As a fashion enthusiast, not even a long day at work or the rain was going to stop me from attending Europe’s biggest event for African fashion: Africa Fashion Week London! #AFWL.
AFWL provides a platform for established, and up and coming African/African inspired designers, models and industry entrepreneurs to showcase their work. For 3 days the Olympia London Exhibition Centre, Kensington played host to this major event, welcoming hundreds of press, media and fashion-conscious individuals.
There’s more to AFWL than beautiful men and women in beautiful clothes. Behind the bright lights of the central catwalk and the goddess like models who elegantly strut upon it, there is a rich culture that inspires it all. It is important to remember through all the glitz and glamour, AFWL also has a vital message to relay to its audiences. When showcasing a part of their vibrant culture and traditions, many designers from Africa and the African diaspora do so in the hope of making enough money to feed back into their own economies whether it is through job creation, education, empowerment etc, thus generating a sustainable way of living.
I spoke to Jacqueline Shaw the author of Fashion Africa who delves into the subject of sustainable fashion in her book. She explains how she has worked tirelessly over a 16 month period to create a masterpiece of work which highlights over 40 African designers who have specifically sourced Africa for their materials and designs. Find out more about Jacqueline and her book here.
Africa has been a land of a simply breathtaking array of different styles for centuries, even millennia, and it’s certainly not all style without substance. In fact, one of the most impressive things about the clothes and other items that make up African fashion is their practicality.
The young designers at this event would have seen their grandmothers, mothers, and myriad aunties put together entirely by hand beautiful Ankara or Kente garments, stunning Gélé headwear and intricate beaded jewellery, and now they honour these traditions with their own work. Much like their relatives before them who sold materials in marketplaces in Lagos or Harare in days gone by; this new generation boldly makes strides into the world of modern business. Their entrepreneurial spirit is not just a testament to their own skills but speaks to the talent of a whole culture. Following in the footsteps of their ancestors these new innovators show that African fashion has a whole lot to offer, and it is most definitely here to stay.
The Fashion Show
On the Saturday the exhibition hall was buzzing, quite reminiscent of a bustling, street market in say Ghana, Kenya or Nigeria.
As I milled around, chatting with a number of flamboyant stall holders and guests, my attention was drawn to a stunningly lit, white catwalk, where the last performances of the night were about to take place. I took my position in the press pit at the bottom of the runway in order to capture some of this year’s hot designs. In particular, the TIRFASHIONHOUSE collection caught my eye, with their bold hybrid, statement pieces, carefully positioned on the bodies of beautiful African models, gracing the catwalk with poise and confidence.
Brun et Noir Hosiery. Buki is the brains behind the innovative concept of ‘Brun et Noir Hosiery’. Brun et Noir Hosiery caters for women of colour by delivering a product that compliments the different shades of brown and makes the colour ‘nude’ an inclusive concept for darker skin tones. After speaking to Buki, who said that she developed the brand because she “…wanted to develop something that was inclusive of the Asian, African, Caribbean and mixed race woman…” I truly believe that with her kind nature and business acumen, ‘Brun et Noir’ will go from strength to strength.
Moving along the row of market stalls it was both interesting and inspiring to see how the traditional Liputa, Ankara, African designs and patterns were being revamped and developed to cater for the younger, more modern man/woman in the form of handbags, trainers, club wear etc…
Newell Accessories. Kyshia, a timid young girl from Birmingham had travelled to London to showcase her ‘craftswomanship’ in designing intricate, hand-made African-inspired accessories. While I had the chance I grabbed Kyshia from the gaggle of women occupying her stall for a quick word. Kyshia explained that she had been designing and making pieces of jewellery as a hobby for a number of years and was urged by her family to take it to the next level and start her own business. Established for around nine months now, Kyshia describes how AFWL is a great platform to showcase her designs and spread the word about her gorgeous collection.
Web: Newell Accessories
Kiyana Wraps’ stall was manned by a string of glamorous young ladies, (Florenne, Christelle, Tyeisha and Madelene); all adorned in elaborate head wear. Whilst one of the girls demonstrated how to perfect the head wrap on a customer, I pulled aside another for a chat. I asked where the idea came from and how it all began:“Kiyana Wraps are beautiful pieces of material which are made into bespoke head wraps…Head wraps have been in our family for years, it all started by us just practising and creating new designs with friends and family…we wanted to update the look and mix the old traditional Congolese prints for the modern woman… My sister was actually spotted wearing a head wrap whilst attending a talk show in Tanzania “The Sporah show”. The host encouraged her to start her own business.”
When I questioned the girls what they thought about AFWL they replied:
“We come every year! It’s a great place to showcase our work, promote our business and get everybody wrapping!”
Web: Kiyana Wraps
Photographs by Sebastian
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Angela Inniss recently graduated with an MA in Translation and Interpreting studies from the University of Manchester and also holds a BA in Languages with Tourism. Born in Manchester, Angela is of Bajan/Nevisian descent and is now based in London where she works as a translator and content writer for a sports company. Aside from her day job Angela also volunteers for the charity C.A.N Community Arts North West (a Manchester-based arts development organisation working with urban communities across Greater Manchester) and contributes to Lisapo, which aims to raise awareness, highlight issues and inform people about daily life in the DR Congo. Find her on Twitter @Angieyaya
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