Are fashion designers taking a fresh look at Africa or are they continuing their colonial and patronising view of what they consider is ‘darkest Africa’? And continuing to exploit the wealth of Africa without giving back or giving credit where due?
It is imperative that Africa takes ownership of its designs and textiles.
Africa has a wealth of skilfully made, sophisticated textiles, but remains unrecognised and underrepresented in the international fashion industry.
Samuel Mensah a former banker, who lives in Johannesburg and founded fashion brand Kisua, recognises that although we see Africa’s 1.2 billion people providing influential context to the fashion industry, sadly very little is sourced or produced in Africa itself.
For example, the Malian artist and textile designer, Aboubakar Fofana is one of the few experts in the rare form of natural Indigo dyeing- achieving a subtle light blue hue which is cloth-fed (with wheat bran porridge) and left to rest for days. He has collaborated with Edun and Donna Karan.
Aboubakar Fofana indigo prints.
Boubacar Doumbia is the founder of the Le Ndomo workshop based in Mali- one of the few remaining producers of Bogolanfini. A geometric pattern on chocolate and cream coloured textile, created with river mud fermented for a year or more, until it is rich in iron and salts, which causes a chemical reaction when applied to cloth.
Black & white -Craquet Noir. Created by Boubacar Doumbia at Le Ndomo. Collection of 2016-2017.
Orange & tan – Sira Maron print. Created by Boubacar Doumbia at Le Ndomo. Collection of 2016-2017.
The Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFO) aims to reduce poverty by connecting artisans from developing countries to international fashion brands working with fashion brands such as Vivienne Westwood, Marni, Christian Louboutin (the creator of the bright red sole on women’s high-heeled shoes) in Senegal designing a line of bags and Stella McCartney.
However, Stella McCartney showed her spring 2018 collection recently at Paris Fashion Week without using a single model with African descent. Four white and one Asian model. Instead of Africans being given the benefit of their Ankara prints and accepting that it was wrong not to include an African model, Stella’s marketing officer apparantly argued that there was no need for an African decent model because they were in collaboration with Vlisco whom she said has been creating Real Dutch Wax fabrics since 1846 and was merely maintaining its heritage.
For those who do not know, Vlisco- is a Dutch company that has a near-monopoly on wax – print production.
Vlisco produces a series of designs featuring amongst other things , handbags, which became known as ‘Le sac du Michelle Obama’. The real Dutch wax seal stands for quality and craftsmanship, no different from German cars, and Italian leather. Today Africa accounts for 95% of Vlisco’s sales.
Nigerian fashion designer Amaka Osakwe (label named Maki-Oh) is part of a growing movement exploring ways of incorporating more African-made fabrics into their work.
Oyoyemi Akerele, the founder of Style House Files , a Lagos-based creative agency for African designers, acknowledges that “There is a growing realisation among Nigerians over the past decade that the fabrics we are buying aren’t as African as we thought they were, “she says. Clearly people are questioning the origins of their clothes and consumers are becoming more conscious in the fabrics of their clothes.
In 2009, Simone Cipriani founded the Ethical Fashion Initiative.
He developed a cooperative in the slum area of Korogocho in Kenya, with a group of micro–producers producing in a hub in Kenya. Gradually, the project expanded to Burkina Faso, Mali, Ghana, Haiti, West Bank, Ethiopia, and Cambodia. Today, through his work at the Ethical Fashion Initiative, Simone Cipriani has become the key spokesperson at the forefront of the growing global movement for ethical supply chains in the fashion industry.
But will the ingenues have the last word? It was refreshing to see an example of ‘giving back to Africa’ where a young gifted African-American artist and fashion designer named Kyemah McEntyre designed her own prom gown, which went viral on Instagram. As a consequence she designed a dress for Tyra Banks, who interviewed Kyemah on her FABlife talk show. Kyemah has also designed a dress for the singer/actress Naturi Naughton at a recent BET Awards show.
Designed by Kyemah McEntyre. I love it!!! ?
Although African people living in the West often wore traditional outfits, it tended to be at home or work, attending a party or an event like a wedding, christening or funeral. I am excited to note that the African-inspired fashion is at least on the rise, and I’m looking forward to an African summer.
The Marvel movie ‘Black Panther’ has taken African-inspired fashion to another level, where it is at least given its credit for its heritage.
Stormzy and John Boyeya at the European premiere of ‘Black Panther’. Photo by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images.
Lupita Nyong’o attends the ‘Black Panther’ world premiere in Hollywood. Photo by Neilson Barnard/Getty Images.
May we continue to remind the world about the African continent; what it has contributed; what it has to offer; and to recognise the trendsetting nature of the people who live and have roots in Africa. One such person -Kelechi Anyadiegwu, the founder and CEO of Zuvaa, who must be recognised for her tireless efforts to push forward African-inspired fashion.
Thank you Queen Mohale (Serobe) for providing this insightful subject matter for me to write on this blog. It has helped me to rise from my agonising emotional slump after recently losing my beautiful dog, ? Louis XIV, and has encouraged me to research founts of knowledge in African textiles. You’re a star!!! And I do hope that you enjoy reading this as much as I did writing it! ??