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Thriving through the Pandemic: How African Fashion Designers Evolved

By 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 climate brought on by the COVID-19 virus has ravaged the social fabric of our generation and entire industries alike. Uncertainty has plagued every sector, yet fashion the world over has stood its own. The luxury industry has recorded plummeting sales and increased damage to brand values, as The Fashion Law's Brand Valuation List reported.

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. With sustainability, slow fashion, and social responsibility already punctuating the fashion industry's core, 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.

- 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 Fashion (@twygmag) has championed fashion centred around conscious consumption, with clothing Swap Shop 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 fully 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 that is inundated by Western and European gazes. MaXhosa (@maxhosa) and Tshepo Jeans (@tshepojeans) are further admirable examples that have recorded growth through traditional outlet stores amid the global decline of retail. The extravagant and unique personal styles of Rich Mnisi (@richmni) 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 striking 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 through '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 fashion labour of love that interrogated artistic integrity, bringing narratives that had been placed on the peripheries of fashion and making them centre stage.

- Collaboration

Southern African fashion designer Thula Sindi has created a luxury African retail hub Africa Rise (@africarisestore) that houses the fashions of 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 with notable thriving and excelling collaborations.

All this fashion in a time of Covid-19, as the viruses' variants become stronger, Africa continues to power and empower through the insurmountable trials and tribulations, becoming more unapologetic in expressing its uniqueness, often with limited resources.

Image credit:

Photographer: Obinna Obioma

Model: Iman Akinkunmi

Makeup: Jaelene Jaquez

Designer & Wardrobe Styling: Wuraola Oladapo

Photo & Lighting Assistant: Olusimi Vijay Afun-Ogidan

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