While many were upset by Valentino’s questionable attempt at a tribute to Africa, we can wonder how the intended “cultural exchange” would look if carried out by authentic African designers; there’s no denying the fact that coverage of the continent’s fashion scene has been pretty minimal. Well things are changing, as the global fashion map is broadening more and more each day.
We all know of some of the unique struggles the various regions of Africa have faced in the process of establishing stability within our global market. But we should also be note the immense beauty and rich culture that the continent is teeming with. This translates into remarkable concepts that merge indigenous themes with Western influences, while large scale factories mesh with artisanal craftsmanship, especially in countries like South Africa, Ethiopia, and Kenya. And with $31 billion in spending potential in sub-Saharan Africa, there’s no denying the vast opportunity for the growth of luxury brands.
Perhaps the best example of the rise of African high fashion would be the increasingly popular scene in Nigeria. The four-day Lagos Fashion and Design Week proved this, showcasing the best work of roughly 70 designers from the region itself, as well as other West African countries like Ghana and C’ôte d’Ivoire. With 3,000 attendees, including press from Africa, Europe, and other global regions, labels like Orange Culture, Ejiro Amos Tafiri, Maki Oh by Amaka Osakwe, Meena, and Gozal Green showed some remarkable collections. The event provides hope for new forms of institutional support of education and labor that will help designers and businesses move forward. Major boutiques are emerging in Nigeria, too, like Temple Muse, where local labels coexist with popular international brands. And where a formal retail structure may be lacking, e-commerce seems to be booming; New York-based entrepreneur Kolade Adeyemo launched Oxosi.com to connect contemporary African brands to the rest of the world, while Honey Ogundeyi started carrying European designer goods alongside Nigerian high-street brands via FashPa.com. And let’s not forget about “Nollywood” style, through which Nigerian film stars and musicians are having a powerful emerging impact on global fashion.
But Nigeria isn’t the only place in Africa with a reputable fashion scene. Fashion Weeks are emerging elsewhere, like Swahili Fashion Week in Dar es Salaam, Ghana Fashion and Design Week in Accra, Dakar Fashion Week, and Festival International de la Mode Africaine in Niger. Meanwhile, labels like Brother Vellies – whose handmade footwear provides sustainable employment for East African workers – are gaining traction via CFDA acknowledgments and a slew of features in top fashion publications. And then there’s Loza Maléombho, Richard Braqo, Nkwo, and Tsemaye Binitie (to name a few), each of whom have their own unique style that effectively mix their own references with popular Western trends.
Sure, there’s a long way to go when it comes to the appreciation and promotion of African fashion labels. But we’re constantly looking for new things, and this relatively uncharted fashion territory feels like a major breath of fresh air. Though it’s taken a while for these things to take off, Africa’s big break should come as no surprise; the continent is full of beauty throughout its 54 countries, whether through the environments and landscapes, people, art, history, or cultures. Meanwhile, the rapidly growing luxury consumer population shows great potential for a new focus on these fresh talents. It’s no wonder magazines and websites are finally featuring the impressive work that’s been developing, like a recent Models.com feature photographed by Ed Singleton and styled by Solange Franklin.
Despite some of the issues that have plagued Africa over time, each region has an undeniable sense of resilience, something that is reflected in the many flourishing African fashion labels. Let’s hope this major moment in the shifting of fashion’s global map is just the start of an exciting new chapter, as this could help dismantle stereotypes and connotations too frequently associated with the continent, while also promoting diversity amongst the industry’s biggest image-makers. For now, we can simply stay tuned and stay thrilled.