"MODELING is probably the dream of many girls all over the world, but few are willing and ready to dream big," says New York-based Tanzanian fashion model Flaviana Matata.
"For me modeling is not just walking on the catwalk or having my photo taken. In every photo that I take I am selling a product and I have to project a given image," the 23-year-old beauty adds.
Flaviana believes that despite the widespread convention that models should not put themselves or dominate the product, every once in a while comes a model whose look and personality dominate the fashion scene. And she believes she is one of them.
"We have seen super models like Naomi Campbell, Cindy Crawford, Iman, Tyra Banks rise to stardom and as a young girl I was strongly influenced by their presence in the fashion industry," she says.
"That's why I believe that as a model, my role extends beyond the usual call of duty and I can become the face of women from around the world, from Africa and inspire them to work toward their dream."
Flaviana was born in Shinyanga in 1987 and grew up in a normal family. To her siblings she is not only an elder sister but at times a surrogate mother since they lost their mother when they were young.
"I had a happy and fun-filled childhood where laughter and adventure were a part of every day life. I also frequently visited the mines in Shinyanga with my family and friends," she says.
Flaviana shot to international fame during the 2007 Miss Universe finals in Mexico City where she placed as one of the Top Ten semi-finalists and clinched the sixth spot among 77 participants from around the world.
She had won the very first edition of the Miss Universe Tanzania pageant in 2007, and went on to represent her country in the Miss Universe finals the same year.
A Mexican modeling pundit described her as having all the elegance, energy, and beauty of an African gazelle.
“She encapsulates the warmth and passion of that wonderful continent,” he said during the Miss Universe finals.
Flaviana also made history for being the first contestant to compete with a shaved head!
"I never let anyone define me neither by hair, nor clothing as I believe God made me perfect as a pure, natural African woman," she says.
In June 2008, Flaviana left for Johannesburg, South Africa to begin her work under a one year contract with one of the most reputable companies in South Africa -- Ice Model Agency.
She signed her contract with Ice Model Agency in Dar es Salaam after lengthy negotiations between her mother agency Compass Communications and Ice Models Agency. She started work with Ice Model Agency on June 30, 2008 and took part in various fashion shows including the Johannesburg and Cape Town fashion week.
“This is the first time that a beauty queen with an international title in Tanzania is handed an opportunity like this,” explained Compass Communications director Maria Sarungi Tsehai who personally negotiated the contract.
“We are aware that in the past other beauty queens secured modeling contracts but it was only after they traveled privately to South Africa and had done numerous auditions. Flaviana got this contract without traveling to South Africa,” she added.
“Flaviana has made history and leaves a great track record but we knew that she had the potential to make it big on the international scene," Sarungi said.
“Her success is a result of her focused approach and obedience; the world renowned reputation of Miss Universe as a trademark and Compass Communications’ impeccable reputation in international beauty pageantry.
“We are very pleased with this development because Flaviana has set a great example for other Miss Universe Tanzania winners to emulate. We will also continue to strive to help young women achieve their dreams through our pageant.”
Flaviana herself agrees that with the success at Miss Universe finals in 2007, she has been able to inspire many Tanzanian girls and has been an advocate for children expressing always the importance of education and the importance of developing the female child in a family.
In February this year, Flaviana achieved her lifelong ambition when she arrived in New York to start her modeling life in America.
Russell Simmons, an American entrepreneur, who is the co-founder of the pioneering hip-hop label Def Jam and creator of the clothing fashion lines Phat Farm and Baby Farm, secured a modeling contract for Flaviana after meeting her at the Hublot 2010 African Wildlife Foundation Charity dinner on February 3.
She had earlier met Simmons at a charity event -- a fund raising event for the construction of a children's hospital in Tanzania -- in New York in November, last year. It was during this meeting that Simmons commented that Flaviana should be modeling in New York and promised to help her.
"I had been dreaming of this for a long time and hearing the promise from Uncle Rush, sent my heart racing as I saw my dream coming true. But my mind also told me that I have to slow down, because I have seen my dream dashed and promises evaporate," she says.
"It is not because of people, but because this is how life is. Life is not as simple as we think. But I never give up, it was not the time for me to give up now. Better still, Uncle Rush didn't give up. He has been pushing and prodding me, always making sure that I am ready any time to respond for any call to modeling. But I was sure that he was doing even more in New York as I continued with my life in Africa."
Early in February, Flaviana received an unexpected call. She rushed to New York and after a glitzy dinner at the Hublot 2010 African Wildlife Foundation Charity dinner, she was able to see her dream come true after Simmons had fulfilled his promise and secured a modeling contract for her.
“I believe in what the Bible says: 'To the Man who strives and works, God lends a helping hand'. And that helping hand may come in the form of generous people like Uncle Rush who use their fame and influence to make an African girl's dream come true," she says.
As she reflect on her journey from Africa to New York, Flaviana knows that she has a longer journey ahead of her and probably a tougher one, as she has to work in the international and competitive modeling industry in New York.
"But I know that it had taken a bigger amount of faith and hope to get me here. I am so excited for this. I am grateful to God for getting to know Uncle Rush who has worked so hard in helping me achieve my dreams. I always have my late mother in my thoughts too," she says.
As beauty queen, Flaviana did numerous charity activities and has also travelled to various countries including France, Hungary and Denmark on invitations.
"I have been part of various charity activities in my country including being the Goodwill Ambassador for SOS Villages Tanzania and I am happy to be associated with Life Project for Africa, where I hope that this project becomes sustainable as it can continue to grow and spread to other parts of Tanzania, Africa and other parts of the world where there is a need for a school or hospital," she says.
"Being part of this project needs more than just donation of money but it is also important to personally reach out to the people, correspond with them and to show care and understanding, so that at the end of the day this is not just donation but charity in its secular and spiritual sense."
Flaviana says modeling in Tanzania is a relative new profession and has been misjudged often to be a promiscuous job. It has taken time to gain some acceptance within the society. But what makes things more difficult has been the more modern clothes that are often short or revealing.
"For instance, posing in a swimsuit could be deemed ‘immoral’ or ‘loose’, and may even result in the family exerting influence on models to stop modeling," she says. However, swimsuits have slowly become more acceptable in everyday and also in magazines although tolerance is still very little in the case of local models.
Apart from modeling, Flaviana is also an electrical technician by profession.
"I enjoy modeling. Fashion is my passion. Music is also something I am interested in. My ambition is to be an engineer as well as a top model and also a fashion stylist," she says.