Once seen only as a source of inspiration for big brands, the African fashion industry is beginning to thrive with a new recognition of a fresh generation of designers.

Currently in the midst of the second African Fashion Week London (AFWL), the brains behind the idea, entrepreneur Ronke Ademiluyi says about the event “my aim is to create more visibility for African designers and to create a one-stop shop for the public… We were expecting 500 people last year and almost 5,000 turned up. It was something people had clearly been waiting for.”

AFWL will showcase 60 designers, including Ghana’s Aisha Obuobi who launched Christie Brown in 2008. Her fashion line has made her Accra’s go-to girl for effortless feminine women swear with simple detailing such as covered buttons, feathers and fringing.

Stiaan Louw menswear designs reflect the clashing cultures of his native South Africa. Louw’s aim was to “shift the perceptions about the male archetypes whilst creating a global African menswear aesthetic.” Since the start of the brand in 2008, his fondness for cut and construction has increased and this shows in his most recent Olympic-themed collection. Named ‘Atletiek’, the collection features slim and sporty suiting.

Famed for his lavish evening and bridal wear, Adebayo Jones will provide the gala finale. He says about fashion, “As I was inspired by Yves Saint Laurent, I hope my participation will inspire young designers, the best African designers balance global seasonal trends with an intelligent reimagining of indigenous fabrics and adornments.”

Maki Oh is a label from Nigerian Designer Amake Osakwe and is popular with the likes of Solange Knowles. Her innate textiles are transformed into sensual pieces which are based upon traditional dress practices. Her latest collection focuses on body-conscious silhouettes made from an indigo-dyed patterned cloth called adire. Osakwe’s designs are based upon meanings that have been passed through generations and ensuring the wearer is aware of the fabrics used to make them.

Other celebrities that are fond of the African fashion are Kelis who has worn Lagos label Jewel by Lisa, and America’s first lady has regularly been seen wearing pieces by London-based Nigerian designer Duro Olowu.
Noisettes singer Shingai Shoniwa is also an avid supporter. The rich colour palettes and vibrant attitude fit well with where the western world is at the moment. People are turning towards emerging markets. “There’s a more confident generation taking risks,” she says.

Whilst the success of the fashion industry continues to rises, there are constant challenges to be faced. Due to the lack of formal fashion education, problems have arisen in pattern-cutting and styling to marketing and PR. There is no continent-wide body available to promote funding and poor infrastructure which results in slow production and raises costs. However, Olowu remains optimistic. ‘The customer must have desire for the products on their own merit and only then will they ask: “Oh, where was this made?”’ he says. “There are a lot of talented African designers showing potential and that’s why the fashion world is looking very hard at Africa right now.”


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