I’m buzzing with excitement as we finalise our upcoming Summer season’s range which comes out just in time for our first pop-up appearance in London between 16th and 28th April.
I’m having lots of conversations with our team and our partners, deciding pieces that’ll work well together and bringing the range and depth that our shoppers expect to the table. And also presenting one or two things that might pleasantly surprise visitors to Sapelle.com and help break some clichés.
When I talk about breaking clichés, here’s where I’m coming from. A typical conversation I have when introducing Sapelle.com goes like this:
Me: “We sell contemporary African-inspire fashion for everyday style, created by a selection of Africa’s top design labels and crafters”.
Other person: “Oh, wow, that’s great! I happen to know someone from [Insert name of African country here], she loves African fashion. I’ll let her know about you.”
Whereupon I launch into an explanation that it’s not just for Africans, that we’ve had delighted customers from all backgrounds, that our products are modern, appealing and perfectly suited to the modern woman. Etc, etc.
Usually when I show them pictures of our products, it brings home the point.
So therein lies one challenge. Blowing the cliché that African fashion is very much the attire of ’African Mamas’; that it’s all about elaborate turbans in clashing colours, and flowing boubou gowns, stiff with embroidery. Of course traditional African fashion is as glorious as all this. But that’s certainly not all there is to it.
As we know, there’s a growing movement of talented designers taking African inspirations, fusing them with the global style influences, creating looks that fit effortlessly into any modern setting. It comes in all forms, from the printed, the woven, the intricately embellished, hand-dyed and even the plain. Yes, African-influenced fashion can also be elegantly understated.
But I’ve heard stories from African designers who’ve felt the weight of expectation to produce collections that fall under one fixed ‘tribal print’ look, then faced apathy from press and public when they didn’t deliver to those expectations.
Could it be that, while the fashion runways have thankfully helped to bring the African fashion banner to the mainstream, their representations haven’t gone far from the narrow animal print and ‘tribal print’ definition? If so, this is the opportunity for the emerging African designers to broaden the public’s view and showcase the breadth of spectrum they have. Let’s not forget also that they are drawing their own influences from the wider world too, which is what makes it all so exciting.
One of the exciting things about our upcoming Summer 2013 range is that we’re introducing some beautiful and ‘atypical’ pieces that help chip away at the clichés about African fashion. These pieces go beautifully well with the rest of our more ‘typically modern African’ range, including the gorgeously vibrant printed elements we love. All of which we hope will appeal to customers seeking complementary pieces for their printed separates, or simply something more subtle.
So that’s the African fashion cliché challenge. Then we have to address the perceptions around our status as an ethical fashion retailer. Here we also have the challenge of dispelling the ‘itchy hemp’ cliché that built up around ethical fashion ages ago, and still prevails despite the huge strides we’ve seen in the sector. There are many different beautiful products being produced responsibly all over the world – they feel great, they look fantastic and most of the time, are just miles better than their ‘unethical’ counterparts.
As for our own ethical role, we relish the relationships we’ve forged with our partners because of the tangible impact of every order we place with them. When we do this, we’re supporting the fair employment of machinists, metalsmiths, women’s groups, supporting recycling and responsible production, respecting the environment, and creating sustainable income. It’s a really good feeling.
But the thing we ethical fashion retailers must remember is not to push the ethical agenda down shopper’s throats as if that alone should justify the purchase. So we focus on sourcing the high quality, irresistible pieces that stand up on their own merit. We hope that the added bonus that they’re ethically-sourced is a great story that’ll make customers even happier with their purchase.