Lagos was the cradle of African fashion a few weeks ago, hosting 2 big fashion shows. Lagos Fashion Week Nigeria (23 – 25th March) Arise Fashion week 2018 (31 March – 2nd April). There was of course, the vibrancy, craftsmanship and distinctive style that has become ubiquitous over recent years in the African fashion industry. Images which only would have been available via fashion outlets are easily accessible anywhere in the world on social media (as you’ll see below).
During Arise Fashion Week 2018, the supermodel legend that is Naomi Campbell said the renowned fashion publication Vogue Magazine should be launched in Africa.
“Africa has never had the opportunity to be out there and their fabrics and their materials and their designs be accepted on the global platform … it shouldn’t be that way.” – Naomi Campbell
We’ve heard the reminder many times that “Africa is not a country”. When we dissect the continent’s textile heritage, we find there are beautiful fashion and style nuances across the continent. While I agree that the evolution and heritage of African fashion should have a dedicated global fashion platform showcasing to the world, it should be born and pushed by Africans – those on the continent and from the diaspora. Just like European fashion is controlled by Europeans.
Any African fashion publication must be sewn together with an integrated narrative identifying the contribution of each African country. It’s about time that African countries develop and control their own narratives without the, filtration and stamp of approval from Western fashion establishments, who have made fashion and style prestige synonymous with Western culture.
The fact that there is no Vogue Africa Magazine is an OPPORTUNITY, let Africa dictate her fashion industry in her own words and realise herself for herself!
Don’t get me wrong I was all here for Edward Enninful and Virgil Abloh rising to coveted gatekeeping positions in Western fashion establishments of British Vogue and Louis Vuitton, but I think it’s time in 2018 that Africans do not wait for the approval of Western fashion establishments to validate their fashion heritage and existence.
However, I think in 2018 African countries should take their fashion destiny into their own hands and be the global gatekeepers of African fashion and heritage. It can be done, yes creating a fashion publication costs money but there are very talented people in Africa and the diaspora that can make this happen and create jobs on the continent.
This is what we should be pushing for (just as is done in Europe) – African fashion controlled and narrated by Africans.
The “Twelve Days of Christmas” carol is one of the most famous British carols, so I’m listing 12 Christmas gift ideas for the whole family! The reason we give Christmas gifts is to remember those given to baby Jesus by the Wise Men. Despite buying Christmas presents every year, we all need a little inspiration.
For decades large companies have made millions during Christmas. As consumers we tend to stick with what we know. This makes it difficult for small businesses to break into the Christmas retail season. So this year, I’m looking to small businesses for some Christmas gift ideas for the whole family.
They say Christmas is really for Children, so let’s start there…
Finding diverse children’s literature has never been easy. But times are starting to change with authors creating diverse stories appreciated by all children.
1. Football crazy Clever Carmel
It’s the World Cup and like all football crazy children Carmel is very excited! But what country should she support?! Carmel is mixed-race and isn’t sure where her loyalties should lie…find out what she decides to do.
This interiors company create their own fabrics and print designs using Adinkra symbols. The origins of these symbols, each with a specific meaning, stem from the former great Empire of Mali which span across West Africa. More recently, the symbols are closely associated with the Akan tribes of Ghana. The handmade fabrics are used to make/decorate lighting devices, cushions, throws and men’s accessories.
Usually an afterthought during the hysteria of Christmas shopping is the wrapping paper! I discovered Bonita Ivie Prints at a Black Ballad event earlier this year. From printed wrapping paper to phone cases, notebooks and other Christmas stocking treats, Bonita Ivie Prints has you covered.
Another great stocking filler is the good old humble mug! Used by anyone who wants a hot drink during this cold festive season and beyond. Celisha Books has added a collection of ‘Superwoman mugs’ to their product line this Christmas.
Fashion accessories tend to look the same on the generic high street, but these businesses are adding something unique to the accessories market.
I discovered D-Jewelsus at a pop-up market in South London and couldn’t resist this choker. They have other designs and jewellery pieces that can compliment any Christmas outfit.
A designer weaving her Ghanaian and British heritage into her designs is Korlekie. Having designed outfits for various British celebrities, Korlekie also has a line of hand woven accessories. They have teamed up with watch brand Vitae for these watch gift sets.
Another small British business using quality craftsmanship is British accessories brand N’Damus London, producing classic leather goods for women and men. I’m focussing on the guys for this one! From backpacks to cufflinks and belts you’re bound to find something for any men in your life.
Beauty gifts are popular at Christmas and these brands are making their own unique offering to the Christmas market. While there has been an amazing rise in small business hair care companies, I’m going to focus on the skin for the beauty inspiration.
The Akoma “heart” adinkra symbol represents patience, goodwill, faithfulness, endurance and tolerance. When I was looking for natural soap that didn’t dry out my skin I was lucky to come across Akoma skin care. Along with soap bars, they have gift sets of African black soap, lip balm, moisturisers and much more, for men and women.
12. Bea Skin Care
I discovered Bea Skin Care at a Black British Bloggers event in October. This skincare range has been featured in Black Beauty and Stylist magazine and I’ve been using their vitamin infused konjac exfoliating facial sponges for my blackheads. They have a range of beauty products that can make for a nice cleansing gift.
So there you have it…some Christmas inspiration for the whole family from small British businesses. Merry Christmas!
African fashion is rising to global acclaim; a form of expression, a mark of heritage, African fashion has contributed in transforming the perception of what was dubbed the ‘dark continent’, ‘hopeless Africa’ by Western media. It wasn’t cool to be African in the UK during the ‘90s, but it sure is now! Back then, nearly everything was up for ridicule, from our names, hair (especially if you had a threaded hair style as a child), features and food. Roll on the 2000s; African diaspora millennials are embracing their culture with zeal, especially when it comes to fashion. Instagram and Pinterest are adorned with African-inspired wax print designs, from clothing brands, bloggers, party nights and weddings.
However, if the diaspora doesn’t celebrate authentic African textile techniques more often, we’re subconsciously complicit in potentially rendering a key part of our heritage obsolete.
African prints infused with Western style silhouettes are worn with pride by millennials in some of the most cosmopolitan cites in the West – London, Paris, New York etc. In 2005, Taiye Selasi coined the term, ‘Afropolitan’. Subjectively interpreted by many, the Afropolitan is a stylish city dwelling, socially and politically astute person of African descent, with multicultural heritage. The curation of our multicultural heritage gives us a unique and empowering perspective on style and fashion. This cultural hybrid comprising African and European aesthetics has featured in magazines and catwalks around the world.
It’s no secret that Dutch wax prints are the emblem of African Fashion. Africans and the diaspora have fervently championed these prints for decades. This has been to the detriment of authentic African textile techniques. Batik is a process of using wax/dyes to create patterns on fabric. Believed to have originated in Egypt during the 5th century, it was later adopted across Asia, most notably Indonesia. During Dutch colonisation in the 1800s, Indonesians taught the Dutch the Batik process, who then mass produced their own ‘Dutch-wax’ version also known as Ankara.
After unsuccessful attempts to sell their version back to the Indonesians, they took it to West Africa and the rest is history, as they say. Currently European companies are the main financial beneficiaries of what is commonly referred to as ‘African-prints’.
Social media is a powerful platform, where we’re able create and tell our own narratives. As consumers, we create the demand that produces the supply of Dutch wax prints. If we want authentic African textile heritage to thrive and Africans to have a greater stake in African Fashion, we should support brands that celebrate this. Rather than always wearing printed imitation versions of Kente cloth (usually printed in China), why not wear the real hand-woven Kente made by artisans in Ghana? Foundations like Nubuke collaborate with diaspora designers making bespoke Kente fabrics. Similarly, why not wear clothes made with the adire cloth, created by Nigerians for centuries or kanga fabrics of Kenya /Tanzania?
The Internet has made African fashion very accessible and the appetite for this has created opportunities for companies in the diaspora. American based ONYCHEK, Oxosi and UK based Styled by Africa, sell apparel made by artisans in Africa to the diaspora and beyond. Designers are expressing authentic African heritage though their collections. Maxhosa by Laduma celebrates traditional Xhosa symbols and colours, through Knitwear. UK based, AAKS’ handwoven bags, typify weaving techniques used in Ghana and AMWA Designs create their own printed fabrics using Adinkra symbols for their home furnishing ranges.
The influence of Afropolitans / the diaspora in shaping the African fashion narrative globally is undeniable. When Beyoncé wore an outfit featuring designs by Burundian artist Serge Alain Nitegeka, from the South-African based fashion platform Kisua, the brand was immediately thrust into the spotlight. Through the Internet we have the power to tell our true stories. Whether it’s celebrities or you and I snapping selfies for Instagram and Twitter, we should incorporate traditional African textile techniques within our fashion repertoire, as much as we do Dutch wax prints. Doing so will project an authentic image of African fashion heritage.
There isn’t an African fashion utopia; Dutch wax prints will probably always be the main fabric used in African fashion. However, as African fashion continues to flourish, we should be careful not to inadvertently contribute to its dilution, by mainly championing Dutch wax prints. Our multicultural Afropolitan heritage is valid but should be balanced. This balance is key because we’re representing African fashion in lands from which we don’t originate, but are intrinsically part of us though birth or habitation. Rather than left languishing in the shadows, authentic African fashion textile heritage should get the props it deserves for its artistry, craftsmanship and elegance.
The term ‘African designer’ can be ambiguous and reductive. Synonymous with tribal prints; the artistry and craftsmanship of traditional African techniques can often languish in the shadows of the fashion world. We caught up with London based luxury knitwear designer, Korlekie, to find out how she’s bringing these traditional techniques to the fashion forefront.
Why the name Korlekie? I was born in the UK to Ghanaian parents. Korlekie comes from my father’s tribe, the Ga-Adangbe and means ‘Queen of Eagles’.
Is your African heritage expressed in your designs? Being African is an intrinsic part of me, and I’m also inspired by other things. So, I wouldn’t say my designs are ‘African-inspired’ they just reflect who I am.
Is there an expectation to use prints in your designs? Some people have a narrow view on what ‘African’ is and expect to see printed fabrics in my collections. When they don’t, they ask, ‘so what’s African about your collection?’ African textiles are more than just wax prints, which originally came from Asia and were exported by the Dutch who brought them to Africa.
A white designer born in the UK wouldn’t be asked, “so what’s British about your collection?”
This year fashion took centre stage at the Africa Utopia Festival. Directed by Agnes Cazin, the #AfricaSquad fashion show put the spotlight on amazing designers across the African diaspora and the Continent. We caught up with one of the UK’s fresh new talents, Elizabeth-Yemi Akingbade, founder of Yemzi, a sustainable street-luxe bohemian fashion label.
…inspired by African and European art, culture and creativity; made with love in London for the active dreamer. Elizabeth-Yemi
We first heard of Yemzi through Africa Utopia 2016, how did you get involved with the festival?
I was invited to take part in the #AfricaSquad fashion show by the creative director Agnes Cazin. My SS16 collection showcased, was based on animal skin prints, in blue, orange and green. I’ve worked with Agnes before; she used some of my pieces for House for Koko.
When did you want to be a fashion designer?
From a very young age. I’ve always been creative, I won various art competitions at school and when I was 14, attended Bournemouth Arts Institute on Saturdays.
When did Yemzi officially launch?
I like the idea of being a young business owner, so in 2013 during my final year at London College of Communication, in South London, I decided to open Yemzi.
My Nigerian name is Yemi; Yemzi was a nickname people called me and was just a natural progression.
How did you start Yemzi?
My only 2 official collections, were SS16 and SS17. Before that I printed my designs on ready-made T-shirts sold in Soboye Boutique, giving me exposure to other markets like Paris. Now I source and cut fabrics myself.
Prints are the foundation of Yemzi…Because I like using timeless prints and textures that can be worn in any season. I create my own prints telling my story through drawing. Many African designers use Dutch wax prints, but I don’t. It’s boring to see the same prints everywhere.
What fabrics do you use?
Any sustainable materials, like Bamboo and organic cotton. But when I created the high-end gold collection I used silk chiffon and silk satin.
Are you concerned about being pigeon-holed as an ‘African’ fashion designer?
I describe myself as a British-Nigerian designer. I’m not really concerned about categories and labels. If people want to call me a British designer or a Nigerian designer, both are fine with me!
What does sustainable /ethical fashion mean to you and why is it important?
Fast fashion can cause a lot of damage to the environment and for those at the bottom of the fashion food chain. It doesn’t have to be like that. All my collections are made in London, everyone is paid a fair wage and work in a safe environment.
Are sustainable fashion businesses like Yemzi, becoming more common?
Yes, people are becoming conscious about what they consume and are aware of alternatives. If mindsets change and people buy quality clothes they can buy less and have something that lasts longer.
What inspires you?
Life. I like to express my struggles, joys and culture, through my collections. I was fostered by an English family but still have a connection with my Nigerian culture, so everything I do is a fusion of that. Being fostered made me more determined to stay connected to by Nigerian heritage and part of the reason I studied African studies rather than a fashion course.
After learning some Yoruba I went to Nigeria and met my Grandmother, before she passed away in January this year, and learnt important aspects about Nigerian culture.
This is the mood board for SS17 – I combine my inspirations and then draw my prints, which are digitally printed onto fabric.
Continuing with the theme of combing my British and Nigerian culture, I used Yoruba symbols / tribal marks and imagery I found though researching, as the main source of inspiration. I went for a darker theme, as my collections reflect how I feel. I was invited to show some of the new collection at a fashion show, on Nigerian Independence Day, but didn’t have an official launch.
I’m based in a converted shipping container and the SS17 collection was shot in a World War II bunker underneath my office. The styling is London inspired but I have some silhouettes which are very much African. I take traditional African shapes and make them commonplace in the London environment.
Fela Kuti’s wives inspired the bold unblended eyelids and dotting make-up framing the eyebrows.
Why was the theme dark?
Working a second job 6 days a week, completing my MA in African Studies and trying to grow Yemzi has been challenging. The fashion industry can look very glamorous but there is an ugly side to it. The collection reflects this contrast between the different faces of fashion and the personal challenges I face.
What’s the Yemzi ethos?
I have a ‘green and clean’ ethos, using fabrics which are not toxic to the environment.
You recently did another shoot for your SS17 collection?
Yes, again outside my shipping container with 2 models. I only use models with natural hair (it’s part of my green and natural ethos). One is white with ginger hair and the other is of mixed African and Asian heritage.
I am a huge advocate of natural hair since doing the big chop in July 2010. Textured hair should be embraced.
The most challenging aspect of running your business?
It’s a lot more expensive running a sustainable fashion business, the fabrics I use have an impact on the cost of my collection.
The biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting Yemzi?
Ask for help. If you don’t ask, you don’t get. Whether it’s an MUA or photographer, you should be willing to ask for help when you’re on tight budget. The worst anyone can say to you is ‘no’.
The main highlight of running your business?
When people appreciate the clothes!
Any exciting developments on the horizon?
My unisex Capsule Collection launching in February, will be my first AW collection. Very excited about that!
Any advice for other aspiring fashion designers?
Make use of what you have when starting out on a tight budget, I’ve connected with people who’ve helped along the way and for shoots used the space outside my office, rather than using studios all the time. You must be financially creative as well as artistically creative.
The two-day annual African fashion extravaganza that is Africa Fashion Week London 2015, celebrated its finale on Saturday. Showcasing the talents of African and African-inspired designers from the continent and the diaspora. For a 5th year running this event was embraced by London once again. More than just a trend, there is no doubt that African fashion is here to stay. Owning the most colourful segment of the fashion industry, African designers can tell their stories through the woven threads of African print (and non-print) fabrics.
In addition to shows like this, the driving force behind the crescendo of popularity surrounding African fashion has been Africans themselves! In Africa and across the diaspora, social media has given African fashion a voice, with YouTube vloggers and fashion bloggers sharing their own favourite designs and fashion tips with the world, making African fashion accessible. One of the most notable elements of African fashion which has made a crowning comeback over the years within the diaspora is the head wrap.
Head warps were worn by Africans before slavery (where it was used a symbol of poverty and disgrace) illustrating the wealth and social status of men and the beauty, spirituality, marital and social status of women. As time has moved on, the head wrap has become a feminine accessory ubiquitous across Africa; and known by various names including dhuku and Gele.
Although the head wrap has been a staple in African traditional culture for centuries, it’s becoming a coveted accessory for the young and old, at special occasions and for every day casual wear.
What do you think about the head wrap? Vote below!
Africa Fashion week London 2015 kicks off in a few days, providing the ideal opportunity to put the spotlight on African models. It’s not easy breaking into the fashion world, especially when you’re black, with short natural hair and ‘plus-size’, but Philomena Kwao has done just that. A Miss Ghana UK finalist in 2008, the London born Ghanaian model has a first class degree in Economics and a Masters’ degree in International Health Management adding to her list of achievements. Not subscribing to the usual stereotypes of the modelling industry and dubbed ‘Britain’s first black plus-size model’, Philomena is challenging what is means to be beautiful.
Find out more about Philomena in 60 seconds:
I’m not a fan of the term ‘plus-size’, but it’s human nature to categorize things. If you’re a model, then you are a model full stop. The average dress size in the UK is said to be size 16; women such as Holly Willoughby, Nigella Lawson, Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez are celebrated (whether you like them or not) for their physiques; which are not seen at high fashion catwalk shows but admired in popular culture. The fact is, women (and men) come in different sizes and it’s normal to see this in real life. It’s about time the fashion world starts to imitate the real world, rather than having sub-cultures of modeling. Whether your ‘slim’ or ‘plus-size’, as long as you’re healthy, that’s normal, and seeing different body sizes at mainstream fashion shows should be normal.
After winning a national modelling competition with Models1, Evans and Cosmopolitan UK Magazine in 2012, Philomena went on to win the Rising Star award at GUBA (Ghana UK Based Achievement awards) that same year. Philomena signed with Ford Models and flew across the pond to NYC to commence her (unplanned) modeling career.
In December 2014, Philomena was introduced as the latest brand ambassador for Torrid in the U.S. She recently created The Lily Project, connecting young girls with inspirational mentors. Having darker skin is unfortunately uncomfortable for many women, and an issue which has been debated within the black community many times over; in a recent interview Philomena recounts one of her most memorable experiences with The Lilly Project.
“I received a question on my Tumblr about how I’ve learned to love my dark skin. I remember it clearly because the girl in question listed all the bleaching products she had tried and was reaching her wits end with desperation. She wanted to try out an injection or something before she saw my picture and decided to message me. It touched me because I remember not always being so confident in my size or my skin colour. I wanted to be lighter like all the celebrities and beautiful women I knew….”
Obviously more comfortable in her skin, Philomena continues to walk that walk, demonstrating that there is beauty in intelligence and what you have on the inside too. Sometimes what we think is a hindrance can turn out to be an asset.