In early Spring 2012, and about midway through fashion studies at The New School, Parsons School of Design, in the Big Apple, I serendipitously stumbled across contemporary fashion images from African fashion designers Taibo Bacar (Mozambique) and Maxhosa by Laduma (South Africa). If ever there was a connect-the-dots type moment, that. was. it.
Whilst Africa may not be on many (international) people’s radar (yet) for fashion and design,
I knew then as I know now the scene in Africa is somewhat changing.
The reason I created reFashion Africa, an independant African fashion and lifestyle digital platform, is partly influenced by the fact that too little is known about ‘African fashion’ by international fashion circuits, too much is left to preconceived notions about Africa, let alone the disconnect amongst our very own regions and markets.
Content is curated in the spirit of recognising, sharing and promoting the emergent african fashion narrative as it is occurring, right now. It’s about the making of fashion that is inherently African, in Africa and contributing to the broader global fashion story.
Having attended Fashion weeks in cities like Lagos, Johannesburg, Dakar, Kinshasa, Maputo city, Cape Town and Durban thus far (Accra, Dar Es Salaam, Luanda and Kampala are on the list to go to), I have always been left truly inspired and surprised by the ingenuity and skill shown on the runways.
Our designers can really bring something fresh to the world of fashion — and there’s a growing market for that.
Take for example A.A.K.S, an accessories brand , founded by Akosua Afriyie-Kumi and hand crafted in the Northern region of Ghana, by local woman artisan weavers who bring knowledge, skill and technique handed down from previous generations to create modern, stylish and chic bags incorporating sustainable natural materials of colourfully-dyed raffia and leather. Stockists worldwide include Athropologie and Urban Outfitters in the United States. South African Xhosa-inspired modern knitwear brand Maxhosa by Laduma, has seen a meteoric rise on the international stage on both sides of the Atlantic and is now stocked at the United Arrows menswear boutique in Tokyo, Japan. Then there is Maki Oh, a womans wear brand by Lagosian Amaka Osakwe , a trailblazing African fashion brand which is known for its signature use of African textile, Adire (traditional Yorubian indigo tie-die cloth) and has acchieved international acclaim not least of which is an endorsement by Michelle Obama and Lupita Nyong’o, an invitation to the White House and the latest appearance of the brands teardrop adire dress on Amandla Stenberg in the epic Beyonce ‘Lemonade’ film.
Beyond this there is a multitude of current, upcoming and emerging home grown fashion brands that are making their mark within their own domestic markets, between regional markets and internationally; expressing and showcasing a new visual aesthetic, representative and reflective of a modern day Africa in all spheres of life.
Boosting the African Fashion story on what is mostly a fragmented and informal retail front is designers like Thula Sindi, Taibo Bacar, Sophie Zinga and Adama Paris that have their own flagship brick and mortar stores in the respective cities of Johannesburg, Maputo city, and Dakar.
Add to this the multi brand retail concepts stocking the best of luxury African fashion and design like Merchants on Long in Cape Town and Alara in Lagos. Other innovative retail concepts such as Work shop New town have a 100 of the best fashion, design and lifestyle brands under one roof in downtown Johannesburg; then there is the online hybrid retail offering by Kisua, started by Ghanian entreprenuer Samuel Mensah and Diana Opoti who launched a pop-up concept in Nairobi called Designing Africa Collective featuring a range of African Fashion brands from her wildly successful 100 days of African Fashion campaign.
Others like the AJKP collective store stock 15 South African emerging and young designers in Cape Town and Grey Velvet stores located in Lagos, Port Harcourt and Abuja is dedicated to carrying African/Nigerian premium brands to ecourage consumers to ‘shop and love African/Nigerian’.
And this is the crux for me.
Cultivating and expanding the African creative movement and creative economy is vital. In the context of Sub- Saharan Africa’s combined Apparel and Footwear market purportedly being worth 31 billion dollars, according to data modeled by a Euromonitor report (2015)*, we need more consumers and investors to support African brands and fashion, giving impetus and effect to economic optimism, confidence, hope and change.
At the intersection of creativity, commerce and culture lies the greatest potential for African fashion.
As much as an enormous amount of fashion content is disseminated globally from what is deemed to be the worlds fashion centers of New York, London, Paris, and Italy, it’s time to create a bigger conversation and story about African fashion and talent, in Africa and beyond.
The writer is Johannesburg based founder and creator of www.refashionafrica.com, which serves as a fashionable eye on urban Africa.
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