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.
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.
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