by Belinda Otas
In recent years, the African fashion landscape has experienced a rapid change that shows no sign of stopping. With designers who have honed their skills, a savvy generation of African bloggers, fashion journalists, websites and magazines, at no other time in history has there been this level of focus on what designers from the continent can do. The dominance of Paris, London, Milan and New York Fashion Weeks as the ultimate fashion capitals of the world is been challenged with over 7 fashion weeks on both sides of the Atlantic dedicated to African designers. From Dakar Fashion Week to Arise Fashion and Africa Fashion Weeks on the African Fashion calendar, the industry continues to grow and evolve in substance and strength.
It has not always been this way. Beatrice Arthur, of Ghanaian and Russian heritage, is the founder of B’EXOTIQ. Known to many as Bee, the designer can remember vividly just how much things have changed. “As a child, I recollect that going to a kiddies party wearing an African dress was a guarantee that the other kids would tease you throughout,” she said. “But over the decades, fashion in Africa has evolved tremendously. Our women can now opt for smart skirt suits and Hot short dresses or hot pants with halter neck tops. There’s more variety in terms of colours, patterns and textures. Our designers are getting more innovative and attention is paid to finishing and details. We enjoy the fabrics and clothing much more now and it’s no more synonymous with “not being modern.”
It is a challenging task to define what African fashion is, given that Africa is a continent of 53 nations with diverse people, cultures, traditions and sense of style. While Arthur says its “traditional African or contemporary garments made entirely or partially with African fabrics,” Dolapo Shobanjo, originally from Nigeria and co-founder of My Asho, a leading online retail outlet for African designs, gives a more complex view. “There’s no simple definition of African fashion. There’s a big misconception that it’s defined by African prints or tribal themes, but that’s not necessarily so. African fashion has its own aesthetic which is typified by the African woman who is so diverse and hard to define, strong and Amazonian. African fashion captures your attention. It’s bold, colourful and elegant and it’s international. It’s art.”