Why authentic African Fashion matters and how it is taking its rightful place on the global stage


“Africa has shaken off its history of replicating international fashion trends, Africans are clearly defining what is African. Fashion is bringing about a new season of freedom and exploration into African narratives. Whether it is the music, art or the broader world of African design.”

This is the viewpoint of Nicola Cooper, Founder of Nicola Cooper & Associates - Trend Researcher, Analyst and Cultural Strategist. And, it is a viewpoint echoed by many across South Africa and Africa’s fashion and creative industries. A fringe programme to be aired at allfashion sourcing by Messe Frankfurt South Africa, a subsidiary of Messe Frankfurt,  the world’s largest trade fair, congress, event organiser owning its fairground, will see players across the local fashion and creative industries share their thoughts not only on the importance of African fashion, but so too the measures needed to ensure the sustainability of these industries and businesses moving forward.

Africa is progressively taking its place on the global stage, with this involvement no longer limited to aesthetics only. “Increasingly we are seeing African designers invited to co-collaborate,” continues Cooper. “It is no longer about global trend analysts defining what they see as African trends, without any feet on the ground or real understanding of the finer nuances and delicacies behind so many of our African cultures. Rather, the world is becoming more and more interested in what Africa has to say and what Africa has to show.”

This, in turn, yields enormous opportunity. Not only for our culture and heritage to take its deserved place on the world stage but also resulting in a new awakening and awareness of what Africa has to offer. “The real opportunity though lies in the huge amount of African Intellectual Property that is still relatively largely untapped,” continues Cooper, “and the resulting knock on effect of untapping that potential for players in the local fashion and creative industry, and our local economy.”

As Africa carves out its own identity, not just for local consumers but broadly appealing to international audiences, it is important to understand how to monetise this both locally and globally. “Our approach to marketing needs to shift,” says Cooper. “We need to understand the increasing importance of black consumers buying from black businesses. It’s not about being anti- white, it is about creating access to an incredible resource of people that haven’t had access before.”

Says Tamburai Chirume, Director and Co-Founder of ONEOFEACH, a Cape Town fashion-based mother and daughter design duo focusing on preserving the African heritage through designing beautiful contemporary African fashion items, “In a sense, we’ve allowed international brands to become huge and we can do the same as a continent. It’s time that we start preserving wealth within our own continent. It’s important for me to buy from my neighbour and to choose a brand that is manufactured here. They’re good quality – why would I not spend that bit more on something that will support a local enterprise?”

With no fewer than 60% of retailers developing propositions to work with local communities, the knock-on effect of this on building communities and building economies is huge. But the potential lies even beyond that. It’s time we increased our focus on local manufacturing. Not only due to lessons learnt during the current COVID19 pandemic around minimising the risk of the majority of one’s manufacturing taking place in other countries, but as importantly the myriad of additional opportunities that would be created by other players in the supply chain, leveraging off local knowledge for supply to a global audience. “And not only to manufacture local for local, but local for global as well, so easily facilitated by the online world that it is a completely natural next step,” says Cooper.

Says Chirume, “As an African and black business, it’s about normalising excellence. It’s important that we change the footprint – of paving the way for a new generation to follow after. Doing that consistently is really important.”

In keeping with the growing international trend for authentic and original African design, the theme for this year’s Cape Town Young Designers Competition Awards 2020 Showcase (YDC2020), focuses on AFRICA IS NOW. This year’s YDC2020 finalists are being called upon to design an on-trend, retail ready look that will inspire and excite African consumers. Convened by Messe Frankfurt, and run in conjunction with Allfashion sourcing, the annual business-oriented marketplace combining African creativity, design and manufacturing with international sourcing options, this year’s event will take place virtually from Tuesday 3 to Thursday 5 November.

Says Cooper, responsible for compiling this year’s brief, “the designers created their own prints. This was not part of the brief, but the accessibility of fabric was limited. If ten young designers created their own prints, imagine the innovation that is available on the continent if that was commercialized? It is not only about what African trends and fashion mean to the world, but it is also about understanding our own importance! Take South Africa as an example. South African industry players have knowledge and experience of a diverse, dynamic market that needs to take into consideration culture, religion, economy and sociology. This knowledge base is a valuable resource to Western brands too in navigating a new, dynamic world.”

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