Leading in Colour - In Conversation with Geraldine Matiwane (Gee)

To celebrate four years of ROSEE, we are bringing you the ROSEE Series. A series of interviews from remarkable people who are not afraid to live and lead in colourful style. We hope their bravery, strength and courage inspire you to live your life in full and in colour. We hope their stories inspire you as much as they’ve inspired us.

A philanthropist, nurse, business owner, great cook, sister and friend, Gee is not afraid to lead in colourful style. We speak with Gee on the topic of fashion, her reality of living in the diaspora and inspirations behind her businesses, Luscious Wigs Australia and Miss Gee's Kitchen.

Your admirer for African inspired fashion

Picking one or two African designers would be contentious to my answer!! There are far too many talented designers out there. My taste in fashion has enormously increased/changed through the digital lenses of the world. It has simplified how we as Africans view our talents or fashion in this case, and it is multi-faceted, diversified and overall incomparable!

 I have seen and saved countless collections from various African designers. The talents are impeccable, and for the first time in centuries, what was once defined and known as loathsome by many European cultures has now risen to be the world’s most eminent profession. Therefore, I cannot pinpoint a particular designer!

On her reality of living in the diaspora

Where should I begin? My experience in the diaspora has been a combination of various elements of pain and triumph. I migrated to Australia at such a tender age. During my arrival to Australia, I’d say my family and I were amongst the first African immigrants in Australia. At the time, Australia was largely eurocentric. My environment, school and overall surrounding were very white.  Although as a child, you’d think the process of adaption would be lenient. I fell prey to the Australian culture and the people at the time because I could not differentiate between white and black (even though, in all honesty, my family and I were the only people of colour in my town, school, church, playgrounds). I saw people of non-African descendants as equal —this was my pre-conceived view of the world.  I later came to know the existence of racism when white people treated us very differently. I remember, during our arrival, we had met very few other African families who migrated into the country around the same time. I later learnt that they had returned to Africa due to the overwhelming inequality and racism they encountered in the workplace and the community.  

As a child, I was clueless and never saw my melanin complexion as an issue until primary school. I began to notice the patterns of behaviour from my peers/classmates. I remember during school activities where we needed to pair with another student to part-take in the activity, I was always left out, I often would partner up with the teacher. There were where I sat right at the back seat of the class, almost invisible. There were times where my intelligence was disregarded simply because I was not supposed to aim higher than my counterparts.

 I remembered times when I visited places with my family, and people would gaze disgustingly.

As I grew older, I began to self-isolate and consciously began to suffer from inferiority complex. It was challenging to make friends; actually, I had no friends in school.  I stood out during recess and lunch breaks.

I later found a secluded space in the library where I sometimes ate my lunch and secretly prayed that the aroma of the food did not raise any suspicions. I was lonely, and as a result, I made friends with books. While my peers engaged in various activities or even discussed school formal plans, I remained glued to the library, desperately waiting for that last bell that sent me hurriedly packing for my school bag to disappear home. There were also language and cultural barriers due to the absence of a multicultural and multilingual community. I had no place to belong. There was zero representation of people like me.

Today, and as a much older and wiser adult, I firmly believe that my past and present oppositions have been the foundation of my current success and growth. However, after years of suffering from all kinds of discrimination and with the rapid advancement of technology and availability of information, you’d think that people’s perceptions would change towards people of colour. This is not the case because I am still experiencing various forms of discrimination even to this present day. I have become immune to racism now to a point where I see it as standard practice.

Australia has created a successful pathway to a positive future for me. I am safe, secure and part of its diversity.

Most importantly, I am a product of a black woman; I am proud to be a black woman and an African woman. I love us, our strength despite our stories/traumas, our culture, food, resilience and most of all, our courageous fight for inequality, the dismantling of stereotypes. We do this so eloquently and effortlessly. No one can ever do it better than us!

On the inspirations behind Miss Gee's Kitchen and Luscious Wigs Australia

Miss Gee's Kitchen

Miss Gee’s Kitchen was essentially an extension of my copping mechanism a few years after arriving in Australia. I was a shy girl during my early stages, and this came about when I began primary and high school. I was “different” amongst my peers as I was the only black/African girl in my school. In my town, it was easy to be depicted as the “black” girl by my peers.

When I arrived in Australia, I immediately had to adjust to many social determinants, as my parents worked full-time. I needed to become self-sufficient at an early age, including cooking for myself whilst my parents work.

I found solitude in cooking as I became older. My mother often cooked traditional African dishes, and often she would pack the leftovers for my lunch the following day. On several occasions, bringing an African dish to school caused countless racial slurs, bias and repulsive responses from my peers. As a result, I was even assigned the name “Stinky” due to the aroma of my food.  

There are countless times I returned home distressed while concealing my emotions because I knew how reactive my mother was. Many were also times when I happily took the traditional food to school and threw it in the garbage before entering the school building or ate it in a secured library area.

As I developed into a teenager, I took what was then known as “Home Economic Class”, which trained students on how to cook. I was intrigued and fascinated at the same time. I was not only desperate to fit in and be validated, I was crying internally for help, seeking refuge in what felt like a trapped cage; perhaps this was my chance, I thought. As I began to learn, I was eager to expand my curiosity. After school and post homework, my mother would permit me an hour or two of TV time. It was then that I came across various cooking shows—at first, it appeared as an obsession because now, I had something to look forward to after school regardless of whether my family was home.

In short, I excelled in the cooking class amongst many other subjects. I began to remodify African food and how it is presented. I often cook many of these recipes at home and take some food to church every Sunday. Feedback from my family and church members increased my interest and love for food.  

At the age of 18, I received my first phone-- a Samsung flip-flop phone. I took pictures of my food with the phone. During my 21st birthday and from my savings, I upgraded my phone to a much smarter one. While living at home, I had no access to the internet, so I would often spend my time at the library every Friday. It was there I had created an Instagram account, I began posting my post-made meals. Cooking became an obsession as it allowed me to mark my internal pain. I even spoke to myself or perhaps my vegetables as I cooked them (laughs). I was emotionally distressed and severely depressed from both childhood-sustained and environmental trauma. I did not feel strong enough to speak about my trauma at the time as it was taboo to have these conversations. 

I became known through my digital platform page, where I received offers to cater for events and other special occasions. One of my most significant breakthroughs came in 2018, a good friend mentioned my name in a room, and I received an offer to cater to UniSA, 250 guests. It was the most rewarding gift to me. This experience taught me how to be a leader in a larger team. It also taught me time management and professionalism.

There is so much more that is yet to come from Miss Gees’s kitchen. I hope to accomplish greater things with this landmark and what it stands for. I hope to inspire other immigrants migrating to a diaspora where their culture may be discounted as an individual for being different. I also hope to continue redefining/remodelling African food, dismantling racism, and disseminating the importance of diversity through food and individual differences.

While our social determinants may often shape us to be who we choose to become, I also believe that it is vital to be aware of your identity as a person of colour or from a marginalised group. It is indeed possible to integrate two or more cultures. You do not need to change your identity to accommodate that of others or even to be validated. So long as you believe strongly enough in whatever talent you have been bestowed with, that alone is your secret ingredient!

Luscious Wigs Australia

Luscious Wigs was created as an alternative to human hair and to be affordable. My interest in wigs came across following my relocation to Adelaide, South Australia. I have always been a braid girl, although as I developed into an adult, I was craving change and flexibility, versatility, and affordability while looking and feeling confident in my ways.

As I began to sample various styles, people became interested and inquisitive of the wigs I wore. The idea gradually developed from there, and now we have Luscious Wigs Australia!

For aspiring individuals looking to follow a similar path in business

Like any other profession or interest, you must define your objectives and align it with your work ethic. I believe that a person’s true intentions is evident in their work ethic. For many people, the idea of having a business is for financial benefits. The idea of being a business owner can be flattering and raises a level of respect for your name. However, there is a much larger devotion that comes with it.  If you cannot define your intent clearly, you could be placing yourself at risk if you do not have love for what you’re trying to do.

Secondly, do not pursue a business idea simply because it is unpopular or non-existent. While the financial benefits are good, you can also risk financial loss/distress.

I began to develop my business plan in 2018, and to this day, I refer back to it every so often to make changes and updates where necessary. This is an important step before executing your business plan. It minimises potential risks that may arise, and it also enables you to be equipped for any adversities because in all honesty, a business such as food possesses many risks. You will face many challenges when entering a new market, especially African cuisine.  You must be willing to devote your time to know your potential customers.

Thirdly, “Test Drive”. Test drive the market before venturing. I began very small, I created a foundation and worked my way up to the building, and this building is far from completion. I am developing and learning each day.

Lastly, ask yourself, do you enjoy and love this business well enough to share it with other people? I consider myself very picky when it comes to food. Put simply, I have practised these skills for an extensive period of time, and I can differentiate between a plate that is made with love and that which is not!

Final words

I want to share this with you just as I have shared with many: you cannot reach your destiny without opposition.

To see more of Gee’s beautiful dishes, follow her Instagram page at @missgeeskitchen. To purchase her quality and affordable wigs, follow @lusciouswigs and thank us later.

Thank you, Gee!

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