African Fashion Equals Big Business

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One factor that has contributed immensely to the confidence seen across the board where African fashion is concerned is the use of African fabrics. Over the years, fabrics like kente, which originates in Ghana, Aso-Oke, and Adire (Tie&Dye), both synonymous with the Yoruba tribe of Nigeria, and Bogolanfini (mud cloth), which originates from Mali, among others have shaped the industry and continue to redefine it. Of these various fabrics, none has successfully captured the imagination of African and western designers alike like Ankara (African wax print). Some say ‘Ankara is to African fashion, what denim is to the West.’ Known for its versatility, bold and vivid colours, and designs which include larger than life geometric shapes, it is a fabric for all seasons. Adaptable, it is used for dresses, bags, shoes, jewellery and has limitless possibilities, when combined with the right creativity.

Burberry recently used African print as part of its Prorsum 2012 Collection, while Aldo had a summer footwear collection by Julian Louie, all made from African prints. Celebrities like Beyonce, Alicia Keys and Rihana have been spotted in Ankara pieces by Boxing Kitten, a US based fashion outfit. The African fashion industry can also boast of a big fan in the First Lady of the United States. According to Haute Fashion Africa, one of the leading news websites on African fashion, Michelle Obama, made an ‘impressive fashion statement on the motherland’ during her recent trip to South Africa. Her choice of clothing included a jacket from the fall/winter 2010 collection of Duro Oluwo, a Nigerian designer and an ASOS Africa print shirt.

However, will the use of African print lose its appeal? Adiat Disu, a US-based Nigerian and founder of Africa Fashion Week, New York (AFWNY), said: “African fabrics will never be a temporal phase. We have been using it for years. It’s part of our life. Africa is so diverse and vibrant and it’s reflected in our culture, even in our clothes.” Her view is shared by Shobanjo. “The bold and colourful prints I suppose represent the bold and colourful nature of Africans. We definitely can’t keep using the prints in the same way. As with all fashion, we have to find ways to keep it fresh and innovative and there’s so much more to African fabrics than the prints.”

Vlisco, a Dutch owned company is one of the world’s biggest players when it comes to the production of African prints and its relationship with the continent goes as far back as 1900s. Its dazzling textiles are a firm part of west and central African culture and its biggest market bases on the continent include Nigeria, DRC, Ghana and Ivory Coast. Ester Huigen, brand Communications manager for Vlisco explains that Ankara has changed from being a fabric that was worn by women going about their daily routine to it been heavily involved in the fashion landscape.”

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