From my previous blog posts, I’m pretty sure that we can all tell that Africa has influenced western fashion for as long as it has existed. A multitude of African traditions have been used as a rich source of inspiration; Yves Saint Laurent, Dior, Louis Vuitton, Jean Paul Gaultier, Comme des Garcons and many others have been inspired by the continent’s history, people and culture but have unfortunately failed to understand the significance between cultural appropriation and cultural appreciation.
However we are now in a phase of transformation where the current outpour of creative talent isn’t from the big western brands “inspired” by Africa, but instead from African designers making their mark onto the western art scene. African fashion is riding a wave of creative output and recognition, gaining global press and an international clientele after being ignored and copied for decades. Our time as Africans to show the world what we have to offer has finally come!
The rise of African fashion
In the last couple of years, we have seen the rise of everything African thanks to this educated generation of the diaspora who are open to the world and proud of its dual culture. These days everyone is proud to be African and is keen to learn about their cultures. The world had never been as creative as it right now, our generation has access to resources that we did not know even existed 100 years ago and this helps to explain why there are so many breakout African stars in Arts, Music, Fashion etc. And of course, we can not forget the rise of equality. The reason as to why African fashion has become a phenomenon is because our generation, one of which hasn’t waited for outside interest, but rather has taken matters into their own hands by creating their own businesses, brands, media and blogs to validate what has not been validated up until now.
There has been a steady outpouring of creative talent from across the continent from photographers, furniture designers and fine artists, to jewellery and fashion designers. So it’s no surprise that the western world wants a Vogue Africa! The continent has a fast-growing creative industry, one showcasing the diversity and talent of the region. Today, we see the popularity of the natural hair movement (thanks to influencers and celebrities sharing their own natural hair journeys), of African fashion (through the explosion of African Fashion Weeks), an opening up of African art and aestheticism (through artists like Mary Sibande, Toyin Odutola and Yinka Shonibare) and the emergence of new role models (Richard Turere, Lupita Nyongo, Chimamanda Ngozie Adichie). We now live in a connected and engaged generation that dares to denounce acts of racism or even ordinary stigmatization by putting up a united front against all of it taking on, for instance, the use of blackface and the absence of black mannequins in fashion, the lack of diversity within the fashion industry etc and most importantly cultural appropriation. A conscious and responsible generation that wants to contribute, in its own way, to a renewal in how the world sees Africa. In other words, every single day we are changing Africa’s narrative!
As African fashion is becoming a global phenomenon, there are many questions I think we Africans must consider regarding the future of our fashion. How does the globalisation of African fashion affect the continent of Africa? How can we ensure the sustainability of African fashion labels? How will the influx of RTW (Ready to wear) designers affect local tailors both in the continent and abroad? While these RTW labels may garner success outside of the continent, how will they fare against the cheaper custom-made styles provided by local tailors within the Continent? How will we use the globalisation of African fashion to uplift the image of our continent?