Loud music pumps through huge speakers, front row guests cheer and a parade of stunning models electrifies the gleaming catwalk — welcome to AFRICA FASHION WEEK – LONDON.
Currently in its third year, the glamorous event saw dozens of big names and up-and-coming designers from across the continent descending on the UK capital’s hip district of Shoreditch to unveil their latest stylish creations. “Our platform is about promoting emerging and established Africa-inspired designers,” said Ronke Ademiluyi, founder of the event, held from August 1 to 3. “The main thing is to bring attention to them, to showcase their creativity to the world so they get more global recognition for what they do and more appreciations for their brands as well.”
The runways featured designs from countries such as Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Congo, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Kenya and Morocco — but also from the diaspora, including Britain and the Caribbean. In many ways, the event reaffirmed why Africa-inspired designs are fast catching the eye of the fashion world. Mixing current trends with traditional patterns, more than 60 designers graced the catwalk with a wide array of colorful creations — everything from show-stopping evening gowns and modern urban casualwear to bold textured prints and chic accessory lines.
Ademiluyi says the continent’s fashion today “represents a fusion of contemporary and African designs” awash with “a lot of vibrant colors and tribal trends.” Amongst those giving a modern twist to traditional styles is Nigerian designer Fashola Olayinka with her Lagos-based label “MOOFA Designs.” Her latest collection, “Ashake” is celebrating the “very powerful and strong women” who “turn heads wherever they go to.” “That’s basically what’s the collection is about,” says Olayinka, who started the label about four years ago. “Women who are very feminine and sexy.”
The young designer says that despite the existing challenges, such as frequent power cuts, it’s very exciting being part of Nigeria’s fashion scene right now. “We work hard and we party hard, so it’s been really fun and it’s a growing process in Nigeria,” she says. “Nigerians like to dress up and a lot of people in Nigeria are now wearing their own fabrics.” Our platform is about promoting emerging and established Africa-inspired designers.
But despite the growing interest in African designs, Ademiluyi says that many of the continent’s promising talents still find it difficult to break into the mainstream international shows. She says that for many of them, the week is a chance to shine on the international stage. “A lot of them are talented but they’re struggling,” she says. “They don’t have support from anywhere, so what we do is we support them — it’s an affordable platform for the designers to showcase their talents to the world.”
South African fashion artist Steve Mandy agrees. He says that events like this help participants boost their profile both internationally and at home. “You can meet some really important people here and I have already met some great people here that I think I’ll do business with,” says Durban-based Mandy, known for hand-painting on dresses and t-shirts.
“The other thing is the spin-off in terms of your own image, in terms of our audience back in South Africa — the fact that you can say that you did African Fashion Week it promotes you and helps your product to gain integrity.”
Looking ahead, Ademiluyi says the goal is to hold the event twice a year and also establish a supply platform that would make the designers’ creations more accessible to the world.
“For a lot of them, after Africa Fashion Week, that’s it,” she says. “The clients don’t know where to get their brand, so we hope to support the designers a lot more by opening up a distribution outlet.”