By Fashion Minority Committee Members Sofia Celeste and Marcellous Jones Is it really fair to use the term “African Fashion” when talking about a diverse continent that contains 54 countries, each with their own creative patrimony, resources and challenges? “When you group us together instead of having a country by country approach, you lose the […]
By Fashion Minority Committee Members Sofia Celeste and Marcellous Jones
Is it really fair to use the term “African Fashion” when talking about a diverse continent that contains 54 countries, each with their own creative patrimony, resources and challenges?
“When you group us together instead of having a country by country approach, you lose the very essence of what makes ‘African fashion’ African,” reflects Omoyemi Akerele, the founder and executive director of Style House Files, a fashion business development agency that primarily focuses on the Nigerian and African Fashion Industry. “I rarely see the term Asian Fashion or ‘European Fashion thrown around over and over again,” she adds.
To be clear, there is a galaxy of artisan craft, political ideologies, economies and deposits of natural resources throughout the continent. Yet, in spite of the civil wars, a variety of painful colonial horrors and Europe’s continued interference in internal and regional affairs, each nation is woven with its own mix of investment opportunities and hurdles. This is especially the case when one considers the trillion dollar estimates of growth that are being thrown around in the West, conjuring a new chapter of hope for Africa’s one billion strong population, which is expected to double by 2050.
While countries like South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Ivory Coast and Ghana are cultivating a community of tech startups and luxury labels, other African nations including Burundi, Rwanda, Ethiopia and the island of Seychelles are still in the infant stages of creating a competitive industry dominated by the local population.
“We need to teach people how to sew,” says John Bunyeshuli, founder of Kigali Fashion Week in Rwanda. “A luxury travel destination where the pains of the genocide between the Hutus and the Tutsis are still palpable”, Bunyeshuli says. “The country is on-track to propelling its designers into a new era.”
Bunyeshuli adds that the industry faces a lack of proper training and the sort of mentorship that leads to professionalism. In addition, aid remains low from the surrounding, more powerful nations. “There was talk of an African [economic] Union that never really materialised. We’re still waiting”, he adds, noting that cultivating proper marketing and promotion channels, linking with the right firms and celebrity promotion also remains a priority. Through Kigali Fashion Week’s efforts, brands like Shema Touch of Rwanda have shown on the catwalks of Europe, Tokyo and Seoul.
Designer Charlotte Shema’s love for fashion was sparked by her mother’s knitting talents and flair for colour. She eventually went on to work with a startup fashion company in Kigali, expanding her skills into sewing, cutting, designing, drawing and client communications. Due to Covid, Shema has had to offset a drop in orders by conducting sewing courses while remaining hopeful for a return to normality.
“Rwanda is a small country with very limited resources. We very much depend on imported raw materials, which makes [producing fashion in] the country a bit expensive,” she remarks, while adding that investments and youth entrepreneurship and skills are crucial for Rwandan fashion’s future.
Read the full article on the Fashion Minority Alliance website here.