An African Fashion Renaissance
Designers from the continent are reinventing what African style means amid a cross-cultural landscape.
Fashion and Africa have always gone hand in hand. From headdresses denoting social status to colorful waist beads attracting potential suitors, traditional African style fused both function and aesthetics from the start. And today, African fashion designers are borrowing heavily from the continent’s rich and expressive cultures to create modern pieces that tell a unique story.
Spanning from Cairo to Johannesburg, this new breed of trendsetters is changing what it means to be African and a fashion designer. They put both local and imported fabrics to good use and spotlight the craftsmanship of local weavers, some of who employ skills passed down throughout generations. Their design work is also ethically conscious, with many creating employment for local tailors and ensuring that all receive fair compensation for their work.
From the talent featured in the pages to come, it is clear that designers from Africa are breaking boundaries and pushing new frontiers with their creativity, whether they are based on the continent or in the diaspora. With designs celebrating cultural pride, style and handiwork, African designers are changing the narrative oft associated with their home continent and showcasing its diverse beauty — from the sub-Saharan deserts to the bustling markets of Accra, and beyond.
Maxhosa by Laduma
Laduma Ngxokolo first started his Maxhosa by Laduma line with the aim of creating knitwear to be worn by amakrwala — Xhosa initiates who by tradition must dress in formal attire for six months following their initiation ceremony. Inspired by the traditional Xhosa beadwork, Ngxokolo has since developed Maxhosa by Laduma into a premium brand of knitwear using South Africa–sourced Mohair and wool. The brand’s awards include African Fashion International’s “Emerging Designer of the Year” for 2014, Vogue Italia’s “Scouting for Africa” prize in 2015, and Design Indaba’s “Most Beautiful Object in South Africa” award in 2016, among others. maxhosa.co.za
Using traditional handwoven cotton fabric to create her eye-catching designs, Fikirte Addis founder Yefikir Addis unites comfort and style without sacrificing the rich heritage of Ethiopian weaving. Her collection is handwoven from local materials by local weavers who benefit from the brand’s commitment to fairly traded products. Through her brand, Yefikir has also championed child labor–free production in conjunction with Ethiopia’s Fashion Design Association and the Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs. Yefikir Design took part in Africa Fashion Week in New York (AFWNY) 2015.
An Ethiopian clothing line founded by supermodel, actress and philanthropist Liya Kebede, Lem Lem — which means “to bloom” in Amharic — uses locally sourced, handwoven fabric to create apparel for women and children. Last year Lem Lem extended its production to Kenya for the brand’s crochet, silk and jersey collection, all part of its vision to expand across the continent so as to bring more of the beauty of African manufactured products to the fore. The brand’s clothing can be found online on Net-A-Porter and in retail stores such as Barney’s and J. Crew. lemlem.com
Born and raised in Nairobi, Katungulu Mwendwa draws cultural inspiration from the African continent to create her functional fashion pieces using natural fibers. After studying fashion design at the University of Creative Arts in southern England, Mwendwa launched her label in 2012 and has since watched it grow from strength to strength. She showcased her work at New York Fashion Week 2013 as the only African designer at the GenArt Fresh Faces in Fashion, and her latest collection, “People of the Taboo,” was recently showcased on Vogue Italia’s “Talents” platform. katungulumwendwa.com
Drawn toward fashion despite training in broadcast journalism, Anyango Mpinga in 2011 took the leap and launched her own collection, recently rebranded from Kipusa to Anyango Mpinga. Her latest collection, “Kondo Udo,” brings together slick lines, strong colors and a recurring feather motif — inspired by the headdress traditionally worn by Luo warriors — to create elegant ready-to-wear clothing that speaks to the modern woman. anyangompinga.com
Trained architect Ego Madueke never expected a career to blossom from her on-the-side forays into fashion, designing garments for friends and family. And yet in 2007, she launched the appropriately named Alter Ego brand, which strives to create designs fusing comfort and style with high quality. Bold hues and prints on silk, cotton and lace are part and parcel of most Alter Ego designs; the latest collection, “ADA by Alter Ego,” seeks to celebrate hardworking African women. adabyalterego.com
Kiki Kamanu began her fashion journey as a model with Ford Models in Boston and has now come full circle, in a sense, counting some of Nollywood’s biggest stars among her label’s clients. The Kiki Kamanu brand encompasses everything from handbags and belts to clothing lines for both women and men, all of which use leather, silk and denim in bold, arresting colors and designs. Kamanu’s work has been showcased on various platforms across the world, including London Fashion Week 2011 and the Heineken Lagos Fashion Week 2015. kikikamanu.com
Punk and Ivy
Inspired by the “motiques” (mobile boutiques) seen throughout Southeast Asia, husband-and-wife team Khaya and Bianca Sibiya bought a 9.3-meter-long camper van in 2013 and turned it into a retail space selling their sports and streetwear range. Their latest collection, “She&Him,” features a unisex range of clothing using cotton, microfiber and leather materials. They believe in taking their creations to their customers and documenting the life of the modern African through fashion. punkandivy.com
Though living in Switzerland at the time her inspiration struck, Doreen Mashika felt the pull to return home to Zanzibar and start a fashion business that reflected her heritage. Using silk and cotton kanga material as well as beadwork, horns, leather and silver to create her clothing and accessories, Mashika has since built a name for herself both locally and abroad. The Doreen Mashika store is located in the heart of Stone Town, Zanzibar’s picturesque historical town, and the brand is stocked at Fenwick’s of London as well as online. doreenmashika.com
After studying fashion design and marketing in London, Amina Khalil returned home to Egypt and in 2009 launched a new fashion line that celebrates her heritage — focusing on traditional Egyptian silhouettes with a modern, Western twist. Since then, the Amina K line has grown to include not only women’s clothing but also accessories, men’s shirts and eyewear, all with a commitment to using only local resources and workmanship. aminak.net
London-based Congolese designer Tina Lobondi launched her up-market label in 2011, seeking to create a luxury style infused with an African aesthetic. Her designs — made from globally-sourced materials and produced entirely in Paris and London — have dressed such world-renowned stars as Angelique Kidjo and Thandie Newton. Her work has been showcased on runways such as Mercedes Benz Fashion Week and in such publications as Marie Claire, Elle South Africa and Forbes Woman Africa. The fashion house also offers a made-to-order service that enables customers to pick and choose the fabric and style of their choice. tinalobondi.com
Beachwear label Òkun, whose name means “ocean” in Yoruba, aspires to be a Pan-African brand, incorporating prints and fabrics from across the continent into its stylishly tailored beach shorts, swimming trunks and shoes for men. Launched in 2012 by Bola Marquis, the label has managed to differentiate itself by its playful, colorful designs and consistent commitment to quality. UK Fashion and Textile (UKFT) recognized the label with its “Rise” award in 2014. okunbeachwear.com
Born in Kenya but raised in Melbourne, sisters Laurinda and Fatuma Ndenzako founded the Africa-sourced label known as Collective Closets in 2015. The duo draws a lot of inspiration from the city of Nairobi in particular, where they source fabrics and beadwork, though the label’s effortlessly chic pieces pay homage to many aspects of African history and culture. Their “Luanda 1975” collection, for example, was inspired by their Angolan mother’s fashion sense at a time when African women were redefining their roles in a quickly changing society. collectiveclosets.com.au