The African Continent: A New Force in International Luxury Fashion
As a category, luxury fashion used to be the domain of old European atelier and fashion houses. The most popular names, the most recognized brands and the most talented designers were either from, or often
As a category, luxury fashion used to be the domain of old European atelier and fashion houses. The most popular names, the most recognized brands and the most talented designers were either from, or often found their way to Europe.
But as the modern era unfolded, fashion, including the luxury variety truly went global. America led the charge, but soon everywhere from China, Japan, Korea, Middle East and more announced their cultural and aesthetic entitlement to a seat on the luxury fashion stage, leading to a wave of new concepts, understandings and expression of fashion. And with the rise of ecommerce and online shopping, fashion has really been democratized and the brands and designers that make up the global fashion market are now as likely to come from Brazil, or Peru as they are from New York or Tokyo. However, one region of the world had, until very recently, been conspicuously absent from this party: Africa. There just didn’t seem to be much that the continent offered the commercial fashion industry other than inspiration, raw materials and the occasional talent. But all that has started to change as a wave of fashion brands, ecosystems and creative fashion items emerge from the continent.
If you can take a look at the designs put forth by Nigerian brand, ZASHADU handbags, the brainchild of Zainab Ashadu, you won’t fail to notice craftsmanship, quality, and uniqueness. These are all attributes of all luxury brands everywhere. One can only imagine the impact of these brands to the African fashion industry in the future. The interesting part of this is that, people still don’t believe her handbags are made in Nigeria. As with everything, “This too shall pass.”
Another unique aspect of African luxury brands is their use of their designs to vote for culture preservation. More designers are taking charge on interweaving their culture in fabrics, style, and inspiration. When people who understand their culture, they don’t only get inspired t by it- they live it. Take Laduma Ngxokolo, for example. His brand is almost entirely focused on preserving his South African Xhosa rites of passage through his amazing knitwear designs (I mean check his brand out if you haven’t). In his case, no matter how an outsider is inspired by the same traditional custom, the story can’t be told the same way someone like Laduma, who has experienced the culture. This is another reason African brands are here to stay for a long time.
One person who has made it a mission to offer everyone around the world access into the best brands and designers in this emerging treasure cave of unique African fashion is Chekwas Okafor, who founded the eCommerce company, ONYCHEK.com, to bring luxury African fashion to consumers. The company and its founder believe that tapping into the growing interest in Africa from luxury consumers around the world is a good way to cement the continents place as a fashion destination. “What Africa offers is a different story, not just for the continent as a producer of fashion, but for the items themselves and the people who buy them,” he says.
ONYCHEK.com stocks items from African designers who meet its stringent criteria for what it wants to offer the world-production and sourcing of materials must be ethical, the brands must support the communities they work in and most importantly, the items must be produced on the continent, so African designers who work in the diaspora are excluded. While Chekwas acknowledges the creativity and talent of African designers doing incredible work across the world, that insistence that production must be done solely in Africa is both his way of betting on the long term emergence of the African luxury fashion industry and his way of investing in and supporting in that emergence.
With the just concluded Lagos Fashion Week, the rise of Maki Oh, Loza Maleombho, Orange Culture, and the intricacy, depth and creativity the emerging African brands are showing, it’s more than clear that the continent is ready to take on the global fashion stage. And as a fashion consumer and enthusiast, I couldn’t be more excited!
Visit ONYCHEK.com to check out some of the brands and items on offer, all made in Africa by Africans.