The Magazine of Ethiopian Airlines
Style + Substance

Fashion Forward

Hub of Africa Fashion Week boosts Africa’s growing garment industry.

COURTESY OF PALESA MOKUBUNG

The words “African fashion” may conjure up images of bright prints and woven textiles arranged in loose configurations complete with elaborate headscarves. And while such traditional dress will always have its place, contemporary designs emerging from the continent today reflect a rich diversity of creative talent. The Hub of Africa Fashion Week has played a pivotal role in the development of the fashion industry, providing a platform to showcase the work of established as well as up-and-coming designers. 

COURTESY OF ADAMA PARIS

This year, around 20 designers from up to 10 mainly East African countries will have the opportunity to present their collections to an influential audience of buyers, manufacturers, investors and press. Previous attendees such as Yefiker (Ethiopia), Palesa Mokubung (South Africa) and Adama Paris (Senegal) have achieved international recognition since appearing at the event.

Mahlet Afework’s label, Mafi, was already a household name in Ethiopia when she participated in the first HAFW in 2010. Since then, her collections — all of which are created from locally made, handwoven textiles — have been shown around the world. Such experienced designers provide a valuable resource in the absence of industry-related education. “One of the most fulfilling aspects of presenting at HAFW for up-and-coming designers is the learning opportunity they receive from working along more established designers during the event,” explains HAFW founder Mahlet Teklemariam.

Fashion design is actually one of the most successful sectors for small business in Ethiopia. Low start-up costs and a lack of competition from big department stores help to boost profits, as does the willingness of loyal customers to pay top dollar for well-made original pieces. Understandably, entrepreneurs need more support when looking to expand to markets across Africa and beyond, hence the boom in these industry events.

COURTESY OF MAFI

HAFW was one of the first African fashion weeks when it launched, and the focus has always been on the business as much as the art, aiming to bridge the gaps in the chain between design and distribution. Panel discussions, presentations and workshops continue to bring people together to exchange ideas and establish links. The pop-up boutique trialed last year, where designers sold pieces from their collections directly to the public, will also be returning at this year’s event, to be held in Addis Ababa Oct. 1–4.

Global brands have long been interested in Afro couture, and so African designers based in the U.S. and Europe with easier access to funding and more established networks have been able to thrive. They also have the advantage of a wider range of promotional opportunities. However, developments in manufacturing and increasing investment are helping to improve the prospects of aspiring talent across Africa.

“Building a show like HAFW is a challenge, particularly because the fashion industry is still a growing sector and it has not been taken very seriously on the continent until very recently,” adds Mahlet. “We hope HAFW will continue to dispel the notion that Africa and African fashion cannot be competitive on the global market.”