Drawing from history, there has been a strained relationship between the global fashion industry and the African fashion industry owing to cultural exploitation, fraught with disrespect, and appropriation stemming from the erratic history of Ankara fabric (West Africa’s most identifiable fabric) to western fashion houses taking glory for the works of local African artisans and designers. However, this primordial trend is already changing as traditional techniques, African fabrics, and African fashion designers are taking their creativity up to global stardom.
In recent years, Lagos, Nigeria which is fast becoming the fashion capital of the continent, has hosted series of fashion week, like Arise Fashion Week and Lagos Fashion Week which have welcomed some of the big guns of the world’s fashion industry.
Spectacularly, Arise Fashion Week had supermodel Naomi Campbell walking on its runway in 2018, and it earned the black British’s seal of approval to that effect. Also, emerging talents across Africa have made their way to the international stage, including Nigerian designers Kenneth Ize and Adebayo-Oke Lawal, who were both finalists for the LVMH prizes in 2019 and 2014 respectively, as well as South African designer Thebe Magugu, who ultimately won the prize in 2019.
Today, African fashion designers are apparently no longer seeking the approval of the global fashion industry to successfully thrive for excellence.
It is therefore, noteworthy to come in terms with the major catalyst speeding up this evolution, and which is the pace setting young talents who are continuously changing the narrative, breaking stereotypes, and preserving age-long techniques, while building a sustainable fashion enterprise infrastructure in Africa.
Inexperienced 20-year-old Adebayo Oke-Lawal at that time decided to have a foray into fashion designing after quitting his job in corporate finance at an oil firm to establish Orange Culture in 2011. Oke-Lawal’s creativity to infuse bold colors and traditionally feminine silhouettes into Orange Culture’s collections have indeed pushed the brand to the fore of recognition as one of the biggest fashion names, not just in Nigeria alone, but in Africa at large.
He once said, “My clothes are an escapism from reality where our rights are being taken from us and stereotypes are being imposed upon us.”
Streaming from its core, Orange Culture is more than just a brand or line: It’s a subversive movement leveraging on fashion to push at the confines of gender and masculinity in a country where unconventional modes of self-expression aren’t just criticized but also punished.
In 2019, Thebe Magugu stunned the world and earned huge encomium as he won the LVMH Prize. The much-deserved win didn’t just celebrate the creativity and awesomeness of young fashion designers, but it also puts the great works of Magugu in South Africa on spotlight. Following about four years of his eponymous brand, Magugu has been using the tool of fashion to shift the global perception of his home country.
“I want my clothes to be a medium in which to express my thoughts and politics while giving its wearers a glimpse into our history, telling stories that people would have otherwise know known,” he said.
Magugu’s exuberance lens through how he seamlessly, yet intentionally navigates South Africa’s rich culture to create works that shatter western expectations of what South African fashion looks like. The results include sculptural pieces that play with corsetry and unexpected slits, like a fitted cashmere suit jacket, which falls into a wrap-style shawl, all with references to South Africa’s handiwork tradition.
Emmanuel Okoro is a Nigerian fashion designer, and founded his brand, Emmy Kasbit in 2014.
Akwete is the main fabric Okoro uses, and it’s made from hand-weaving process, native to the women of Akwete village in Eastern Nigeria. According to Okoro, the creativity is just more than the novelty of working with a fabric with such epic, it’s about preserving these techniques and empowering artisans, who otherwise would have no source of livelihood.
In his work, Okoro reinterprets and fuse traditional artistry and modernity with a very tongue-in-cheek flair, resulting to appealing pieces, like a rich printed bomber jacket.
Beyoncé’s “Spirit” music video for The Lion King was indeed a visual masterpiece, packed with amazing imagery, impeccable storytelling, and hypnotic movement. It however, featured the music star’s best looks to date, which included a Tongoro bespoke suit and durag. Meanwhile, this is not the first time Beyoncé will be spotted in the brand. In 2018, she was seen wearing a Tongoro for four different times. Also, a slew of celebrities like Alicia Keys, Naomi Campbell, Burna Boy, and others have been seen cladded in the brand. Tongoro’s aesthetic is very directional with bright patterns and billowing dramatic pieces.
“I grew up around basket bags as a child in Ghana, I used to give them as gifts and also used them for storage.” This is Akosua Afriyie-Kumi feeling nostalgic of his background, and a draw from where AAKS’ inspiration stems from. Since its inception in 2014, AAKS aims to preserve the techniques behind making raffia bags that have been generational in Ghanaian tribes. With deep enthusiasm in ensuring that the skills do not extinct and to provide source of income to women of Northern Ghana, AAKS gears at designing philosophy with craftsmanship as its foundation. However, making improvement on these age-long techniques to produce practical and modernize designs.
One of its popular designs, the Baw Pot bag, comes with variety of patterns and colors, and with trendy details, like a soft linen lining and leather trim.