It’s Black History Months (BHM) and awards season, so I caught up with Black British Business Award finalist Wanita Bardouille, Creative Services (CS) Director at Ralph Lauren (RL). Nominated in the Leader Category, I wanted to know how she feels about it all!
How does it feel to be nominated for a BBB Award? Really nice, but I’m quite reserved and don’t like the spotlight too much so it was a bit hard to accept.
Do you think it’s necessary to have the BBB Awards? Of course, when I was nominated one of the founders said, black professionals in prominent positions have a responsibility to allow others to see them and hopefully feel inspired.
What does it mean to be a leader? I’m part of the Diversity and Inclusion Team at work and give talks in schools. It’s important to give back and encourage others to be authentic to themselves. Once a headteacher said to me, “I don’t know why you want to talk to these girls; they all just want to be hairdressers and nail technicians”. I reminded him that Vidal Sassoon was a hairdresser! For me, it’s not what you dream but how big you dream it; I encourage young people to believe in their own value.
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!
It was a couple of months ago when my friend sent me a text. It was a picture taken somewhere in Europe of a tote bag version of the ‘Ghana must go!’ bag with a TOPSHOP label on it. I wasn’t really bothered, until I saw the price! For a split second, I thought it might be fake, but deep down I knew it wasn’t.
Coincidentally later that week I had already planned to meet a friend in Oxford Street, London so I thought I’d kill two birds with one stone 😊. I arrived a little early to investigate if these bags were actually being sold in TOPSHOP’s flagship store. I walked around the accessories but to my disappointment I couldn’t find them! But then…as I was walking out, I saw the chequered pattern glistening in my peripheral vision.
European fashion houses inspired by Africa There they were, in all their TOPSHOP glory, called the ‘MARTY check unlined tote bag’ with a whopping pricetag of £22! The original sized ‘Ghana must go!” bags can be found in markets (catering for African and Caribbean communities) across London for less than £5, but who knows what price they’ll fetch for now that they have the TOPSHOP stamp of approval.
The use of the ‘Ghana must go!” bag aesthetic by European fashion houses isn’t new. Louis Vuitton featured it in its Spring/Summer 2012 collection, and none other than Cristobal Balenciaga in their fall/winter 2016 collection.
So where did these bags come from? Apparently, originally proceed in…yes you guessed it…China by Zhejiang Daxin Industry. The original bags are big and generally used to store anything and everything. Laundry, shoes, pots, pans, anything you can fit in there. They were dubbed “Ghana must go” bags by Nigerians.
In a nutshell, during the 1970’s Nigeria’s economy was booming and Ghana’s was going in the opposite direction. Ghanaians (and other West Africans from Burkina Faso, Niger and Cameroon) immigrated to Nigeria in search of better opportunities. But all good things do come to an end and in the 1980s Nigeria’s economy took a nose dive. Suddenly Nigerians where competing with these Ghanaian immigrants for the few jobs that were left.
Ghana must go! In 1983, apparently the Nigerian government told all (illegal) immigrants to leave the country within two weeks. After the deadline Nigerians were allegedly told they could take whatever ‘action’ they wanted on those who they thought they were illegal and remained in the country. In a frenzy, with the little time they had, Ghanaians quickly packed as much as they could in these big chequered bags and left Nigeria as refugees camping at the Togo and Benin boarders on their journey back to Ghana. At the time, the mass expulsion of an estimated 1 million Ghanaians (out of around 2 million immigrants in total) was condemned internationally. But the shoe was on the other foot years before. In 1969 the Ghanaian government ordered all (illegal) immigrants to leave Ghana if they could not obtain a residence permit. Allegedly, up to 500,000 Nigerians left Ghana over three months.
You don’t have to be a ‘designer’ bag… There’s no doubt that these bags are famous; they have various names across continents. Germany “Tuekenkoffer”, = the Turkish suitcase, in America the bags are referred to as the “Chinatown tote”. In Guyana, more affectionately as the “Guyanese Samsonite”.
The concept of European fashion houses taking something heavily associated with Africans (and other ethnic groups), stamping their name on then selling it at high prices isn’t new.
(Another) lost opportunity I couldn’t help but think, what if Ghanaians turned a negative into a positive and made the bags more “fashionable” and sold them? But then I thought, if a Ghanaian fashion house tried to do what Louis Vuitton and now more recently TOPSHOP have done, would anyone think these bags were valuable or fashionable?
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?”
It’s been a ground-breaking week in the fashion industry.
After being described as “an influential figure in the communities of fashion, Hollywood and music which shape the cultural zeitgeist”, Ghanaian, Edward Enninful was confirmed as the new editor-in-chief (EIC) of British Vogue. The first man to hold the position. With the help of his predecessor Alexandra Shulman who ran British Vogue for 25 years, Edward will officially start his role on 1st August.
“Edward is an exceptionally talented stylist who will no doubt bring an exciting new creative aesthetic to the magazine. Every Vogue editor arrives with their own range of talents and experience and Edward is very known, respected and liked within the fashion industry” Alexandra Shulman, British Vogue incumbent EIC
Edward Enninful timeline, starting from the top!
2017 – The first man to be the Editor-in-Chief of British Vogue, aged 45.
2016 – Awarded Officer of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), in honour of services to diversity in fashion.
Throughout his career, Enninful has been recognised for this contribution and influence on the fashion industry.
2014 – Received Isabella Blow Award for Fashion Creator at the British Fashion Awards.
2011 – Style director of American fashion publication, W Magazine, where he was credited with improving the publication’s relevance and finances.
Edward was pivotal in Vogue Italia’s July 2008 ‘All Black’ issue, featuring only black models (styled by Edward), which sold out in hours.
2006-2011 – Worked for American Vogue.
1998-2001 – Worked for Vogue Italia
1990 – Fashion director of British youth culture magazine i-D. Becoming the youngest director of an international fashion publication, aged 18.
Worked as an assistant with stylists Simon Foxton (who scouted Edward) and Beth Summers on fashion shoots.
1988 – Model-scouted on the London Underground tube system, aged 16.
Moved to Ladbroke Grove, West London as a child with his family.
1972 – Born in Ghana, West Africa
The Vogue Italia issue was monumental; having a visceral effect on readers disillusioned with an industry perceived as being endemically racist. According to Time Magazine, the original run of the issue (which had four different covers) sold out in the U.S. and U.K. in 72 hours. An extra, 30,000, 10,000 and 20,000 copies were reprinted in the U.S., U.K. and Italy, respectively. Not just featuring black models, the issue had interviews with Film Director Spike Lee and former editor of Vogue Paris, Edmonde Charles-Roux, who allegedly resigned in 1966 when he wasn’t not allowed to put a black model on the front cover. Although heavily air-brushed as all magazines are, the impact of the 2008 issue cannot be trivialized.
Photos: Steven Meisel
While Enninful’s appointment is very important and his impact on the fashion industry poignant, we can’t expect things to shift dramatically. It will take time.
He is one man, a very influential man, but one man. I hope he’ll be able to withstand the pressure of being the first non-white editor of British Vogueand the expectation that follows, if he is to take the publication in a new direction.
“By virtue of his talent and experience, Edward is supremely prepared to assume the responsibility of British Vogue.” Jonathan Newhouse Condé Nast International, CEO
We know Enninful isn’t shy about displaying black beauty in fashion. In 2015 as the Style Director of W magazine, he styled an all-black spread, shot by renowned Australian fashion photographer Emma Summerton. The aptly named “Natural Selection” spread showcased models with natural hair, featuring Ajak Deng, Amilna Estevao, Anais Mali, Aya Jones, Binx Walton and Tami Williams.
“If you put one [non-white] model in a show or in an ad campaign, that doesn’t solve the problem. “We need teachers in universities, we need internships, we need people of different ethnic backgrounds in all parts of the industry. That really is the solution.” – Edward Enninful
According to a report by The Fashion Spot, covering diversity across New York, London, Milan and Paris fashion shows in all four cities for the Autumn 2017 collections, 72% of models cast in shows where white and 28% women of colour. This is an improvement on previous years, so things are slowly progressing. London came second out of the four cities, behind New York with an increase in its ‘diversity score’.
You could argue that in 2017, black models on the front of magazines and black professionals appointed to top positions within the fashion industry shouldn’t be headline news. But it is headline news, indicating there are still strides to take and work to be done.
I’m routing for Edward and British Vogue to pleasantly surprise us.