shirts all over Accra, but none of the tailors even know who started it! (Laughs)

Presently, I work with any fabric that I think is appropriate for a specific design I have in mind.  I use satin, chiffon, organza, tule, etc.  But I still put a little touch of Africa or Russia somewhere, no matter how discreet it may bee.

Afrikan Goddess: Describe your main clientele. Who patronizes your designs more? Do you design clothes for men as well? If so, what do you design for men?

I design for EVERYBODY.

Currently I am patronized more by affluent Africans and African-Americans. For men, I make very nice shirts and tuniq and drawstring pants. Because I want to attract more foreigners (Europeans) I will go online soon. I don’t want my clothes to stay only in Africa. It was never my idea. I’m cosmopolitan and I want my clothes to go to all corners of the globe.

Afrikan Goddess: Well I guess that brings us to our last and final question which you may have just answered. Do you have any other B’ExotiQ locations besides Ghana? How can clients order a B’ExotiQ design?

B’ExotiQ by Bee Arthur is currently only in Ghana. This should change in the near future as my team and I are currently working on selling prêt-a-porter online. For now, however, anyone who desires a one-of-a-kind exclusive garment piece for him or herself should contact me via my website www.bq.awuraba.com or email me on annabetya@gmail.com.

Afrikan Goddess: Well, I must say this was one of our most fun yet serious interviews and it was great getting to know you as the face behind the (let me add another label) “spunky” B’ExotiQ label. Now they can say they heard this one from Afrikan Goddess Magazine.

Thank you for your time and Happy Birthday on February 3 (click for a little birthday surprise). I’m glad we could help you celebrate in our own small way!

You’re most welcome. It was a pleasure. Thank you for featuring me.

Bee Arthur is also on facebook at  www.facebook.com/bexotq

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