How West Africa Became a Fashion Powerhouse

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Over the past decade or so, demand for fashion from our corner of the world seems to have grown. Of course, this is in no way intended to discredit fashion from the other regions of Africa.

I did a little (actually a lot) of digging around and the conclusion I have drawn is that a variety of reasons were behind this phenomenon. A lot of the reasons I am about to mention are, in fact, all intertwined.


1. The Natural Hair Movement among African-Americans in the United States

Yes. I think hair influenced fashion in West Africa. The Natural Hair Movement is a movement which began in the 2000’s and encourages women of African descent to keep their natural afro-textured hair. I believe that this move of going back to one’s natural roots inspired a mental return to and love for African inspired things. Being that brightly colored wax print fabric is always associated with Africa, and especially West Africa, could it be that there was a sudden demand for that type of clothing?

2. International Fashion Designers

Also related to the rise of African print is the fact that Major brands such as Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Givenchy, Diane Von Furstenberg and others have been seen using African print/African inspired prints in their collections. Though this raises questions about cultural appreciation vs cultural appropriation, it can definitely be argued that this contributed to the attention on the African aesthetic.

3. The Release of the Black Panther movie
This movie turned into an entire phenomenon and was an ode to all things “African Excellence”. From the styling of the movie, to music choice, to the African actors, Black Panther changed the game for African fashion in the global market.

4. Celebrity Influence
Celebrities and Public Figures such as Michelle Obama caught whiff of the trend and have been spotted all over the globe in clothing designed by West African designers and craftsmen. This has popularized it even more. Some West African celebrities, such as actress Omotola (Nigeria), have even made it a point to only actively promote clothing that is made in Africa.

5) Fashion Initiatives
Initiatives such as the African Fashion Foundation and the Ethical Fashion Initiative have put in a lot of work to reveal African talent to the world. These organizations connect artisans and top designers from the developing world to the international fashion value chain. The intention is to create a more ethical and responsible global fashion industry. Their efforts have provided a platform for many West African brands such as Chocolate Clothing, Kenneth Eze,  Christie BrownOrange CultureAnita QuansahDent de ManSophie Zinga and others to broaden their global market reach.
6) Franca Sozzani and Fashion for Development (F4D)

Vogue Magazine is a major powerhouse in fashion circles and so when their editor-in-chief, the late Franca Sozzani paid a visit to Ghana, Nigeria and Togo along with Italian fashion designer Robert Cavalli in 2011, the world was watching. She visited because she was collaborating with Fashion For Development chair Roberta Annan on a Vogue Special Issue called “Rebranding Africa”. Because of their joint efforts, online store Yoox and American department store Saks were stocked with clothing from West African designers. The clothes sold out in two weeks!

7) The Pacesetters

Africans that have succeeded in becoming influential pacesetters in the global fashion industry continue to serve as a major source of inspiration. There is nothing more motivating than knowing that if the others you grew up admiring could achieve greatness, then there is every reason that you can do the same, if not more. People like Ozwald Boateng and the late Kofi Ansah have paved the way for others to find their way into the global fashion industry. For about three decades, Ozwald Boateng has been making an impact on menswear in Europe.

West Africa exploded on the fashion scene for a variety of reasons. It all boils down to the fact that increase in oversees demand for the products along with the drive of our people to capitalize on global opportunities have enabled our designers create and take their fashion to new levels.

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