Nsimba Valene

Valene is a creative non-conformist who can’t be pinned down to a single role. While fashion is her main focus, her projects range from designing for her own brand, Libaya, to trend-forecasting, creative direction and writing. Her end goal, however, always remains unwavering – to create change and bring her vision of a new world into reality.

04 Jun 2024

Karolina Wereszczynska

Hey Nsimba, you’re a woman of seemingly ever-evolving talents and professions. Is there a particular word or role that best describes who you are and what you do currently?

If I could describe myself, it’s just that I’m a creative. I’m not really a fan of job titles. I feel like I only use them because the world needs to understand me and companies need to know what I’m capable of. Every season comes with different creative vehicles to realise a certain vision and I allow myself to change because it’s human. Fashion is one of my first passions, so it’s one of the tools that I use the most. I like to be ahead of the times and I really want to inspire people to create better worlds in so many different ways. I use all the different tools of trend forecasting, creative direction, consultancy and my brand to realise that.


Born to Dutch-Congolese heritage, Nsimba Valene Lontanga is a dynamic Amsterdam-based creative consultant renowned for her expertise in trend forecasting, creative direction, and concept development. Her work is marked by a deep commitment to female empowerment and social change, with a global reach that spans continents.

You describe your work as shaping “visionary new worlds”. I’d love to know more about what your vision entails.

For me it’s about creating something that opens people’s eyes and minds. That’s always the base of what I do. It’s a need to create something that changes something in some way. It doesn’t always need to be big - the smallest change can become something big.

What does a dream new world look like to you?

One where there’s room for perspectives that are completely different from the male, Eurocentric perspectives that have shaped the norm for so long. That’s why my slogan is “The Future is Female and African”. I really believe that it’s time for not only for women to be more in charge but also for African people and people from the Global South in general. People who are typically ignored and not seen as valuable or visionary. So that’s my dream world I would say – one where we can share more of our stories, our space and our power.

You also run your fashion brand Libaya - what pushed you to start the brand alongside all your other projects?

I’ve always been inspired by fashion but I didn’t think that I would start my own brand. What really pushed me was when I started travelling a lot to West Africa for work and I became so inspired by the women there. I started getting things made by local female tailors and friends would ask me who’d made them, if they could get them too or even if they came from certain high street stores. I found it very interesting that people were directly connecting these types of styles to western fashion because, to me, they were really tied to the way I’ve seen my mum, my aunties and the tailors dressing. It made me realise that people had forgotten that these women have always been part of the global book of style. So, I decided to remind them about it.

Can you expand on how these women’s style influences your designs?

One interesting example is that when we think about basics from a Eurocentric perspective, we think about jeans or a t-shirt. But from a Congolese perspective, I think about a wrapper, an off-the-shoulder top, puffy arms, ruffles or a wide A-line dress that you can wear around the market. I was inspired to redefine the way people feel about a basic. The name “Libaya” is also connected to the whole idea of Congolese basics because it means a traditionally tailored top. It’s really just a staple item.

You particularly love an off-the-shoulder style for your designs. Why do you think it’s such a key part of Congolese fashion?

I would say that it’s a reflection of a kind of carefree way of living. People do things slowly and things don’t have to be perfect. It’s just a woman who decides to put something on and then just lets it hang in a totally relaxed way, you know.

Do you have a particular process for how you find inspiration and then interpret it into a final collection?

It always just comes from looking at African women, pictures of my mum and vintage inspiration. Especially from around the 70s/80s after independence when a lot of African women felt entirely free to express themselves. I just take elements and I create when I feel like creating.

What does the future hold for the brand?

I want to grow, but slowly, and I want to find different ways of expressing that female and African future that I believe in. I’d love to do collaborations, especially with brands that create something totally different from myself. I want to inject my world of sun, rumba, love from the motherland and all these women that came before me into their world.

I’ve also been rethinking a lot recently. I used to make collections and now I’m focusing more on making pieces. I don’t want to produce a lot of unnecessary things. I want to create things that I feel women need, that really last and that can be worn in different seasons of your life. Especially as women, if your body or your life changes, you should be able to wear that top or that dress that you bought from Libaya. I also want to make things that women can share with friends or their grandma or their mum, you know. I personally feel that I need more of that in my life.

Your book, “More Than Fashion Girls” (Meer dan modemeisjes), comes out at the end of 2024. What’s it about?

I started writing it in a moment where I felt so seen by the fashion industry and had lots of opportunities coming my way. But my gut was telling me that something just wasn’t matching. I realised I was becoming part of this big industry that I’d always wanted to challenge. I still do that with my brand and through my consultancy, of course, but I just felt that I needed to speak the truth. Even if I’m part of the problem, even if I’m not able to change the entire reality of fashion, I still need to be honest. My upbringing taught me to always go through life with my eyes very open, question things and not conform. So, when I first started working in the industry, I always felt that I was more than just a fashion girl. Because it has never been about just the clothes. It has always been about showing people a new way to look to the world. So that’s what I’m doing with my book.

Can you tell us more about how?

It has a lot of stories that celebrate people from the Global South and the women that inspired me in my life – my mum, aunties, African women in general. The fashion element is just a tool. It’s a book about a new world. I’m not pretending to know all the answers or as if this book is the answer. It’s really a journey and a search for myself. I’ve confronted myself on a lot of levels during the writing process. In the end, I feel like the book is very uncomfortable, very critical and therefore very beautiful and hopeful. It reflects my belief that our role as women in fashion is to change the world and will help other people to confront themselves, too.

What have you learned about yourself during the process?

You just get to know yourself. You’re putting so many of your own personal thoughts and visions of the future on paper, then accepting that it will be printed and that a lot of people will read it and have opinions on it. It’s also made me realise that you can be so many things. I mean, I’m a writer now. I feel now that if you have a good story, then you’re a writer. And I think many of us have one.

OLAF is all about living Our Life As Friends. The way you involve and give back to your community through your work, in my eyes, makes you a true friend to your community. Does that resonate with you?

To me, without community you have nothing. It’s the essence of so many things that we do. I think we create things to become part of one and to connect with each other. My brand has always been about creating a community that can relate to each other, that wants to move forward together. Not just on paper but in reality. When I think about my community, I think mostly about the tailors. I really consider them as friends and family. Being a friend of your community is about being aware that everything is connected and everything you do affects someone else. I think that’s what the fashion industry also forgot for a while – being friends with everyone we create with.

To end on a word of wisdom – what’s one thing you think everyone could do to be a better friend to their own communities?

Just really listen to each other and invite people that are different from you to be part of what you’re doing. Value everyone who’s different. And the beautiful thing about doing that is that you’ll most likely realise that you’re actually more connected than you thought.

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