African fashion has long been in the realm of Europe and the United States

African fashion has long been seen as the purview of Europe and the United States, so that when people make the argument that fashion is an African idea, or even an idea native to Africa, it can be met with something between a snort and a sigh.

The same can be said for ideas about sttyle in Africa, from class (as I mentioned) to skin-lightening products, which lead some outsiders to see Africa as a place where people just don’t care about how they look.

What is your first impression of your assignment for the AZ Factory?

I’ve shot in African fashion before and I love it. I think it has a lot of mystery and power, so I was happy to be back.

At first, when they told me they were going to send me to Africa with this designer, I thought: OK, there are beautiful cultures and traditions here. I was curious to see what they were going to do with that.

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What should be the future of African fashion?

While African fashion has been responsible for some of the world’s most innovative textiles throughout history, its fashion industry faces numerous challenges. In this episode, we explore what should be the future of fashion.

A group of young designers have been creating African fashion-inspired collections and showcasing them in Paris, London and other fashion capitals. But can these designs change the way we think about African fashion?

In an effort to find out, we visit a group of young designers from Nigeria. They have been creating audacious collections inspired by their heritage, and showcasing them in Paris, London and other fashion capitals. One of them is Uche Nnaji, who is based in Lagos and runs a clothing brand called Orange Culture. His clothes are colourful and fun but also very chic, so they appeal to both Africans and non-Africans alike — including big names like Naomi Campbell and Rihanna.

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How did you decide to create your brand?

Cocody is a brand that is inspired by the women of my country, Ivory Coast. The name of the brand comes from the name of a neighborhood in Abidjan, where I grew up and where my mother lives.

  • I started to create my own clothes when I was a teenager. My mother had a sewing machine and I learned how to use it.
  • It was after my military service, which took me away from my family for two years, that I decided to design clothes for myself because I missed them so much.
  • I created some clothes for myself, but for my friends too, according to their desires and their body types. After that, it became a real business idea.

One day, a friend came to see me: she wanted me to make her wedding dress. Once she got married, each of her friends came to ask me to make their dress too! It was then that I started thinking about creating a brand.

How do you feel about how people perceive beauty in Africa?

When you think of the African continent, what do you picture? Do you imagine beautiful landscapes, diverse cultures and people with rich histories? Or do you picture poverty, disease and war?

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The media often shows us images of conflict and devastation in Africa, which leads many to believe it is a place only worthwhile for charitable giving. But this is not how we are meant to see Africa. We cannot lose sight of its beauty, diversity and prosperity.

This is what inspired us to set up a social enterprise that champions African fashion designers and businesses. The product we are most proud of is our Kuwala Box — a subscription service that delivers curated collections from African brands directly to our customers’ doors each month.

In developing this project we found that our biggest challenge was changing the way people saw Africa. We had to counter the negative perceptions about the continent by encouraging people to acknowledge its beauty and diversity.

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We have built a network of over 100 African fashion designers because we believe it’s important for people to see African creativity through the eyes of Africans.

What are you most excited about for this upcoming fall season?

The fall season is the time when people begin to wear more interesting clothes. I’m excited about what people are wearing on the street.

How would you describe your personal style?

My style is casual and comfortable, but it’s also very romantic. I like to wear something that makes me feel beautiful, something that will make other people look at me and be happy.

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What do you think it means to be beautiful?

To be beautiful, first of all you have to feel beautiful, and then the rest of the world will see that beauty. A woman is a queen, no matter what her skin color or her hair texture. You just have to know that you’re beautiful already, and then the rest of the world will notice it too.

Why is it important to you to be a designer?

I think it’s important to be a designer because I like to create. I like the process of creating, starting from a raw material and transforming it into something that has some meaning. When it comes to fashion, there’s the idea of clothing becoming an extension of the body and clothing being something that can be used as a tool for change. It’s not just about what people wear, it’s also about how they feel in their clothes.

I think that fashion can be used as a tool to spark conversations around self-expression and different cultures around the world. In my work, I try to explore these ideas through clothing.

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What role do you feel fashion plays in African development?

African fashion is a significant part of the African renaissance. It’s very important, but it’s also undervalued. I think people are starting to realise that fashion can be a platform for development, not just a creative industry but also as a business.

I think Africa is having a moment now – and it’s not just in fashion. You see it where people are reacting positively to the continent, wanting to invest in all aspects of Africa, across various sectors. We’re going to see more and more development initiatives that have never considered before.

The rise of social media means you can’t keep anything under wraps anymore; you have to be authentic and real from the beginning. The world has become so small that there’s no way of hiding who you really are or what you really do.

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How do you feel about the global fashion industry?

Take a look at the world of fashion, and it’s not hard to see where it draws its influences from. The global fashion industry is based on European aesthetics and norms. In fact, until the early 20th century, most Western clothing was made by hand or in small factories.

That changed in the 1920s when US companies Cotton Incorporated and Rayon Incorporated began to produce large quantities of affordable, machine-made clothes. These clothes were inspired by European couture designs and produced overseas, initially in Europe and later in Asia and Latin America.

This meant that Western designers were able to produce more clothes for less money. But it also meant that some countries had their own fashion industries decimated.

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Do you think that in the next 10 years, there will be a significant change to the way fashion is perceived in Africa? How will this happen?

Yes, I do think that Africa will one day become the fashion capital of the world. In the next 10 years, I see Africa becoming a very powerful entity in the fashion industry. There are countless African designers who have been flying under the radar for years. These designers are only just now starting to get recognition, and it’s not just because of their beautiful garments; it’s because they’re using their influence to be a voice on social issues.

Fashion is changing rapidly. The African designers who are being acknowledged as influences are starting to use their platforms to talk about things that matter — like the effects of climate change and CO2 emissions on our planet, or the importance of gender equality and female empowerment

We need to give people opportunities and a platform where they can express themselves through fashion. We also need more inclusion in terms of different cultures and ethnicities represented in all aspects of fashion.

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Thank You For Reading

AJAY RAWAT

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