A New African Fashion Narrative Is Being Created, And Designers Think It’s About Time.

“African fashion is not a trend,” claims Aisha Ayensu, creator and creative director of Christie Brown. Ayensu founded the company in Accra, Ghana in 2008, blending traditional designs such as wax prints and batik with contemporary voluminous sleeve tops and corset dresses. We have been doing this for years. It wasn’t fashionable for us.

As part of a new exhibition at the influential British arts and cultural institution, the Victoria and Albert Museum in the UK, Christie Brown wants to help shape and change the story surrounding African fashion. And one of the designers.From traditional silk Kente engagement dresses created by Ghanaian fashion designer Coffey Ansa to Rwandan brand Mosion

The exhibition highlights African fashion dating back to the 1950s, when continental nations began to break away from colonial rule, and emphasized the importance of traditional prints such as Kentecross as a symbol of wealth and status. increase. Interpretations of these modern ceremonial outfits traditionally worn by the royal family were created using wool and viscose.

Introducing three South African contemporary designers, Thebe Magugu, Rich Mnisi and Mmusomaxwell, as well as West African brands Orange Culture, Lagos Space Program and Iamisigo who participated in their own display curation.

Chanel hosted a fashion show in Dakar, Senegal later this year, Billimian invested $ 5 million annually in African and Diasporic brands, and AZ Factory’s recent guest designers Thebe Magugu and the 2019 LVMH Awards for Africa. Attention to fashion is increasing.

According to experts, African fashion is still undervalued, poorly understood in the West, and its range is often condensed into pigeon holes. Few large multi-brand shops sell African fashion. Some people who rely on small-scale production and work directly with the atelier are unable to expand production to meet the demands of international retailers, and brands are outside the domestic market. Making it difficult to sell.

Few materials adequately reflect the development and delicacy of continental fashion, and the fashion curriculum rarely recognizes the breadth and history of African designers.

According to Christine Chesinska, senior curator of textiles and apparel for African and African diaspora, who joined the facility in the summer of 2020, there was internal approval that V & A holdings were invalid.

When she joined the company, her duties included expanding the collection of African fashion fabric institutions and creating African fashion shows. We have always collected artifacts from the continent, but Africa and its diaspora were undervalued in our collection compared to the rest of the world.

As a museum, I think it was already acknowledged that the fashion scene had an impact and that the museum wanted to work on it.
According to Christie Brown’s Ayensu, the work devoted to curating and summarizing the exhibition was important as she first questioned the purpose of the V & A. According to her, it is really important to ensure that it remains true to us as an African company.
“We weren’t watered down, and seeing African design through the European prism wasn’t the goal. It was to observe the diverse range of our work and the brands represented. ..

The exhibition contains the voices of many designers, and Chesinska says it is a special element she wanted to include. Quotes from each designer were displayed next to their product description. Adebayo Oke-lawal, creator of Orange Culture, says, “Clothes are flowing and everyone should be able to wear them.”

Omoemi Akerele, creator and director of Lagos Fashion Week and Stylehouse Files, said of the exhibition:

“African dresses are always here. It’s part of us … In addition to designers, there’s an entire ecosystem of models, makeup artists, photographers and illustrators.
According to Erica de Grief, co-director of the African Fashion Institute, the industry has always ignored African fashion.

The two terms “Africa” ​​and “fashion” were rarely found in books, together on pages, and in exhibition titles when we started teaching fashion in South Africa 20 years ago. “

In her opinion, this move is an effort to “reverse the colonial nature of museums” and represents a fundamental and significant change in this area.

The need to decolonize the curriculum remains.
The display serves as a reminder that additional research on African dresses is needed.
According to Frederica Brooksworth, Managing Director of the International Council for African Fashion Education, “Not much knowledge is available to people about African fashion, and few have had the opportunity to learn about African fashion. Sensei ”(CIAFE).
“I think this exhibition will open the hearts of many people and change their view of African fashion.

And I believe that many institutions will appreciate the value of decolonizing the fashion curriculum.

According to De Greef, the next step is to analyze the delicacy of African dresses. The range of continental clothing has not been thoroughly investigated. She argues that more depth and nuance are needed. She said, “There are still many clichés, and some of the options are still pretty bright and colorful …

But what is happening in Rwanda is different from what is happening in Tanzania and in Mozambique.
Grief argues that fashion varies from continent to continent, but some of these outfits cross the boundaries of couture and streetwear and are difficult to classify.

Value of “Made in Africa”
Some are still seeing the opportunity to expand their presence on the Internet and change their perception of “Made in Africa” ​​by strengthening their online platform. Sarah Diouf, founder of Senegalese-based company Tongoro, claims that access to African fashion has been very difficult for a very long time.
We are only e-commerce and it has been difficult to obtain African fashion brands for a long time, so this business strategy has allowed us to thrive in the larger fashion sector.

She continues. “Changing the perception of’Made in Africa’is a long-term topic of effort. “

For Diuf, whose clothing is all procured and manufactured on the continent, “Made in Africa” ​​products are less important and require work to refute the myth of attracting domestic and foreign consumers. You can make clothes as good as in Europe and other fashions.

According to Diouf, this influences Tongoro’s pricing approach. She decided not to price more than $ 230 in order to expand the company to the international market and enhance the appeal of African fashion outside the African Continent. “Things related to Africa haven’t had a positive image for a very long time,” she claims.

It was very important to me to give people the option to buy African fashion and encourage them to do so. So, in a sense, clothing had to be affordable.
Merchantson Long (MOL), a South African concept store specializing in African fashion, sponsors V & A’s African fashion show and says it will maintain momentum by hosting numerous pop-ups and events throughout the UK starting in September. I am.

To connect foreign buyers with African companies, the company’s CEO Hannelli Rupert said it would open e-commerce to the UK market.

Retailers are eager to expand their customers and stock some of the fashion houses that participated in the exhibition, including Tongoro.

Manufacturing scaling along with capital “Made in Africa” Brands can still be difficult for companies looking for new luxury partners. Tongoro is available on Net-a-Porter this month. This was an exciting development for the company, “it was a barrier for us because everything is handmade in Senegal and has not reached industrial level production.”

The long-term goal that remains unchanged after attending the exhibition is to “revitalize the local retail manufacturing industry in West Africa, including Senegal.”
Christie Brown’s Ayence, who has tripled her ability since 2020 but still feels inadequate, reflects that attitude.

“We want to grow our business to meet growing demand,” she says.
“That’s one area and problem we want to overcome.” We did a great job of understanding what our customers wanted … the current focus is simply on a sufficient supply of products and greater distribution. Is to have. We need money to achieve that. According to Ayensu, her company consists of 40% online sales and 60% in-store sales.

But for many aspiring designers, international expansion is not the only goal. According to South African designer Rich Munisi, the brand is reaching a new audience thanks to the international attention of the exhibition. However, its purpose is to maintain the expansion of the local market.

Initially, Mnisi explained, “Our clothes were made for the global market, but we chose to focus on South Africa. It was the best decision we have ever made.” “Like most great brands, they first built a strong foothold in the neighborhood. That’s what we do.”

There is still work to be done. The show is arguably an important achievement, but Diouf says it’s just the beginning. “Daily work in the atelier, coaching tailors, and trying to maintain and improve the quality we have as the brand continues to grow over time is of utmost importance to me,” she said. Said.

Courtesy of content Vogue business & NFH

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