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Samrawit Fitwi: Founder of Eritrean Model Academy

Mussie Efriem

Our guest today, Samrawit Fitwi, is a costume designer, hair stylist, makeup artist, model, and actress. She has founded a modeling academy in Eritrea and is currently teaching young models under the auspices of the Eritrean Designers Association.


Isn’t it difficult to juggle different kinds of jobs?

They may keep you busy, but I enjoy them all. These are all interrelated professions. What inspires me to engage in all of these professions is that when I am preparing for a ‘modeling competition,’ I want to put what I envisaged in its entirety on a model — from her outfit to her makeup. If I let someone else do it, it might not match what I have in mind. That’s why I prefer to do it all myself to achieve what I have in my heart. Since I was a child, I have always been fascinated by my mothers’ skills, and I was eager to try them all. For instance, I took lessons in hairdressing in regular classes. But I believe the art of design is some sort of a talent that has grown along with me. Since I was a child, I have always wondered how God designed His creatures, and that is where my inspiration comes from. Because I believe everything was designed before it was made. And although I am new to acting, it has always been my dream. To do them all, I try to manage my time as much as I can.

Your main profession now is instructing models. Tell us more about that.

The modeling class is open to all Eritrean designers and models and is run under the auspices of the Eritrean Designers Association. As a designer and model, I am a member of the association. Its goal is to serve as a platform for all Eritrean designers and models who would like to promote the profession nationwide by organizing events, contests, courses, and discussion forums. I’ve started the modeling class this year.

Considering that there was nothing like it in the country, how did the idea come about?

Traditionally, beauty pageants have focused on judging and ranking the candidates’ physical attractiveness. However, competitions have evolved to include criteria for judging personality, intelligence, talent, character, and philanthropic activities, as well as on-stage responses to questions. In the assessment, weight is given to the impact the models can have on society. What matters most today is the quality of the models as a whole rather than their external appearance because external beauty fades away after a few years, while internal beauty will not be taken away from you and will remain as long as you are alive. The qualities that are sought in a model include what she knows about her culture and how she represents it, her general knowledge, her academic excellence, and other talents, such as speaking multiple languages. A skill that has the potential to influence society is often favored.

I’ve often thought about producing models that could represent our country at international beauty contests. This was the driving force behind my decision to start the modeling academy. I learned an essential lesson after a certain model was sent to an international competition under my supervision, and I realized that we still have a lot of work to do. She won in one category, but there were three more prestigious categories she needed to win. That prompted me to do some more research on international modeling. I believe the models gave more importance to their external looks, and talent was overlooked.

As a coordinator, you must always come up with new ways to present rather than sticking to the old ones. On top of that, culture is something that I pay special attention to because when you send a model to an international competition, you have to realize that she will represent the entire country’s image. As an instructor, I constantly encourage and assist my trainees to focus on their academic performance, learning about their culture, learning new languages, and developing skills, such as public speaking. In addition to this, I teach choreography of Eritrean ethnic groups in collaboration with experts, and invite psychologists to the class to guide the models, and they are now learning sketching designs. Most importantly, they also learn how to handle themselves as public figures because it is difficult to do that when you suddenly become a celebrity. By the way, I would like to commend the trainees for being extremely attentive and quick learners. They genuinely enjoy it and are all studying culture in their unique ways. The goal is to cultivate great women and models that can serve as role models. In this regard, the National Union of Eritrean Women always supports me.

Why are you inclined more toward the traditional?

Sure, my focus now is on the traditional because it is a characteristic that makes a group of people recognizable in a crowd. People’s history and lifestyle are stored within the culture; that is who they are. Each of Eritrea’s nine ethnic groups has customs and ways of dressing that reveal our gender, age, status, and situation. For instance, a person in mourning may be identified by the way he or she dresses, and any stranger may treat them according to their particular circumstance.

In general, culture is now taking the most credit for beauty pageants. If you bring to the competition what the audience and judges already know, you contribute nothing. Hosts of international beauty pageant events prefer women who truly represent their society and cultural heritage. Therefore, we must seize this opportunity to share our culture with the rest of the world. My ultimate goal is to develop disciplined and influential models that will familiarize our gorgeous and decent traditional garments on a global scale.

Any final thoughts?

All I can say is that since a woman is the cornerstone of her family and the country, she should have a clear vision. Women have a significant impact on society, and when the impact is constructive and transformative, the result is tremendous. To make this a reality, women must constantly educate themselves through reading and by doing research rather than focusing just on their appearance.

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