Is Africa Fashion’s Next Big Thing?
What’s the next big thing in fashion? Lately, signs are pointing to Africa. For starters, Franca Sozzani dedicated the entire May issue of L’Uomo Vogue to celebrating the continent’s intrinsic allure and creativity. This year’s International Herald Tribune Luxury conference will examine the growing African middle class as an emerging consumer as well as the region’s potential for manufacturing. And last night, Essence editor in chief Constance White led a panel discussion entitled Design Africa, where she and political journalist Chika Oduah held forth with Rogan and Loomstate co-founder Scott Hahn, Suno head of production Nadiyah Bradshaw, and Bantu swimwear designer Yodit Eklund about the future of design on the continent.
The consensus: There’s plenty to be done, but the potential is great. “China did not become China overnight,” Bradshaw said, going on to explain how at Suno, she helps Max Osterweis and Erin Beatty find ethical workshops and factories and effectively create needed job opportunities in places like Kenya. Panelists mused on the potential of African manufacturing and hoped that one day, a “Made in Nigeria” tag would be as highly regarded as a “Made in Italy” or a “Made in France” one.
In the meantime, people like panelist Enyinne Owunwanne (the founder of online African fashion retailer Heritage 1960) are working to promote Africa’s rising design stars. Owunwanne works with promising up-and-coming designers including Jewel By Lisa and The Summit, as well as artisans in South Africa, Nigeria, and Rwanda, which she features on her site. “Until recently, Africa has largely been underserved within the global fashion and design scene, but the continent has always been chock-full of amazingly talented designers and artists,” Owunwanne told Style.com. “It was only a matter of time before the world stage started to give due recognition to the talent stemming from Africa. Diasporan trailblazers such as Duro Olowu and Ozwald Boateng set the stage for an appreciation of African designers. The fashion industry has barely tipped the iceberg with African designers and inspiration coming from the continent, though. There is so much more to discover—this is truly just the beginning!”