It's hard not to stare at Flaviana Matata. Between her striking features, closely cropped hair, and smooth, flawless skin, it's easy to see how a woman like her could succeed in the modeling industry. But get to know Flaviana and you'll quickly realize that she's way more than just a pretty face. Like the other individuals who make up Kenneth Cole's Courageous Class season after season, Flaviana may be a real model — but she's also a role model.
Flaviana was born, raised, and educated in Tanzania (she has a degree in electrical engineering!) before being scouted in New York in 2010. Since then, her modeling career has taken off and she's become an influential icon in Africa and the US. But perhaps even more impressive are her ventures outside of the industry, both charitable and entrepreneurial. In addition to modeling full-time, Flaviana is the founder of the Flaviana Matata Foundation, a nonprofit organization that empowers underprivileged Tanzanian girls through education, and the CEO of LAVY Products, a global line of affordable, nontoxic nail polishes.
Of course, managing three demanding roles at once (in three different time zones, no less) requires incredible balance. So, what's her secret? It turns out success has a lot to do with what you wear and how you present yourself. After all, the right outfit has the ability to help you feel confident and empowered — something we could all use in our daily grind. Keep reading to get to know Flaviana and the inspiring ways she uses style to help her rise to the occasion and overcome challenges.
ON BEING A MODEL
"When I'm on set, I like to be comfortable. I like that these wide-leg pants and slides are easy to move around in and that the shoes give a nice pop of color to the entire look. To me, bright color means power, which reminds me that I can do anything I set my mind to."
And she certainly has her sights set high. What we admire most about Flaviana is that her favorite part of modeling isn't necessarily the modeling itself. It's the fact that her career has afforded her the freedom to do other things. "It has given me the platform and opportunity to use my voice to bring awareness to my community."
"To me, bright color means power, which reminds me that I can do anything I set my mind to."
ON BEING A FOUNDER
With community awareness being such an important goal for Flaviana, she founded the Flaviana Matata Foundation in 2011 to address the education inequality in Tanzania. "Once I started modeling, I thought about the young girls back home who really want to be in school and get the education they deserve, but whose families can't afford that," she said. "I was lucky that I had the ability to go to school, and I wanted to provide that for those who have barriers in their way. I started the foundation as a way to give back to the community."
By paying for their school fees, supplies, uniforms, and anything else they require to receive a quality education from the start of secondary school through the end of university, the foundation empowers young girls to succeed. But it hasn't been an easy road. "We are dealing with communities that don't see the importance of educating girls," she shared. "They believe girls need to get married as soon as they start menstruating. It's been a journey to change their mindset, and as with any change, it takes time."
For Flaviana and her team, part of this journey includes mobilizing the government and community at large and spreading awareness about the importance of keeping these girls in school. Between meeting with government officials and visiting schools and communities, Flaviana spends a lot of time on her feet. She needs to look polished and professional, while still feeling comfortable. "Whenever I am in Tanzania, I usually wear sleeveless dresses because it's always so hot and humid there. I love the idea of wearing a dress with sneakers because I can be dressed up when meeting government officials but still go check up on projects in the field and then straight out with friends afterwards. This outfit is very functional and perfect for a modern, busy woman."
ON BEING A CEO
"You never know who you'll run into. Always look prepared to have a last-minute meeting!"
As CEO, she's involved in every aspect of the business, from dealing with factories to distributions to sales to marketing, not to mention day-to-day operations. And while it can be stressful, especially considering she's in a different time zone for a majority of the year, there are two aspects she relies on to help her succeed. The first is a solid support system. "It's very important to have a strong team around you," she noted. The second is an outfit that gets the creative juices flowing. "I love working on color palettes for LAVY, and a yellow blouse inspires me and gives me the same excited feeling I get when I'm choosing colors for the polishes." Alongside cropped pants and a pair of flat mules, the look is playful but still polished. "Mules are great because they're easy to walk in. This whole outfit feels young, fresh, and fun, but it's still classy as you never know who you'll run into," she shared. "Always look prepared to have a last-minute meeting!"
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Credits: Photography: Felix Wong; Art Direction: Shanna Greenberg; Model: Flaviana Matata; Styling: Jasmine Snow; Hair & Makeup: Carrie LaMarca