“When Louis Vuitton did a collection three years ago with Masaai fabric we jerked to attention. The crux being we had the fabric for as long as the mind can wander but we only pounced on its wonder when the West okayed it. That applies to African print too as worn by fashion-forward Gwen Stefani, earthy Solange and her superstar sister Beyonce.” By Carol Odero for Daily Nation
The most common question I get asked almost everyday is “What is African Fashion?” Honestly, you would think the answer is as simple as fashion from Africa. But that would be deceiving. My response every time; “How do you describe fashion?” Some of the answers I have received; “well fashion to me is a way of life,” it’s about boosting one’s confidence through clothing,” “it’s often a reflection of what is trendy or in the moment,” “it’s about expressing oneself creatively through clothes” and “it’s a mix of what we like, our personalities, our culture, all infused in the clothes we fear.” If fashion as observed from these responses is about a way of life, or clothing, trends, or personalities or creativity, why should African fashion be any different?
The reason in my humble opinion many people find it difficult to describe African Fashion even in 2015 is because they often want to label it as prints or fabrics or something exotic emanating from the continent of Africa.Even Wikipedia describes African Fashion as “the traditional clothing, often vibrantly colored, worn by the people of Africa.” Really, “only worn by people of Africa,” how myopic or belittling is this. African fashion is more than prints and more that clothes worn by people of Africa only. It is about a unique vision and quite frankly clothes that celebrate one’s cultural heritage, one’s personality, or one’s creativity. I cannot say it enough, but it is “more than that which is worn by an African in Africa made for Africa by an African.” Of course, chances are the clothes are made in Africa, but that’s not always the case. Chances are only Africans think about African fashion, but that’s not always the case either.
Carol Odero wrote a fascinating piece on What really is African Fashion for Kenya’s Daily Nation (please read here). In her piece, she stated that part of the reason people find it difficult to describe or in many cases reject African Fashion is because “it isn’t sleek or sophisticated,” and “it lacks the practicality of day to day wear.” She goes to state the following about African Fashion: “It is as cosmopolitan and rural as it is individual and communal. It is the attempt to capture that unpredictable, heated pulse of Africa in a fabric…The power structure in the international fashion industry locks out African talent and people of colour… Our culture is a great source of inspiration to those observing us yet we remain oblivious to our own cultural value. We dismiss our history, heritage and storytelling aspect of those who came before us. This robs us of inspiration, lessons and knowledge.”
What Carol is stating and which I totally agree with is that African Fashion is about inspiration from the various cultures and customs of Africa. It is not about labeling us only by our prints, fashion made only in Africa, or our designers taking inspiration only from the West, but instead, it’s about embracing our history, our heritage, our personality, our storytelling and infusing them in a creative way, in our clothing.
Image Credit: Huffington Post