Africa Fashion Week London set to showcase designer talent
2nd August 2012
By Helen Jennings
Africa Fashion Week London will showcase the world’s hottest designers.
Noisettes singer Shingai Shoniwa is an avid supporter of African fashion
African fashion is booming. A new generation of designers are gaining recognition – both because of the sheer strength of their work and as a result of the continent’s rising fortunes.
Africa was once seen only as a source of inspiration for big brands – from Yves Saint Laurent’s landmark collection of raffia beaded dresses in 1967 to Burberry Prorsum’s wax prints for spring/summer 2012. But African designers are finding customers around the world and a thriving industry is growing around them.
Africa Fashion Week London (AFWL) starts tomorrow. It’s in its second year and was the idea of Nigerian entrepreneur Ronke Ademiluyi. ‘My aim is to create more visibility for African designers and to create a one-stop shop for the public,’ she says. ‘We were expecting 500 people last year and almost 5,000 turned up. It was something people had clearly been waiting for.’
This year AFWL showcases 60 designers, including Adebayo Jones, known for his lavish evening and bridal wear, who will provide the gala finale. ‘As I was inspired by Yves Saint Laurent, I hope my participation will inspire young designers,’ he says. The best African designers balance global seasonal trends with an intelligent reimagining of indigenous fabrics and adornments. Ghana’s Aisha Obuobi launched Christie Brown in 2008 and has become Accra’s go-to girl for effortlessly feminine womenswear with detailing such as covered buttons, feathers and fringing. ‘My work is about the beauty of simplicity,’ she says.
Fabulous fabrics: Lavish eveningwear by Adebayo Jones
Stiaan Louw’s menswear is inspired by cultural clashes in South Africa
Stiaan Louw creates menswear that reflects clashing cultures in his native South Africa. His affinity for cut and construction has matured since he started the brand in 2008 and his most recent Olympics-themed collection, Atletiek, features slim, sporty suiting. ‘I want to shift perceptions about male archetypes while creating a global African menswear aesthetic,’ he says. ‘Fashion has the power to inspire and transcend boundaries.’
With her label Maki Oh, Nigerian designer Amaka Osakwe turns indigenous textiles into sensual pieces that evolve traditional dress practices. She launched in 2010 and her latest collection focuses on body-conscious silhouettes made from adire, an indigo-dyed patterned cloth. ‘I want to make Nigerians aware of their own fabrics, which are infused with meanings that have been passed down through generations,’ she says.
Jeffrey Kimathi, meanwhile, uses fibres of the baobab tree for his Jamhuri Wear luggage range.
Celebrities are also catching on. Kelis has worn Lagos label Jewel By Lisa, Solange Knowles is fan of Maki Oh and Michelle Obama is regularly seen wearing pieces by London-based Nigerian designer Duro Olowu.
Urban accessories: Patterned iPad case by Jamhuri Wear
Noisettes singer Shingai Shoniwa is an avid supporter of African fashion. ‘The rich colour palettes and vibrant attitude fit well with where the western world is at the moment. People are turning towards emerging markets. There’s a more confident generation taking risks,’ she says.
The African fashion industry still faces challenges. There’s a lack of formal fashion education, which means there are problems from pattern-cutting and styling to marketing and PR. There’s no continent-wide body to promote funding and poor infrastructure slows production and raises costs.
Olowu is optimistic. ‘The customer must have desire for the products on their own merit and only then will they ask: “Oh, where was this made?”’ he says. ‘There are a lot of talented African designers showing potential and that’s why the fashion world is looking very hard at Africa right now.’
How not to write about Africa in 2012 – a beginner's guide
The booming continent is ripe for new partnerships, but with those who address us as equals not in aid bullet points.
Nairobi is a good place to be an international correspondent. There are regular flights to the nearest genocide, and there are green lawns, tennis courts, good fawning service. You can get pork belly, and you can hire an OK pastry chef called Elijah (surname forgotten) to work in your kitchen for $300 a month.
If you work for one of the major newspapers, or television and radio services, chances are you live in Nairobi or Johannesburg. To make your work easier, you need, in your phone, the numbers of the country directors of every European aid agency: Oxfam, Save the Children. To find these numbers is not difficult: chances are these guys are your neighbours, your tennis partners.
Hip hop artist K-Nel from Kenya came to Germany when he was 19. His motto is: “If you can make it in Africa, you can make it in Europe, and the other way around.” Living in Cologne, he has no plans to go back.
Managing Director of Compumetrics Solutions, Dr Evans Woherem, has said that the African continent holds the ace in the next phase of digital revolution which calls for better attention by government and other stakeholders.
Speaking at the unveiling ceremony of the Digital Africa corporate identity in Abuja yesterday, Dr Woherem who recently retired as the Executive Director, Technology of Unity Bank Plc, said statistics showed that the African continent experienced the highest growth rate in ICT in recent years.
I’ve recently returned from Ethiopia, where I led a breakfast meeting at the World Economic Forum on Africa. One of the topics we discussed was whether our concept of repeatable models applies only to advanced economies or equally to the emerging markets of Africa.
To recap: As Chris Zook and I show in our book Repeatability, the most successful global companies typically rely on what we call repeatable models to grow sustainably and profitably over time. Three design principles underlie these models:
Nearly everyone at our meeting felt that repeatable models were directly relevant to Africa — to local companies operating wholly within the continent, to businesses that started in Africa and have become global leaders, and to multinational companies (MNCs) entering or expanding in Africa. For example:
Orchestra Baobab - Cabral Orchestra Baobab is a Senegalese Afro-Cuban, Son, Wolof and Pachanga band. Organized in 1970, as a multi-ethnic, multi-national club band, Orchestre Baobab adapted the then current craze for Cuban Music (growing out of the Congolese Soukous style) in West Africa to Wolof Griot culture and the Mandinga musical traditions of the Casamance. One of the dominant African bands of the 1970s, they were overshadowed in the 1980s and broke up, only to reform in 2001 after interest in their recordings grew in Europe.
Learn from Africa: Sustainable local sourcing in Africa
A brochure titled “Sustainable local sourcing in Africa: ingredients for setting up a sustainable business that is profitable and supports local farmers”, has been compiled by KIT (Royal Tropical Institute) with support from Agri-ProFocus, Agentschap NL and SNV.
The brochure, based on research consisting of five business cases, has been written for companies that want to do sustainable business in Africa through local sourcing from local farmers.
“I am an African! Because of that, I am also able to state this fundamental truth that I am born of a people who are heroes and heroines. I am born of a people who would not tolerate oppression. I am of a nation that would not allow that fear of death, torture, imprisonment, exile or persecution should result in the perpetuation of injustice. The great masses who are our mother and father will not permit that the behaviour of the few results in the description of our country and people as barbaric. Patient because history is on their side, these masses do not despair because today the weather is bad. Nor do they turn triumphalist when, tomorrow, the sun shines. Whatever the circumstances they have lived through and because of that experience, they are determined to define for themselves who they are and who they should be.”
Former President of South Africa (then Deputy President ) Thabo Mbeki, on Behalf of the African National Congress, on the Occasion of the Adoption by the Constitutional Assembly of “The Republic of South Africa Constitutional Bill 1996.” Cape Town, 8 May 1996