FAS Business Feature: Interview with Director of Miss Universe Tanzania, Maria Sarungi.
FAS Business Feature: Maria Sarungi
Photographed by Ali Zoeb
Dress from SIA Couture (Sea Cliff Village, Dar)
Styled by Shellina Ebrahim
Make-up by Edna Ndibs
If you had to reflect back, what year was it, where were you at, who did you share with about starting Miss Universe Tanzania?
I became interested in beauty pageants in 2002 after working with Miriam Odemba who at that time was under contract with MNet. In 2002, I tested the waters with Miss Tourism World, then Miss Earth, Miss International and other franchises. I was able to get huge international success with our Tanzanian representatives like Oliva Mkanzabi in Miss Tourism World, Rehema Sudi, Richa Adhia in Miss Earth, Magreth Chacha in Miss International and Miss Tourism Queen International. For the first time, Tanzania started placing in international beauty pageants and my work was recognized even by international critics. I then decided in 2005 to apply for the Miss Universe franchise. I shared this with my business associate and friend Veena Jog with whom I have worked from early times. We share a common vision of where we want to see the Tanzanian beauty and fashion industry regionally and internationally. After a thorough assessment by The Miss Universe Organization in New York, I secured the franchise in 2007.
You are an inspiration for many people who want to be like you. A lot of girls want to do what you do. Tell me about the challenges and successes of your journey and what advice would you offer to people who want to follow your foot steps?
My simplest advice is to be courageous and bold. Never hesitate to walk down the path that you truly believe is your calling. I would also encourage them to listen to advice given especially by people who have been down that road. This means learning from others’ experiences but never letting anyone tell you exactly what to do because, the journey to your success is yours alone.
Please describe your feelings before, during and after the Miss Universe shows. What are your proudest moments? What are your worst moments?
There is always much excitement preparing for The Miss Universe Tanzania pageant. Until the crowning of the winner, it is an adrenaline filled time for me and of course immediately after that there is a huge relief and exhaustion. My proudest moments have been seeing the previous titleholder walking down the ramp proud and transformed into a confident young woman. Not all titleholders were able to learn all the lessons that were offered to them in the one year. However, each one of them have been touched by the experience of wearing the Miss Universe Tanzania crown. My worst moment is facing the girls who did not place because I truly don’t like them feeling like losers. I always emphasize – because I truly believe it – that at the end of the competition, there are no losers and that all the girls are winners. Why? Because they dared to compete. Just getting on stage, taking a chance, and fighting for something they believe in is itself, a huge success.
How do you juggle between family and being a business woman?
I do not have children but of course I have family that I give priority to and make sure that despite a busy schedule, I spend time with them. I think that despite busy schedules, there is always room to be spent with loved ones, every day.
What do we need to do to make the Tanzanian fashion industry a more honourable and sustainable industry?
Oh wow! That is a huge question and just on its own merits, a separate interview (smile). I will try to be brief! We need to first recognize fashion as an industry and not as a hobby or a feminine whim. When I say industry, I mean it literary – that there is serious investment made in machinery for manufacturing garments, accessories, etc. It also contributes substantially to the economy once it takes off. A good example is USA and Italy where billions of dollars are contributed by the fashion industry to these national economies. Once we have the fundamentals in place, then we can look at the more glamorous side which is the marketing of products – through commercials, fashion shows , etc. We cannot do it vice versa. Namely we cannot have fashion shows when there is no sustainable industry behind it.
Do you think agencies or managers for models are necessary in the Tanzanian Fashion Industry? Why?
Yes, agencies and mangers are important in any fashion industry. Unfortunately the industry here is so young that even if you hear of a huge designer brand holding a fashion show – the truth is there is no retail store or serious production behind it. This means that fashion shows are held by corporate sponsorships which defies common sense. So because there are very few shows, there is very little opportunity for models. In a more established market, agencies ensure that a model is booked continuously and they enable the model to concentrate on his/her job while they take care of the business side of it. Managers are different because they manage the entire career of the model and look beyond the daily routine job. So yes they are important in our industry but their importance will be more evident once the industry matures.
Many modeling agencies have been established in the past, some have failed and only a few remain. Why is this so?
I think that the answer lies in my previous answer – there is no real established industry to sustain even one agency.
There are many beautiful women in Tanzania. What do you look for when scouting for the next contestants? What challenges have you faced in terms of scouting the country for contestants?
The biggest challenge in scouting is that we have raised the bar every year and it is not enough to be physically beautiful and have a good figure. We are increasingly looking at making a mark internationally and so we want to get young women who have a personality and a star potential that can make an impression internationally.
What does it take to be Miss Universe Tanzania and Miss Universe (world level) in general?
It takes determination, stage presence, and of course beauty is important. When beauty is not skin deep, there is no way one can make it on any stage. So one of the most important lessons we try to teach to all our girls is to always have a personality on stage and in public that will set them apart from other beautiful girls.
What is the judging criteria and process of the competition? How do you select judges?
Our judging criteria is simple – personality, good figure, facial beauty, etc. We have an additional criteria as well which is not public – that we brief the judges about and what we look for in our contestants. Our competition is based on the international format which includes a preliminary interview with each contestant and then we pick the top 10 who are announced at the show. The top 10 then compete for the crown in another round and eventually 5 contestants answer questions for the winner to emerge.
How do you prepare the contestants for the competition?
We give them some grooming lessons but also we spend time rehearsing and giving them stage confidence as they prepare for the final battle for the crown.
How has the Miss Universe Tanzania organization evolved since it began and where do you see it in 5 years?
We have evolved from being a group of 2 -3 enthusiasts to a professional team that produces internationally competent beauty queens and models. This team is made up of people with diverse backgrounds who contribute their knowledge, skill and services to prepare our contestants and representatives. What I hope to see in 5 years is more involvement of the government as it recognizes the huge potential that beauty pageants play in positively promoting the image of our country abroad.
Apart from the contestants and the competition itself, tell us what else to look forward to during this year’s Miss Universe Tanzania competition.
Every year I look forward to the various performances and entertainments that are expertly put together and managed by Veena Jog. This year, there will be a very unique show… that’s all I am allowed to say…