Accelerating African Fashion

featured-post
type - big idea
Big Idea
sector - diversity & inclusion
sector - fashion
category - black history month
Cross-cultural collaborations and digital innovations are helping to advance African fashion on the global stage, while preserving local heritage and identity

Since we explored the state of the African Fashion Market in 2017, the continent’s influence on global fashion has continued to accelerate, powered by growing digital connectivity and Covid-19 driving innovation in the face of trade and travel restrictions.

Storytelling, e-commerce, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and rising global interest in sustainable and artisanal processes are steering new directions in the African fashion sector, future-proofing it for the decade ahead, while bringing fresh talent, style and stories to global consumers.

Weve made game-changing strides in the past few years towards increased creative and intellectual pan-Africanism, and I think its this barrier breaking collectivism that is the key to a greater sense of self-reliance – combined with accelerated digitisation and regional trade,’ Nisha Kanabar, CEO and founder of Industrie Africa, tells The Future Laboratory.

A global stage

A series of platforms and initiatives have emerged spotlighting African creatives, while the influence of the Black Lives Matter movement means that more traditional fashion markets are recognising, championing and collaborating with African designers. Our cultural pride is currently at the forefront of our thoughts and inspiration, fostering opportunities for authentic exchange as a form of collaboration – not aid,' explains Wadami Amolegbe, founder of Haute Fashion Africa.

Indeed, traditional institutions and accolades such as the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM) and the LVMH Prize are championing African fashion designers. Since winning the LVMH Prize in 2019, Thebe Magugu continues to captivate international audiences with his politically charged designs, hand-crafted in South Africa. Imane Ayissi, a Cameroon-born, Paris-based designer made his haute couture debut in 2020 – the third African couturier in history to join the official FHCM schedule. Ayissi, whose goal is to showcase the diversity of African culture, sources indigenous textiles across the African continent while also developing new techniques and fabrics.

Notably, initiatives that champion Black and African talent in traditionally white fashion markets are gathering attention. Five African designers opened Milan Fashion Week’s autumn/winter 2021 season, thanks to a partnership between Italys National Chamber for Italian Fashion and The Black Lives Matter in Italian Fashion scheme.

Cultural exchange platforms are also playing a role. Wauzine is a nascent digital publication established by Creative DNA, a British Council programme that promotes Kenya’s rising fashion industry to the world. Initiated with innovation hub Mettā Nairobi and international consultancy platform Fashion Scout, the publication features and showcases creative talents including emerging fashion designers and photographers from both Kenya and the UK.

Published by:

6 October 2021

Author: Innocent Ndlovu, Abi Buller and Savannah Scott

Image: Homage, US

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Left: Wauzine by Creative DNA. Right: AAKS by Akosua Afriyie-Kumi, Ghana.

Conscious craftsmanship

Despite this growing presence in the international fashion industry, many African designers continue to operate under local manufacturing models, in turn preserving artisanal crafts and regional materials. Driven by the need to create sustainable income streams for local communities, revive textile industries as well as reduce fashion’s impact on the environment, designers are dedicating themselves to traditional production methods as part of their brand storytelling.

Nigerian designer Kenneth Ize is known for his vivid, hand-woven garments crafted from aso oke, a hand-loomed fabric of the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria. Having established a factory in Ilorin, Nigeria, that employs 30 weavers, he has become part of a growing regional – and international – community of fashion designers creating employment for local craftspeople. Central to this is ensuring these processes are fit for the future: 'The only way to preserve and revive [local fabrics] is not only to start making them again in a very modern way but also to be forward-thinking,' Ize tells Vogue.com.

Spotlighting the time and skill that goes into her designs is Akosua Afriyie-Kumi, founder of premium accessories brand AAKS. Her bags are made from ecologically harvested raffia from Ghana, where the brand is based. After drying raffia leaves in the sun, they are coloured using vegetable dyes before being hand-woven by artisans into bags and baskets. As a result, it takes about a week to assemble and complete a single bag. Multi-disciplinary artist and designer Awa Meité also promotes slower African fashion. Based in Mali’s capital of Bamako, Meité’s limited-edition collections are trans-seasonal, often crafted from mudcloth, a cotton fabric from Mali with patterns made from fermented mud.

Digital narratives

With swelling connectivity in the region – Africa’s share of global smartphone sales is forecast to increase to 7.1% by 2023 – the African fashion sector is also innovating through digital channels (source: International Data Corporation).

Online multi-brand fashion retailers like Industrie Africa and The Folklore are connecting African fashion labels with both regional and global consumers, using storytelling editorials to spotlight and give a voice to domestic designers. Flipping this is Jendaya, a new player in Africa's e-commerce scene, which aims to make international luxury brands like Givenchy, Jacquemus and Fendi more accessible to African luxury consumers.

‘The only way to preserve and revive [local fabrics] is to start making them again in a very modern way’
Kenneth Ize, Nigerian fashion designer, via Vogue.com
 
 

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