Fashion emerging from Africa has burst onto the international scene and an increasing number of African Designers are enjoying a level of recognition not seen before.
Meanwhile, textiles associated with Africa such as “Dutch Wax Prints” have been incorporated into creations by fashion household names. Last summer Christian Louboutin launched a limited edition bag, Africaba, made in Senegal using African Textiles.
Meanwhile, Edun, the luxury and ethical brand, co founded by Ali Hewson and her Husband Bono, has also incorporated the South African textile “Shweshwe” into their Ready-to-Wear collection.
Fashion has become undeniably a driving force of the African renaissance. The ‘African Fashion Cities’ exhibition took us behind the scenes to meet the key players, stylists, designers and photographers, whose creativity and ingenuity is driving fashion forward in 4 major African cities. Although the fashion industry in these cities stands at different stages of development, in all four of them, a fashion statement is also a cultural choice and ultimately, a quest to define, alter or form a new identity.
First stop: Johannesburg. With a population of over four million, Johannesburg is the largest city of South Africa and one of its most pulsating creative hubs. The city’s ‘street-style fashion’ was a fusion of various influences, reflecting the rainbow nation’s embrace of multiculturalism. In an interview, the stylist curator and accessories designer, Maria McCloy exhorted the young generation to integrate traditional South African material into their daily wear, as a proud expression of their identity.
At the other end of the African Continent is Casablanca, located at the cultural crossroad of Africa, Europe and Middle East. These influences were visible in the beautiful embroidered outfits on display in the exhibition. While there was no shortage of creativity, the infrastructure to support the growth of the industry was still in its infancy and the local fashion week was cancelled after a few editions. For a long time, the fashion scene had been a replica of the western trends and according to the fashion journalist Mouna Belgrini, this temporary setback was an opportunity to reflect and then start creating fashion lines that were rooted in the Moroccan heritage and identity.
Nairobi, on the other hand, had orchestrated its renaissance through the second-hand clothes market, that proved to be a formidable outlet for young creatives using technology, to launch their stylist, fashion blogger careers. One of the figureheads of that movement is the duo 2Manysiblings with their 18,000 followers on Instagram.
The exhibition finished with Lagos, which is undoubtedly the African Fashion powerhouse. Its domination is grounded in a vibrant textile tradition (some of the traditional Nigerian fabrics such as Aso Oke and Akwete were on display) and its economics – a huge local market of 21 million people supported by the oil boom. The modern Nigerian designers are exploring their culture through textiles and a new narrative about their cities and their countries is being sewn in the seam of each garment. For the designer Deola Sagoe, her work is about showcasing African textiles, while others are exploring the blurry line between masculinity and femininity or the fusion of various cultures in a globalized world. The result of this cultural introspection is a dynamic and vibrant fashion scene represented in an ever-growing Lagos Fashion & Design Week. The international success enjoyed by high profile designers has made following a creative career more acceptable, thus paving the way for new designers to come into the fray and ensuring the sustainability of the industry.