Thomasina R. Legend
As the fashion industry becomes increasingly more inclusive, creativity blooms, and gender-neutral designers flourish. These talents are enriching the fashion industry and the world we live in with their unique takes on what it means to be a man or woman in the modern-day clothes' industry. Gender-neutral fashion clothes are not restricted to certain colours and fit separate for girls, boys, men and women. Instead, the fashion is fluid, not inherently masculine or feminine, and styles can fit all body types.
Africa's leading gender-neutral fashion brands are leading the way into a new type of fashion that is in its own way revolutionary in Africa by infusing components that traditionally pertain distinctively to both male and female outfits, these designers are able to create something unique, different and appealing to a growing fan base. With gender-neutral clothing becoming more mainstream on the streets from Lagos to South Africa, the bodacious fashion lines and brands are incorporating gender-neutral and gender-fluid designs into their product offerings regardless of the harsh critiques. Here is a list of designers who are a part of a new generation of African pioneers defying outdated ideas about gender.
Adebayo Oke-Lawal is the founder and creative director of Orange Culture. The brand caters to everyone and anyone, regardless of gender. Orange Culture can be defined as a gender-fluid brand with a feminine touch to most of its outfits. The brand's collections incorporate elements of traditionally feminine designs, fabrics and silhouettes. The pieces are a "heady mixture of Nigerian inspired fabrics, colour, and contemporary urban streetwear". Gender fluidity is not tied to sexuality. It's more just about allowing people to be in touch with their masculine and feminine side, says Oke-Lawal to CNN.
Twin sisters Sylvia and Olivia Enekwe-Ojei founded Gozel Green in 2012. The twins disregard conventional fashion and instead draw on their Igbo roots for inspiration. Their goal is to encourage the viewer to think more deeply about the meaning behind the fabric. The brand uses androgynous fashion to subtly convey messages on heritage. Italian Vogue has named them The Next Green Talents 2018. Felabration saw them design a collection inspired by Afrobeat legend Fela Kuti. According to the sisters, they want to share a part of their heritage to the world without being overly persuasive through their collections. By channelling an indirect learning canvas of words, their collections generate conversation and inward exploration. This is evident in the colour block palettes and techniques employed to deconstruct popular cultural attires.
Babatunde ‘Papa’ Oyeyemi
Babatunde 'Papa' Oyeyemi founded Maxivive 13 years ago at the age of 15. The brand is both minimalist and androgynous, turning traditional menswear around. Most of his pieces, including shirts, jackets, and pants, are fit for both male and female.
Telfar Clemens is the founder of TELFAR, a genderless fashion label based in Brooklyn. Clemens was born in Queens, New York, and raised in Monrovia, Liberia. He is a Liberian-American fashion designer, DJ and entrepreneur who launched the brand in New York in 2005.
Now globally recognized, Telfar's collection are always a success at New York Fashion Weeks. The brand's latest creations of cozy hoodies and vegan leather shopping bags are pointing to the sustainable direction the designer is taking.
Lukhanyo Mdingi is the founder of fashion brand Lukahnyo Mdingi. The South African-based designer breaks down gender constructs through using masculine tailoring for women and long flowing silk fabrics for men. The designs have a cross-cultural approach and infuse traditional looks into the outfits. The 25-year-old's views on a shifting "cross cultural" environment feed into the overall look of his latest collection titled Soulful II.
Rich Mnisi is a South African fashion designer that creates stunning feasts for the eye (and the body!) in the shapes of gender neutral clothing. Rich is critically acclaimed for the superb colorful looks, elegant pleats, and thoughtful twists that can be found in every piece.
Launched in 2013 by New York photographer Randall Bachner, Marrakshi Life embraces comfort and craftsmanship. An in-house team of local artisans creates original, contemporary, and wearable design pieces using ancient techniques to create clothing that is authentic yet with a fashion-forward urban twist. Marrakshi Life is known for its inclusivity and commitment to sustainability. Made-to-order caftans and Touareg dresses are made using traditional Moroccan weaving techniques. The label is zero-waste compliant, which means all garments produced are recycled. The vertically-integrated brand adheres to a zero waste policy, and all of its wood looms are powered by two men, yielding ten meters per day. Randall is committed to supporting responsible manufacturing via sustainable, low impact production methods in Morocco. He describes his atelier in Marrakech as a community rather than a factory where visitors can experience the family feel of the atelier whilst viewing the whole process from textile creation to finished design.
Faith Olujimi founded the Nigerian fashion brand BLOKE. The genderless artisanal label brings together elements of traditional African culture with unique artistic expression. Each item in the androgynous fashion brand is hand-made with sustainability at its core. The brand employs the use of knitwear and vibrant colours for their pieces. Pieces are meant for both male and female customers with a good number of cut-out, cropped top, and halter neck styles.
CHIIP O NEAL
Chiip O Neal is a contemporary, versatile fecund brand that tells transcending global stories foregone, of now and forthcoming. Made, sourced and designed in Accra, Ghana, C//O reflects the wearers' state of mind, emotions and personality. It's about being free, optimistic and leaving a transcending impact where one is present. Their collection is designed to promote self-esteem, a sense of belonging and respect for all cultures. The fabrics for the pieces are ornately decorative that have a deep meaning for the essence of life.
Keith Henning and Jody Paulsen
Keith Henning and Jody Paulsen are the co-creative directors of the androgynous fashion brand AKJP. The designers focus on functional staples with few defining male and female silhouettes. Their womenswear comes from ideas that they previously established through their menswear collections. The brand uses layering, boxy silhouettes and asymmetrical detailing as distinguishing styling features. Their colour palette is primarily cool to suit every type of customer and wearer. By infusing components that pertain distinctively to both male and female outfits, these designers are able to create something unique.
MAISON LES ÉNERVÉS
Wakim KRARI is a French-Moroccan architect and designer based in Bali, Indonesia. His ready-to-wear brand MAISON LES ÉNERVÉS is inspired by his travels and passion for video making. The founder's idea is to offer garments that can be used differently - that breaks the classic textiles in the fashion industry.
Krari believes the "androgynous look" is more of a way of life than a fashion trend. The designer strives for his brand to break the barriers of gender-specific fashion, and ultimately evolve into a genderless brand.
Cold Laundry was founded in 2019 by husband-and-wife duo Ola and Cerise Alabi. The unisex label offers up everyday staples like loose trousers, puffer coats and oversized sweaters. They also offer up sensual tones such as forest greens, mocha browns and taupe-like greys. Cold Laundry is known for its minimalistic and inclusive product drops, often selling out in minutes. Inspired by the Korean aesthetic for clean, minimalism in fashion, which they championed in their March 2021 Style Special. They wanted to push a clean, minimal, feel-good aesthetic with a contemporary take on fashion. 'We wanted to put people of colour at the forefront of what we do,' says Ola in their interview with Wallpaper magazine.
Emmanuel Okoro's brand Emmy Kasbit was founded in 2014 and is based in Lagos, Nigeria. The designer uses a handwoven fabric native to his hometown of Abia State in Eastern Nigeria. Empowering artisans and preserving traditions are two driving forces behind his work. Textiles are woven from Akwete fabric, recognized for its distinct patterns and motifs rooted in Igbo customs. Emmanuel Okoro creates clothes with a very tongue-in-cheek flair.
The label has cultivated a staunch following for its trend-setting tailoring and unconventional details. From Akwete panels on suit jackets to fringed hemlines, subtle cut-outs to deconstructed necklines, a cutting-edge mix of traditional materials and unexpected silhouettes.
Photo: via Designer Emmy Kasbit