Over the last several seasons, African influences have swept the fashion world from the runway to the high street. Not only the wonderful, vibrant patterns that have become so quintessentially African but also the shapes and embellishments inspired by age-old techniques. The African vibe has seeped into collections all across the fashion scene: Junya Watanabe, Diane Von Furstenberg, Oscar De La Renta and Hermes S/S 2009 collections; Dries Van Noten, Alexander McQueen, Etro, Anna Sui and Givenchy S/S 2010 collections; L.A.M.B., Louis Vuitton, Prada and John Galliano S/S 2011; Burberry Prorsum, Tory Burch, Michael Kors and Lanvin S/S 2012 all used African culture and style as inspiration.
Several designers, brands and retailers are starting to work with African producers. Now in its third season, the ASOS Africa collection is bringing gorgeous African-inspired clothes to a much wider audience. The collection is produced in Kenya to support the work of SOKO – a workshop dedicated to developing a sustainable and long-term solutions to the economic problems in Kenya. Then there’s majorly buzzed, SUNO, brainchild of Max Osterweis, which uses vintage Kenyan textiles and is produced predominantly in Kenya. Ali Hewson (wife of Bono) founded her label Edun as a way to encourage more volumes of trade with Sub-Saharan Africa. And finally, there’s smaller, emerging brands such as AFIA, a new fashion forward label, which connects women in Ghana with incredible craftsmanship to the American market.
But hello!!! The African fashion market is emerging in and of itself and online retailers in every market should take more notice! For A/W 2009, ARISE Magazine brought a collective of African designers to New York Fashion Week and has since launched its own fashion week in Lagos, Nigeria. It’s now the largest fashion event on the continent featuring around 50 of Africa’s best designers, many of which source locally and employ local producers and artisans.
Xuly Bët, the eminent Malian label designed by Lamine Badian Kouyaté, has showed at NYFW (with Grace Jones strutting down his catwalk!), has recently opened two boutiques in Paris, and was the inspiration for Forest Whitaker’s role in Robert Altman’s 1994 film, Prêt à porter. Since launching in 1989, he has been awarded with the prestigious Creator of the Year Award in 1994 by the New York Times and received the ANDAM Awards in 1996. Um, can we say amazing? Using the African tradition of recycling garments, he re-creates knitted jumpers, dresses made of patch-worked t-shirts, and disused army coats lined with fake fluorescent fur.
Jewel by Lisa is another label to know from law graduate-cum-fashion designer, Lisa Folawiyo. She specialises in Ankara fabrics, the colourful patterned waxed cotton fabrics characteristic of West Africa for the last many generations. Having already garnered fans such as Beyonce, Solange Knowles, Kelis and Alek Wek since launching in 2005, she’s built a huge clientele and employs a team of 30.
Maki Oh experiments with ancient adire motifs from the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria, showcasing proverbs that have been handed down unchanged for generations. The collection features hand-woven silk aso-oke dating back a hundred years, a silk cotton hand-painted with the Yoruba starch paste ‘eko’, and a hand-painted silk chiffon from the Queen of Ogidi village, especially for the collection. Other key materials used include traditional Nigerian Aso-Oke (loosened to form fringes), organically dyed silk charmeuse, shantung and silk organza and dried water reed (sourced from traditional Nigerian sleeping mats).
And these are only just three designers from Africa that are using the traditions of African style, print, shape, colour and craftsmanship in wholly modern, updated ways. Many of them are also sourcing locally and using local manufacturers. The list of emerging talent is extensive, many of them hailing from Nigeria: Bestow Elan, Christie Brown, Deola Sagoe, House of Nwocha, Lola Faturoti, Madam Wokie, Samantha Cole, Viv la Resistance, and Angelo Von Mol with his European/African hybrid menswear.
Ok, roll call! Who is coming to Lagos with us?