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Out of Africa: Why African Fashion Brands Are Hot

By Chiara Spagnoli Gabardi

Have no doubt: African fashion brands are on the rise. If ‘ethnic chic’ in all the high streets or celebs like Beyonce going mad about Stella Jean’s creative use of colour isn’t enough to convince you, just consider the success of “Constellation Africa,” the runway show at Pitti Uomo 88 promoted by the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative, which created more of a buzz than anything else at the high profile event.

We love African fashion brands because they tend to be more ethical and eco-friendly: normally, they aim to employ local artisans at a fair wage, and use traditional (less toxic) textiles and dyes. Here, we’ve picked 7 designers from all over the continent whose work–and ethos–we truly admire.

1. Maxhosa By Laduma

Xhosa culture is the inspiration behind MaXhosa by Laduma, and the South African brand founded in 2010 by Laduma Ngxokolo is very proud of its heritage. Reinterpreting traditional beadwork, patterns, symbolism and colours in both men’s and ladieswear represents a further engagement in the dialogue that keeps pushing this very traditional South African culture and its style towards the future.

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2. Sophie Zinga

Sophie Nzinga Sy, who attended the prestigious design school Parsons, has created a brand where she can fully express her Senegalese roots and her international travels. A regular at Fashion Week Middle East, her designs possess timeless minimalistic elegance, with a mix of contemporary sophistication, using the finest natural textiles embellished with semi precious stones.

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3. O’Eclat

O’Eclat Designs is a Nigerian fashion and home accessories label birthed in 2010 by Gbemmy Johnson, which locally produces unique socially-conscious fashion and home accessories. Rich African prints and indigenous hand-woven fabric mixed with a contemporary edge are in every item, from notepads to key wallets, purses, belts, cardholders, handbags, clutches, or slippers.

Like many African fashion brands, O’Eclat employs young skilled artisans and local weavers within the country who are unemployed and unable to set up their workshop due to inadequate funds by providing work-friendly workshop and pay them wages to ensure they are financially stable and also attract other artisans to the industry.

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4. Kipato Unbranded 

Kipato Unbranded was founded in 2015 and named so because of their resolve to create jewellery by everyday people, for everyday people. This is a social enterprise that works alongside local jewellery makers and gives them the tools to target a much larger market, whilst also giving them a 50% share in any profits made, whether locally or internationally. Everything is kept as simple as possible and focuses on the use of natural materials, such as brass, recycled bone and beads, to create simple and accessible products that scream empowerment.

5. Lisa Folawiyo

Specialising in the art of the West African fabric, Ankara, Lisa Folawiyo of the label Jewel by Lisa is proud that she’s made the traditional textiles of her native Nigeria a must-have luxury item . Each of her garments boasts handcrafted construction, intricate beading and fine tailoring. Despite her lack of formal training in fashion design, Folawiyo’s styles have captured the attention of several publications such as The New York Times, Harper’s Bazaar, Vogue, BBC, MTV, and of course, Eluxe! The brand has also been well received and worn by stars such as Lucy Liu, Thandie Newton and Solange Knowles, and has recently collaborated with L’Oreal (see main pic).

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Born in Comoros, Sakina M’Sa’s innate interest in fashion took her, inevitably, to France, where she studied fashion in Marseilles at the Institut Supérieur de Mode. Soon after, she launched the brand that takes her name, and she’s been receiving accolades ever since, including winning Kering Foundation’s Social Entrepreneur Award in 2010. Today, she is based in Paris and has dedicated her atelier to training and employing women in need of work skills and economic advancement. She does this, she says, to encourage “the ecosystem of fashion”. And speaking of ‘eco’, today this designer creates her line from mainly dead stock from the very finest of Kering’s brands, including Saint Laurent and Gucci.

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7. Le Dessein 

Eric Coley is a sweet, smart, hardworking man who is proud of the fact that his mama helped shape who he is today. In her native Dakar, Senegal, there was little by way of education for girls, but she emphasised that all of her children, male and female, would be educated to the highest degree. Eric became an investment banker, but was also influenced by his mom’s fascination with fashion. Eventually, he was able to combine the two with Le Dessein. Today, the Los Angeles based brand makes its connection to the continent with its focus on the goal of empowering women in African communities. The vision was “Fashion as an opportunity,” and so the label’s primary objective is to provide customers with stunning pieces of clothing that allow young women in developing nations to lift their communities out of poverty through education and job skils. For this reason Le Dessin donates 25% of its profits to girls’ school tuition in Liberia other countries via the More Than Me Academy.

See more about that here.

Monrovia, Liberia - June 10, 2013: Latty teaches a class of More Than Me girls how to draw using instructions from Eric Coly. (Photograph by Carielle Doe).


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