Dar es Salaam. Ten years ago, a young woman surprised everyone by winning Miss Universe Tanzania edition, an event that many believe she entered out of sheer curiosity and fun.
A decade later, Flaviana Matata is not just another pretty face on the runway, she has got things falling into place; modeling deals, nail polish line and a foundation to help the needy.
She has got the Midas touch as she works with some of the biggest brands in the modeling world and her recent deal with American Express is testimony to this.
And as agreed by many a commentator, she is perhaps the best modeling export that Tanzania has got in the international arena.
She has come a long way, but in her own words she is still learning and she won’t rest on her laurels until she achieves her dream.
It’s a journey which has taken her to some of the the greatest runways working with the world’s top fashion designers– Alexander McQueen, Tory Burch, and Vivienne Westwood.
Her status means she dines and wines with mighty and as every celebrity will admit, being Flaviana comes with expectations; one that she won’t let derail her whatsoever.
“When it is work it is just that but after that I am just a simple wife, a daughter a sister. My brothers and dad have always maintained that I have to be grounded,” says Flaviana who lost her mother in the MV Bukoba tragedy 22 years ago.
Speaking in an exclusive interview with The Beat during her recent visit to Tanzania she said the first five years after winning the Miss Universe was a learning curve that wasn’t easy at all.
“It was rather a period of transition as I moved from Tanzania to South Africa. I mean during this period I was learning the ropes of the trade, it was indeed very lonely until Nancy Sumari and Nasren came over. It was not until when I moved to New York that I started a serious journey in modeling,” says Matata.
To some marriage is a potential source of career distraction especially in the entertainment and fashion world but to Flaviana, it is so many things wrapped into one - a blessing.
She has been able to find a balance between her busy work schedule and her new role as a wife something that she credits to having a very supportive husband who pushes her to work even harder.
“When it comes to marriage you have to get somebody who will support you and make you better.
The fashion industry is a crazy industry so if your spouse isn’t ready to learn the business then the marriage will be just another market place.”
She says that even as married woman now she remains grounded to the values of the profession because of the support that her spouse has given her.
“I do modeling as a full time job, I have a nail polish line and I have the Flaviana Matata Foundation (FMF), all these require undivided attention.”
The hot model isn’t ruling out the possibility of starting a family any time soon even when she is well aware that this could tie her for a couple of months or even a year.
“I can’t really tell when we intend to go to that direction but when children come they are always a blessing. Contrary to the common belief , I have friends who are doing so well yet they have children and I could even do maternity which is part of the catalogues. Because even as I speak, I am not so much on the runway unless it is a direct booking,” she says.
She has chosen not to put her eggs in one basket by planning for the days after the sun sets on her modeling career.
In 2016, the super model did another first, she launched her nail polish line which she christened ‘Lavy’, though she had to go through some thorough soul searching, she still ended up pursuing her passion.
The first shipment sold out in two weeks showing that the super model was business savvy, and poised for a successful future as an entrepreneur. “I always wanted to do this but I was scared because I wasn’t sure of how the market would respond to it because most people in our country today chose things because of the price and not quality.”
She adds: I wanted something unique, so I took my time to develop the formulae to make sure it is friendly and can be used by almost everybody from pregnant women to children.
The story has been different as her legion of fan base has supported the product making it a reality as the nail polish has done well to survive the turbulence and uncertainty of the early days.
“I can’t really complain because despite being priced on the higher end, it is doing well in the market.”
Flaviana the celebrity
Her signature low cut hairstyle remains as one of her unique symbols of identity and it is something that she is not about change.
Being a face of big global brands means she has to mix with some of the most powerful men and women in the business world and some of those men she has worked for is none other than the current US President, Donald Trump and businessman Russell Simmons.
When a certain picture that she took with Donald Trump during her time at Miss Universe resurfaced during the campaigns it became a source of debate just like it was the case when she posed for a picture with rap mogul Russell Simmons.
“It was an old picture which was taken a few years after Miss Universe but for some reason it went viral later on. To me Donald Trump was a great man, he was my boss and he cared about the people who worked for him like me. Even with plenty around him he could still remember some of us by our names,” she says.
She speaks so highly of the rap mogul Simmons who she credits with her deals in the US, a man she calls a friend and family.
“Russell is a very good friend of mine actually I am in the US because of him, he scouted me on a charity event, helped me to get signed actually he is family. He took me in as his daughter and a friend.”
The Flaviana Matata Foundation
Beyond modeling Matata has a heart for Philanthropy. Despite her short time in the US and on the runway, Matata has started the Flaviana Matata Foundation, an organisation that helps empower young girls.
“This has been my way of giving back, the girls are now in school and I will ensure that they stay in school even if it means that I will have to help only the 20 girls but I will ensure that they get where they deserve. What I am trying to do is to make sure the donations go straight to the cause.”
She has some great advice for the young girls in Tanzania who she believes is the future of every great nation.
“I always encourage girls to take education seriously because no one will take it away from you. It’s the one thing that no one can ever take away from you. Know what you want, focus, work hard and stay grounded. And most of all support one another,” she says.I would also tell them to understand what matters to them and their society–What’s important to you? How do you want your life to touch others? What would make you proud? What are your values?