Africa's Fashion Capitals

    Typically, when people think of fashion capitals, New York, Paris, London and Milan instantly come to mind. Popularized not only by their homegrown design talent and industry support, but by their Fashion Week productions as well.

    However, a change is afloat.  The past few years have seen a growing interest in African fashion & style, which in turn has served as inspiration for designers globally.  Although international fashion weeks provide unparalleled visibility and business exposure, let’s not forget that well-executed fashion weeks on the continent provide an opportunity for designers to appeal to a never changing and rapidly growing middle consumer class often consisting of individuals who have studied/worked abroad but ultimately made their way back home.  This is supported by the rise of street style culture, boutique openings, and a greater appreciation for local brands with a global aesthetic.

    Today, we’re giving you a round-up of African fashion capitals that are on their way towards becoming the next wave of global fashion cities.


    While Nigeria is known more for its burgeoning film industry, Nollywood, and thriving music industry which produces mega stars like D’Banj and P Square, it is steadily becoming a fashion capital to be reckoned with globally.  Arise Magazine held the first ever Arise Magazine Fashion Week this past March in Lagos.  It was a showcase of Africa’s finest designers, including Jewel By Lisa (Nigeria),Christie Brown (Ghana), and emerging talent like Madam Wokie (Sierra Leone) and Maki Oh (Nigeria).  Other fashion events held in Lagos this past year include Music Meets Runway, and countless fashion networking and shopping events like Le Petit Marche.  Fashion initiatives include the “Buy Nigerian” movement, started by Style House Files who are also responsible for the upcoming MTN Lagos Fashion Week Awards. Websites and blogs are also getting in on the fashion action like Bella Naija and One Nigerian Boy. New fashion magazines launch by the month, with notable pubs including Fab MagazineMania and more.


    According to the April 2011 edition of Marie Claire UK , Nairobi is the “new New York”! Marie Claire cited locally made labels who have reached a global audience, including womenswear brandSuno and accessory line Ashley Pittman.   Suno’s first collection was made entirely with vintage Kenyan kangas that Suno Co-Founder, Max Osterweiss, had amassed over the years.  UK based retailer, ASOS, also employs local Kenyans, through Soko Kenya, to manufacture an apparel line for  “ASOS Africa”.  To top it off, ASOS donates 10 pounds from every ASOS Africa purchase to the development of Soko Kenya. Vivienne Westwood is the most recent brand to produce its Ethical Fashion Africa line in the country.  Kenyan bloggers like Nancie Mwai of The Fashion Notebook and  online fashion magazine Kasha  (whom you may also remember from her Guest Curated Accessory Edit last week), as well as designers like Black Bird Jeans and Kiko Romeo are gaining attention outside of the country. Annual fashion events include Fashion For African Fashion and Arts (FAFA) and Swahili Fashion Week to spotlight designers as well.


    While lovers of African fashion in the Diaspora were busy attending Africa Fashion Week NY(check out  56 looks we loved), our Afronista friends in Capetown, South Africa were scoping out design talent at Capetown Fashion Week.  African Fashion International is the main organizer of  this long running event which features established designers like Gavin Rajah as well as industry darlings such as Lalesso.  The purpose of Capetown Fashion Week is to support South African and African designers, to encourage South Africans to buy homemade textiles, and to promote tourism through a recent partnership with South African Tourism. The Capetown Fashion Council also recently launched the WOZA (Wear Only South African) campaign in order to promote economic sustainability.


    Joburg Fashion Week is also organized by African Fashion International and has a similar mission as Capetown Fashion Week.  Joburg is a city known for its glitz and glamour and its fashion week draws big name celebrities like the cast of American soap opera “The Bold and Beautiful”, who attended the event  last February.  One of the most buzzed about moments of the fashion event wasDavid Tlale’s show which took place on the Nelson Mandela Bridge. The show started over three hours late (can we say beyond fashionably late?) but was made worth the wait when 92 models, signifying Nelson Mandela’s age, sashayed down the bridge in his gorgeous gowns.  Joburg also has a bustling street style culture which has allowed photographers such as Nontsikelelo Veleko to further gain in popularity.


    Adama Paris, creator of Dakar Fashion Week and final presenter for Africa Fashion Week NY recently exclaimed, in regards to creating Dakar Fashion Week, “It is the time for African fashion and  fabric. It is colorful and something different. We want to show a different Africa, not just war and death that the West shows but a bit of glamour “. We couldn’t agree more!  Also hailing from Senegal, is Oumou Sy, one of Africa’s most notable designers and amongst Guest Curator Helen Jennings top picks for African trailblazers within fashion and design.


    Luanda is becoming an emerging force within the African fashion scene as a result of it’s growing consumer class and increased support for local designers.  Held for the first time last year with a jointFashion Business Expo in December 2010, Angola Fashion Week received rave reviews from African media.  This helped spotlight the nation, which many still identify with its former civil wars, in a new and refreshing light. Participating designers included Nadir Tati who was hand picked to show at Africa Fashion Week New York this past July.


    Accra is another West African locale high on our African Fashion Capitals raider.  Global design talent hailing from Ghana includes Christie BrownMimi Plange, and Anita Quansah.  Meanwhile, Accra plays host to events such as the upcoming Ghana Fashion Awards and soon to be launchedGhana Fashion & Design Week.


    Other emerging African fashion cities include Maputo, for their two years in the running Mozambique Fashion WeekHarare, whose second Zimbabwe Fashion Week will be held this August; and most recently Bamako, for their soon to be launched Mali Fashion Week in December which our Creative Director Enyinne Owunwanne recently announced at a press conference at the United Nations in New York City. Kampala, Uganda is one to keep an eye out for as their designers are making their presence known in the Diaspora with the first ever Ugandan Fashion Extravaganza (UK).


    Clockwise from Left: One Nigerian Boy, Le Petite Marche, Arise Magazine Fashion Week (Lanre Da Silva)

    Clockwise from Top Left: Ashley Pittman, Suno's Premiere Collection w/ Vintage Kangas, Soko Kenya

    Clockwise from Top Left: WOZA Website, Lalesso SS12, Cape Town Fashion Week 2011 Campaign

    Street Style by Nontsikelelo Veleko, David Tlale Joburg Fashion Week Finale on Nelson Mandela Bridge, Joburg Fashion Week 2011 Campaign

    Clockwise from Top Left: Dakar Fashion Week, Nadir Tati, Adama Paris

    Clockwise from Left: Mali Fashion Week, Mimi Plange w/ Andre Leon Tally, Mozambique Fashion Week

    “We’ve basically been exporting our culture.  But now it is a renaissance.  We’re adding value to what is ours to make it globally acceptable and globally appealing.”

    - Nigerian Designer Deola Sagoe