Lia Samantha Eva Katja_Parque La Colina Bogota shop

Lia Samantha, following her heart into the Global Excellence Top 100

Diversity & Inclusion

I admire her as a person, member of my girl Nina’s great Latina family, single mom, entrepreneur and artist. And now Lia Samantha has been included in a prestigious ranking together with some of the world’s most influential people. A tribute to female entrepreneurship and passion for a social cause.

What does my appreciated Colombian family member, Nina’s auntie Lia Samantha have in common with Vice President Kamala Harris, TV personality & CEO Oprah Winfrey, Formula 1 race car driver Lewis Hamilton, and Meghan Markle, Duchess of Sussex (and the list of celebrities goes on …)?

Well, just as they are, she’s included in the Global Top 100 of Most Influential People of African Descent. What an honor and so well-deserved!

Working with love and responsibility pays off

This is a great recognition of Lia Samantha’s work as an innovative fashion designer and talented singer. Colombia should be SO proud of her! (And I certainly am Extra Proud to be wearing one of her creations on my home page – if you want to have a look 😉 ).

“When I got the news I was so happy I cried,” Lia said when I sent her my congrats in an audio message. “Well-deserved, yes. So good to see how working with love and responsibility finally delivers results!”

It has not been easy. She comes from a humble background where poverty, insecurity and irregular jobs in the informal economy – or criminality – were just the way things are. But her lack of any formal business education or access to professional networks and investors did not hold her back. She managed to become famous as an artist and grow her enterprise into an established fashion brand. Along the way she was joined by her sister Eva who left a promising job at a bank. Eva has taken on the role of CEO of her fashion business, while Lia excels in creativity and relationship building.

Committed to fighting machismo

I met Lia Samantha for the first time many years ago. It was not long after she’d finished her fashion design studies in Bogotá. She showed me one of her first clothing collections, for which she had cut sports garments to pieces and stitched them together again into elegant skirts.

Raised in a family that had migrated to Bogota from the poverty-stricken and isolated Choco region on the country’s Pacific coast, she had a warm-hearted but rebellious personality. Her autonomy was not always understood or appreciated by her parents and family.

At that young age she was insecure about which direction to take with her designer career. But she was clear about one thing: her passion for sharing her talent with the world and using it to drive change.

Some of her great examples were men, among them her father Tadeo. A self-made tailor, he created masterpieces on the simple sewing machine in the garage of their overcrowded family home. From when she was little, Tadeo taught his daughter a thing or two about making clothes.

However, as for many women in Colombia, her memories of her male heroes and teachers are mixed. From our early conversations back in those days to today, Lia Samantha’s commitment to fighting machismo and its damaging effects on private life and society has been an ever-recurring topic.

Little support for women-owned businesses

The lack of equality between men and women also shows in the country’s business sector. Although things are gradually changing at last, overall there’s not much support for small businesses. Support is even more limited if they are owned by women, research finds [1]. And if the founders are women of color… well, the struggle to survive is harsh [2].

No banker or corporate leader or investor will ever admit it, but discrimination against women and people of African or indigenous descent is deeply rooted.

This adds to a general tendency to include or exclude people based on their social and economic background. Colombia has one of the world’s lowest social mobility rates [3]. In this highly stratified society you are seriously out of luck if you don’t come from the right family, haven’t grown up in the right neighborhood or graduated from the right university.

Lia Samantha MIPAD Global 100 Leaders

Queens in African dresses

Fighting racism is another recurring theme in Lia Samantha’s personal and professional life.

The days that she was a rebel still looking for a cause are over. She now has long found her purpose and the way to go with her fashion brand. From the moment she discovered the beauty of African fabrics – hardly known in her own country – during a Canadian tour with her band VoodooSouljahs, she was captivated. Traditionally, the colors and prints of African garments represented communication codes that connected people through their diverse messages. With her own innovative adaptations of the age-old dresses, Lia Samantha wants to transmit a message of anti-racism, love for diversity and inclusion.

That’s why she dresses black, white, Latina and indigenous women alike. She insists her fashion is for everyone: “I have witnessed myself that all women look beautiful in my designs,” Lia Samantha said in a Fashionunited interview [4], “I don’t care if they are white, black, blue, purple, green, blue – all of them look like queens in African fabrics.”

Fashion entrepreneur and change leader

Lia Samantha’s flamboyant designs combining traditional African prints with modern chic stand out in Colombia’s fairly conservative fashion market. She now owns an eye-catching store in one of Bogota’s stylish shopping malls and her designs have been presented at national and international fashion festivals. Her clients range from ordinary Colombians who dare to wear out-of-the-ordinary clothes, to pop stars, TV presenters and a former Miss Universe.

Not satisfied with her success as a singer, designer and fashion personality, Lia Samantha also takes pride in transferring her skills and expertise to young people of color and from marginalized communities. In the photo at the top of this blog post, Lia Samantha, her sister and business partner Eva and I are sitting in her flagship store discussing a project to promote economic empowerment and cultural enterprise in local communities across the country.

Dare to dream

With this impressive track record, it’s no wonder MIPAD – Most Influential People of African Descent – has put Lia Samantha on their Global Top 100 list [5]. That’s exactly where she belongs.

In support of the International Decade for People of African Descent, proclaimed by the UN to be observed from 2015 to 2024, the excellence network MIPAD identifies high achievers of African descent in public and private sectors from all around the world.

Always mindful of the ripple effect her achievements have, Lia says: “My Mom is so delighted, too! This is for her, for my daughter, my grandmothers, sisters… And all the other women of my family who dare to dream. Following your heart is always the road that will get you furthest.”

Congrats Lia Samantha, may your star keep on rising far beyond Colombia!

 

Don’t miss out on Lia if you’re in Bogotá…

Are you in Bogotá, then don’t miss her! Visit her store in Centro Comercial Parque La Colina (Cra. 58D # 146-51) and let yourself be dressed as a queen… Or king, since Lia Samantha has a men’s collection too!

 

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For Fundación Ideas para la Paz (FIP), UN Women and Global Compact Colombia, I co-authored a how-to guide on how businesses large and small can support the economic empowerment of women as a contribution to peace building and sustainable development

Promoting women’s rights and the rights of ethnic minorities is crucial for sustainable development and to create equal and inclusive societies. Why are these topics so important for entrepreneurs and business leaders? Have a look at the free resources on Business and Human Rights, SDGs and Social Impact at FairChange Academy.

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Resources

[1] See for example the Colombia Gender Lens Entrepreneurship and Investing Report by Girls Who Venture: Although on some indicators female entrepreneurs stand out, the study notes that “there is a huge gender disparity in the percentage of entrepreneurs starting self-employment ventures. This could also be attributed to the lack of access to technical support and financial services for women entrepreneurs in the informal sector.” Available here 

 

[2] Participation of African-Colombian Women in the Labor Market from a Feminist Economical Standpoint dives into the relationship between race, gender and gaps in economic participation in the country. Find this National University of Colombia publication here

 

[3] World Economic Forum: The Global Social Mobility Report 2020. Equality, Opportunity and a New Economic Imperative

 

[4] Fashion United: Lia Samantha: Using Fashion to Counter Racism in Colombia

 

[5] Find more information on the Most Influential People of African Descent (MIPAD) on their website

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