For decades, if not centuries African fashion has been the root of inspiration for numerous Western brands and fashion trends. I mean it’s pretty evident considering the topic of cultural appropriation vs cultural appreciation on African fashion has been a hot subject for the last couple of years now. When you take a look at African fashion over the years, you’ll realise just how much it has influenced the fashion industry worldwide, look at the Dior show from last year in Morocco. From the vibrant colours to the eclectic prints and traditional accessories handcrafted by different African tribes, there is no better source of inspiration than Africa!
South Africans and Zimbabweans have been using Machangani bags for years, we used to use it for storage and carrying things, its basically like a huge carrier bag. Back in 2007, Louis Vuitton came out with their Machangani bag lookalike retailing for over £250. Wow, can you believe that fashion enthusiasts were out here buying this bag for over £250! TWO HUNDRED AND FIFTY POUND! I can’t decide if this funny or what, because they literally could have gone and bought one for less than £3 in South Africa. This is a perfect example of how people will buy anything with a designer name.
Louis Vuitton again? Are we seeing a pattern here? I can’t decide if I’m for all of this or if I’m just angry that they are profiting from African Culture when there are so many home brands that aren’t making a profit yet, LV can charge £3000 for something you can get a lot cheaper in South Africa?
The woollen Basotho blanket is traditionally worn by the Sotho people in Lesotho. The blankets date back to pre-civilization in Lesotho. They were traditionally made from only animal skins and are a part of Sotho life from birth to death. A newborn receives their first blanket before they are even born, for many events throughout their lives, and eventually will be buried in one.Despite being largely unavailable outside of Africa for their 100-year-plus existence, their blankets are of such quality and have such a colourful, storied history that they are easily comparable to brands of a similar vintage, including Pendleton, Woolrich, and Hudson’s Bay Company.
Now, this is how you do cultural appreciation! Everyone else pleases take notes. In 2016 Christian Louboutin collaborated with Senegalese artists to launch the Africaba Tote Bag. Each handcrafted bag incorporated bold Ankara prints that originated in West Africa. Louboutin contributed 10% of his proceeds to the La Maison Rose, a refuge for women in difficulty in Dakar.
In 2017, English fashion designer Stella McCartney received criticism for using Ankara prints in her spring 2018 runway show in Paris. And then they had the audacity to include only ONE African model the show.
This is a message to every other brand out there that takes inspiration from African fashion, the difference between appropriation in appreciation is this. If you include African designers, help the community, credit your inspiration and do more to raise awareness, then you would not receive so much backlash.
The headwrap, also known as a dhuku or a doek, depending on the region, is a colourful piece of fabric that embodies Africa’s rich culture and is deeply rooted in African history. For his spring 2018 collection, Marc Jacobs sent models, such as Kendall Jenner and Kaia Gerber, down the runway wearing head wraps that resembled those so inherent in the African culture.
The doek for me is very symbolic, for us Southern Africans it holds a lot of tradition and means a lot of things to a lot of people so I don’t think that brands like Marc Jacobs should ever have it on their runway. To me, it’s disrespectful because you can almost compare it to the hijab
For this post I took inspiration from
The rise of African fashion
In the last couple of years, we have seen the rise of everything African thanks to this educated generation of the diaspora (which I can happily say I am a part of) who are open to the world and proud of their dual culture. These days everyone is proud to be African, I remember when I was growing up so many people growing up were ashamed to say which country they were from (this may or may have been because I grew up in a predominantly caucasian area) and it wasn’t until I got to 6th form that I saw just how proud people were of their culture and how keen people were to learn about their cultures. The older I get the more I realise just how important it is for me to know about my culture and go back home to Zimbabwe regularly because after all I am Zimbabwean and I want to teach my children the same things that I have been taught so they can pass it on it to their children and so on.
The world has never been as creative as it is right now, our generation has access to resources that we did not know even existed 100 years ago and this helps to explain why there are so many breakout Africans in various categories from Arts to Music and of course Fashion etc. The reason as to why African fashion has become a phenomenon is because our generation, one of which hasn’t waited for outside interest aka the western world, but instead we have taken matters into their own hands by creating our own businesses, brands, media and blogs to validate what has not been validated up until now and I could not be more proud to be a part of something so beautiful, to be a part of history! It’s no surprise that the western world wants Vogue Africa! We now live in a connected and engaged generation that dares to denounce acts of racism or even ordinary stigmatization by putting up a united front against all of it taking on, for instance, the use of blackface and the absence of black mannequins in fashion, the lack of diversity within the fashion industry etc and most importantly cultural appropriation. A conscious and responsible generation that wants to contribute, in its own way, to a renewal in how the world sees Africa. In other words, every single day we are changing Africa’s narrative!
To summarise – African fashion is riding a wave of creative output and recognition, gaining global press and an international clientele after being ignored and copied for decades. Our time as Africans to show the world what we have to offer has finally come!
The Brands you need to know
I’m going to be completely honest with you, before 2015 I knew NOTHING about African fashion. I was completely oblivious. I think my love for African fashion was initially an accident (I know it sounds crazy right).
I remember I was on Instagram and I came across an influencer in one of the first brands I ever discovered – Grass Fields. Once I clicked on their page a whole new world opened up for me, I was falling in love with fashion all over again! From then on I was OBSESSED and I kept coming across more and more brands alike. This completely changed my mind on the idea of African fashion – in my head, it had always been the typical traditional attire we see our mums wear to weddings and on special occasions or just around the house, basically the Ankara prints. Can you believe I was ever this naive and IGNORANT? Little did I know that African Fashion just like every other type of fashion had evolved with the times and also catered to the younger generation.
In many aspects, African Fashion has changed drastically over the years but it still somehow remains traditional with western influences, African designers have gone way ahead to experiment and create beautiful designs using fabrics from all over the world and I am so excited to share with you my favourite brands;
Maxhosa by Laduma
Leandi Mulder Designs
In case you were not aware, late last year I did a podcast on whether or not beauty brands are racist and I thought that it would be a good idea to actually do a blog post on it since I am celebrating blackness this month but I also want to bring attention to the prejudice that we as black people face in the industry as well. Like I expressed yesterday, it’d be nice to look back at posts like these and see how much the industry has progressed in years to come when it comes to the issue of inclusivity. For a long time now, as WOC we have found it extremely difficult to find affordable drugstore products that cater to our skin type. It has always been a struggle to find a high-street brand that takes into consideration our different undertones, textures, and hues, and that stocks more than one variation of Caramel. In addition to base makeup such as foundation and concealer, it is equally important that WOC are able to easily access lipsticks and blushes that are designed for each individual undertone and complexion. IM TIYARD
As a black beauty blogger It’s pretty clear that beauty brands don’t know this but news flash: Black women don’t just know beauty, we LOVE beauty. An article I read recently stated that at least 82% of us say it’s important to be well-groomed, but I can’t lie, I’m surprised it’s not 100% because from the age I could bath myself my mum has gone on about looking presentable and taking care of myself because that is what women should do and without a doubt that is something that I will pass on to my children. That same article also expressed the fact that 52% of us adhere to a set skincare routine, personally for me, from the minute I discovered beauty gurus on youtube at the mere age of 13 I have had a skincare routine (which literally changes every six months lol). People always wonder why black don’t crack and here is the answer, that is our secret, that is why Angela Bassett still looks 30 because we love ourselves and it shows through the fact that we are willing to spend money to achieve our beauty goals. If you don’t believe me, just think about the fact that for years before Fenty beauty the offering for WOC in drugstores was very minimal so since the dawn of time we have always had to splurge more on our products to achieve the looks we want despite us being the ideal customers for almost every beauty brand known to man. It’s 2020 and products suited for us are still noticeably absent from retail shelves.
I’d like to say that as black women we are trendsetters: think about the number of people that have gotten lip fillers, BBL’s and this whole new thing of “black fishing.” In addition to this, black spending on health and beauty has led to an increase in offerings that appeal not just to Black women but also to the general population. For as long as I can remember many of us have struggled to find options that work for us, ones that don’t leave us ashy or looking like ghosts – even Black models were left out in the cold, with a lot of them having to mix their own makeup. In a viral 2015 Instagram post, Sudanese supermodel Nykhor Paul wrote, “Why do I have to bring my own makeup to a professional show when all the White girls don’t have to do anything but show up.” This is in the 20th century, so imagine how models and actresses in the 90s and way before felt? MAC in the 90s was the first game-changer, they were the FENTY of the previous generation because their Studio Fix Foundation was a one of the first to cover a range of shades – they were arguably the first to create foundations covering a wide spectrum of hues. I would go as far as saying it changed the lives of beauty-loving black women. And years later this was one of the first foundations I bought and one of my first loves! Mac really conquered!
Then in 2017, we had our very own game-changer; Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty which launched with 40 foundation shades, many of them complementing darker skin tones and covering not only shades but undertones too (which is something a lot of brands forget to take into context). This was and currently is the most shades a brand has ever released during their first product launch. That for me set the benchmark for beauty brands when releasing anything like foundation, concealer etc. Fenty proved that inclusivity in cosmetics is not just ethical but profitable. By serving the customers other mainstream brands have largely ignored so to no one’s surprise, the company made more than $72 million in media value (social media exposure gained from word of mouth and press buzz) the first month after launch. And yet brands are still failing WOC? Make it make sense. But we do have to take into consideration the fact that Fenty is not the first brand to launch such a number of shades – smaller brands like Black Opal Beauty have been catering for darker skin tones for decades (my mum was a fan for the longest time, then I introduced her to FENTY) – what we take from the success of Fenty is the fact that it took the backing of a major global company and a celebrity to highlight the huge opportunity makeup brands had been missing. And while many brands have been extending their offer to include darker shades this suggests dark-skinned women are an afterthought, they are not a part of the original marketing thought process.
Saunders says that this is caused by “a self-fulfilling prophecy” which has caused beauty marketers to delay improving inclusivity. The self-fulfilling prophecy refers to the socio-psychological phenomenon of someone “predicting” or expecting something, and this “prediction” or expectation comes true simply because they believe it will and the same thing refers to the makeup industry. This is because darker shades haven’t been offered so brands don’t realise there’s an issue, or because the darker shades available in-store haven’t been up to standard or advertised appropriately people don’t buy them, so sales aren’t considered satisfactory and brands, therefore, don’t invest in better R&D and marketing as they don’t think there’s a market for it. Which we all know is BS because the evidence is there in black and white- statistics say African-Americans spend $1.2 trillion each year on beauty products, and that number is projected to rise to $1.5 trillion by 2021. So why is there a lack of offering for WOC? In 2018 the Black hair care industry raked in an estimated $2.51 billion, as Black consumers have progressively made the switch from general products to those that specifically cater to them #naturaulhairjourney. In 2017 we also spent $127 million on grooming products and $465 million on skincare. Considering this that in 2016, just 22% of the models featured in ads in the UK and US were ethnic (black, Asian, Hispanic) while the rest (78%) were white – cosmetic brands are making an effort in their marketing, but most skincare brands are not – by only featuring white women in their campaigns, they also assume their audience and consumer is white.
The makeup industry is embracing diversity. Whether it’s premium or budget, brands are on a mission to ensure they have foundation shades to cater to a diverse range of skin tones only problem being that all our shades are different variations of chocolate –
There is something really dehumanising about calling [products] chocolate, caramel, mocha and coffee while all the lighter shades are porcelain or ivory.
Do you guys agree?
This problem could all be solved if brands employ marketers who are as diverse as the audience they are trying to reach. It really is as simple as that. On tomorrows blog post I’ll tell you to give you guys some names of my favourite black-owned beauty brands because I feel like this blog post is too long.
Happy Black History Month!! I was meant to start to this whole series LAST MONDAY, however, I had food poisoning for a week and then I needed an entire week to recover. I was so pissed because it just set me back completely when I tell you I planned to be so productive this month then that happened! Long story short if you’re ever in Nottingham DO NOT order from an Asain takeaway in this place because I am really not being dramatic when I say that I honestly thought that I was on my death bed. It’s one of those situations where you think that it’ll never happen to you and then it happens and you’re like WTAF 🙁
Anyways …. moving on, to celebrate black history month I am dedicating my whole entire blog to all things black about fashion for the month. 3 posts a week dedicating to everything black (this week it’s 6 since we skipped last week). I just thought it’d be cute to do a little tribute to the true pioneers of fashion and I hope that you enjoy it as much as I do! To kick start my series I thought that I would tell you guys about my most iconic black figures within the fashion industry. I do one of these every year, the only difference with this one is the fact that all the people are black, obviously and have done something significant to help black fashion. Of course, this is all solely my opinion hence why I said MY most iconic.
Since I began my blog in 2016 I feel as though people of colour have come a long way but sadly we still have a long way to go in terms of the industry being completely inclusive. I mean, think about it, the first black creative director of a major fashion house – Virgil Abloh was only appointed his role in 2018, just basically over a year ago. Most models cast on the runway are still predominantly caucasian. Most campaign models are still again predominantly white as in they don’t advertise to WOC. Cultural appropriation is still a HUGE problem in the fashion industry. How many black designers do you know? How many black-owned makeup labels do you know? Are our hair products in high street stores? See my point? We still have a hell of a long way to go until there is full inclusivity!
Here are My Most Iconic blacks within the industry;
I mean who doesn’t know Naomi Campbell? In her career, she has achieved so much; she was the first black model to appear on the cover of Time magazine, French Vogue, as well as the first black model to cover American Vogue’s most prestigious issue of the year – the September issue in 1989 and she, was also the first black model to star on the cover of British Vogue. As unbelievable as it sounds, she has had a hell of a lot of firsts in her career. In addition to that, being the true supermodel she is, she has forever been an advocate for blacks within the industry. And to no one’s surprise, last year she was even the first woman of colour to receive the fashion icon prize, this award recognizes people who have used their position and voice within the fashion industry to effect positive change – so I’m not the only one who believes she’s an icon in this industry. Campbell does so much more than you think, her efforts for a more diverse and equal future within the industry, especially when it comes to African Fashion are so inspiring because not many Alist celebrities celebrate African fashion!
Tracee Ellis Ross
Tracee Ellis Ross is one hell of an amazing woman and one that never ceases to amaze me! In October 2018 Ms Ross hosted the AMAs and she used the opportunity to bring attention to 11 amazing Black Designers by wearing mostly black designers for all her looks stating “I wore a Black designer in every look and Pat McGrath on my face,” She says it was a story she wanted to tell through her clothing, and her stylist, Karla Welch, made it happen. “I was inspired by Issa Rae and Jason Rembert, who did it first at the CFDA Awards in June. I strongly believe in using my platform to shine light in directions I believe in, love, and celebrate my people.” That is the type of energy we need from all celebrities and people that have a platform, to me, this is the main reason that this woman is so iconic, she has always voiced her opinion on the lack of diversity within the industry and she actively did something about it by giving these designers a platform!
Considering the number of times I have written about Mr Abloh on my blog, it would be a crime not to pay tribute to him in my black history month series! I mean how can I forget about the first African American that became the artistic director of one of the worlds biggest luxury fashion brands? It’s just impossible! That is a moment in fashion history that I will truly never forget because it was in itself so ICONIC. People like Virgil give the next generation of creatives and black fashion enthusiasts hope that they too can make it big in this industry and be a household name. “Virgil is one of the few designers who truly marries street culture with high fashion – and the first black designer to be given such a position in the gilded halls of LVMH. His appointment is a step in the right direction for diversity.” Edward Enninful, the editor-in-chief at British Vogue, said on the magazine’s website. Virgil is a pioneer in streetwear fashion and one of the most influential people in fashion right now!!!!!!!! He doesn’t follow trends but he creates them through the stories he tells through his designs and for me he is hands down my favourite designer at this moment in time!
So I discovered Jason Bolden late last year when I stumbled upon his Netflix series, Styling Hollywood this was an entire show dedicated to his brand JSN Studio, a multi-disciplined creative studio made up of a growing team of individuals who support Jason and his partner in realising the breadth of their creative output. With projects spanning the country, JSN Studio focuses primarily on residential + commercial interior design, luxury staging and product design. I was at that moment I literally became obsessed with him! Mr Bolden is one of the biggest and busiest celebrity stylists of the moment, his client list includes some of the most inspiring and influential artists and entertainers in American culture; “Selma” and “Wrinkle in Time” director Ava Duvernay; “Empire” matriarch Cookie Lyon, Taraji P. Henson; “Grown-ish” star and activist Yara Shahidi; and, most recently, Amy Sherald, Michelle Obama’s official portrait artist. This incredible man is also apart of the BoF 500 which is the definitive professional index of the people shaping the $2.4 trillion fashion industry, hand-selected by the editors of The Business of Fashion, based on hundreds of nominations received from current BoF 500 members, extensive data analysis and research.
If you do not know who Edward Enniful is then I am sorry but we cannot be friends. One of my aspirations in life is to meet this man! In the short space of time that he has been at British Vigue he has done so much for the publication and changed it for the better, he has shown us just how easy it is to showcase diversity in politics, arts and culture! As British Vogues first black male editor he has had more influence in the space of 2/3 years than Alexandra Shulman had in 25 years – he has helped shape a new vision for fashion media — not just in the UK, but globally — where he has placed a “diversity of perspective” at its core. But are we really surprised when his resume includes a stint at Italian Vogue, where he led the magazine’s first “Black Issue“ which featured only black models? It sold so successfully that the magazine had to print 60,000 additional copies. Enninful has described his vision for British Vogue as “about being inclusive. It’s not just the colour of your skin but the diversity of perspective.” His digital prowess and drive to break the storied title into previously unreported coverage areas has seen the publication reach new, younger audiences across social media, video and online. Digital traffic at the title grew by 7.8% in 2018 to 14.8 million monthly unique users, while print circulation has increased 1.1 % since 2017.
I first discovered Law on ANTM in 2016 I think, he is also a celebrity fashion stylist he is frequently credited with Celine Dion ’s triumphant fashion transformation and has worked with some of the biggest names in the entertainment industry, including Ariana Grande, Zendaya, Monica Brown, Brandy and Jessie J. In 2016 he became the first African American stylist to cover the annual The Hollywood Reporter’s Stylist & Stars issue and was made number 12 in their most powerful stylists list, an accolade that made him the biggest African American stylist in the industry. As well as being apart of the BoF he is also the co-creative director of Zendaya’s clothing line Daya and her collab with Tommy. Roach prefers to think of himself as an “image architect”. It’s a term that reflects the shifting role of celebrity dressers in 2018, where one killer look going viral on social media can lead to overnight fame (with the lucrative contracts to match), and campaigns such as Time’s Up have turned the red carpet into a political platform. “What I do is similar to what an architect does,” Roach explains. “The surveying, building a blueprint, sourcing materials, all that. But I’m doing it with clothes, jewellery, hair and makeup.”
Zendaya first hit our screens in 2010 on one of my all-time favourite childhood shows – shake it up and I have to say every single year without fail I have grown to admire her more and more as time goes on, she has grown and evolved into such a beautifully incredible woman. She is someone I have looked up to for so many years, she is a role model to me and so many more. Zendaya to me is Iconic because last year for her collaboration with Tommy Hilfiger she featured 59 black models, yes 59 BLACK MODELS, one more time in case you didn’t get it, a whole 59 BLACK MODELS aged 18 to 70—including some of the women of colour Zendaya wanted to thank for their influence in fashion, Hollywood, and beyond. She had the legends Pat Cleveland (who, according to a statement from Tommy Hilfiger, was the first black supermodel), Veronica Webb (the first African American to sign a major cosmetics contract with Revlon), Beverly Johnson, Veronica Webb, and Beverly Peele walking the show, along with Pat Cleveland. Zendaya made history!!!!! She was able to show the entire industry how to put together an inclusive fashion show by featuring a size-diverse cast composed solely of black models. There was even full body and age diversity with the hair and makeup by the one and only iconic black pioneers – Pat McGrath and Kim Kimble.
Carly Cushnie is the Creative Director and CEO of CUSHNIE a brand known for its impeccable fit designed for the modern woman, the collection is worn by inﬂuential women including Michelle Obama, Gal Gadot, Lupita Nyong’o, Ava Duvernay, Jessica Biel, Jennifer Lopez, Ashley Graham, Padma Lakshmi, among many others. Last year when Tom Ford took over as chairman of the CDFA ( Council of Fashion Designers of America) she became the first woman of colour to be nominated to sit on the board. Do you know how much of a big deal this is? It’s a pretty big one and a dream of every designer!
I was so proud of Thebe Magugu when he became the first AFRICAN to win the LVMH prize last year, you would think that I actually knew the man – he was the first AFRICAN winner of the LVMH prize, do you know how much od an accomplishment this is. This man is now apart of history! This was such a huge step in the right direction for African fashion because so many of the continent’s designers struggle to create a lucrative retail business beyond African fashion weeks so it was just amazing to think that he won this! Thebe is about to change people’s misconceptions that African Fashion is just Ankara prints, he is about to open the door for so many more African designers and I cannot wait to see where his career takes him!
I saved my most iconic for last! Beverly Johnson made history in 1974 when she became the first African American woman to grace the cover of Vogue AKA the fashion bible! This was a time when women of colour were largely underrepresented not only in the pages of fashion magazines and ad campaigns but in the industry overall but she did THAT! This woman changed history, a year after her issue was released, every huge publication began to feature black models. This woman basically paved the way for the likes of Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Chanel Iman, Adut Akech etc. She is the ultimate bad B