Wandile Tevin Andrews
The African fashion industry has proven itself to be a force of power and unrelenting resilience. In an already volatile industry and ever-changing economic landscape, the pandemic brought on by the COVID-19 virus has ravaged the social fabric of our generation and entire industries alike. Uncertainty has plagued every sector, but yet fashion the world over has stood its own. In most parts of the African continent, the challenges brought on by the virus have been tackled by reinventing, re-evaluating and recreating the industry drivers in their entirety which has at the same time helped to cement new structures that are aiding in the development of the industry with sustainability, slow fashion and social responsibility already punctuating the core of the fashion industry. African brands have accelerated themselves in ways that only they can. In Southern Africa, brands like Bathu (@bathu_sa) and Drip Footwear (@dripfootwearsa) have taken the industry by storm in a time of ‘foreclosures’, where stores like Zara transitioned from the brick and mortar store model to digital. Here are some pointers on how African designers and the industry have been able to restructure to survive the most challenging period of all time:
Innovation Through Creativity
African brands have solved structural problems by returning to the drawing board, taking a micro-approach to production and centring themselves to their immediate communities. In Southern Africa, Twyg (@twygmag) has championed fashion centred around conscious consumption, with clothing SwapShop experiences, an innovative gathering where individuals gather to swap their second-hand fashions. Powerhouse African Fashion International (@afi_sa)and South African Fashion Week (@safashionweek) showcases have become entirely digitally integrated as the appetites for local fashion have reached new highs.
Creation of African Digital Footprint through Content and Storytelling
The unique outlook of African creatives has been elevated in a world inundated by Western and European gazes. MaXhosa (@maxhosa) and TshepoJeans (@tshepojeans) are further admirable examples that have recorded growth through traditional outlet stores in the midst of the global decline of retail. The extravagant and unique personal styles of Rich Mnisi (@therichmnisi) and Adebayo Oke-Lawal (@theorangenerd) on social media have become billboards to their respective brand stories and businesses. Brands like Bloke Nigeria (@bloke_ng) by Faith Oluwajimi were thrust into the international coverage with their unique content of colourful couture and bold batiks. Uniform ZA by Luke Radloff (@uniformza) is another example of a brand that’s adopted a uniquely African outlook that’s inspired by minibus taxis and Jojo water tanks to express high fashion. Thebe Magugu (@thebemagugu) continues to push the boundaries and the sense of what is possible in African fashion with the ‘Porte-Bonheurs’ project, uplifting communities through creative skills. Ntando XV’s (@ntandoxv) Project 0.9, a first of its kind digital showcase that was revealed one look at a time, was another roaring example of a fashion labour of love that interrogated artistic integrity, bringing narratives that had been placed on the peripheries of fashion and making them center stage.
Southern African fashion designer Thula Sindi has created a luxury African retail hub Africa Rise (@africarisestore) that houses the fashions of legendary David Tlale (@davidtlale), Ezokhetho (@ezokhetho), Richard Hoy (@Richard_Hoy), Mzukisi Mbane’s Imprint ZA (@imprintza) and accessories by Maria McCloy (@mariamccloy) and Zezandla (@zezandla)just to name a few. The business of African fashion continues to break the conventional protocol far and wide, with new store openings on the horizon. These collaborations have been a well-needed venture that has proved to be favourable to drive the industry forward. Collaborations between brands and emerging designers help push positive narratives and stories to the forefront, which has been excellent in opening doors and creating further opportunities for others.
Africa continues to power and empower through the insurmountable trials and tribulations, becoming more unapologetic in expressing its uniqueness, often with limited resources. From Lagos to Johannesburg, if the masses didn’t already know, Africa’s time certainly is now.
Image via Essence Magazine