Changemakers in African Style and Fashion
Fashion, style and beauty can be manifestations of dignity, identity and self-realisation on the African continent. Meet the new voices of African style who are here to tell strong stories through design ans styling.
AFRICAN STYLE: LADIES AND GENTLEMEN OF CONGO
It might seem like a stark contradiction for a group of Congolese men and women to dress in luxurious European garments to look like their colonizers, but that’s what they have been doing since the 1920s as a claim of their identity and also an unexpected form of social resistance. The prominent British photographer Tariq Zaidi’s latest book “Sapeurs: Ladies and Gentlemen of Congo” focuses on this extraordinary fashion subculture that sprouted in the twin capitals of Kinshasa and Brazzaville. Known as “La Sape” (Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes), the members of this society of dandies usually have double roles in their society. While they might be a taxi-driver, a tailor or a gardener during the day, they transform into local rock stars off the clock. Saving hundreds of dollars to buy expensive designer clothes might seem a bit exaggerated at a first glance in a society that struggles with poverty, but also shows that “joie de vivre” could be more vital than anything, as Tariq Zaidi has captured in an excellent way.
DREAM DUO: IBRAHIM KAMARA & RAFAEL PAVAROTTI
British-Gambian fashion editor İbrahim Kamara and his latest collaborative work with Brazilian photographer Rafael Pavarotti celebrates the beauty of black and indigenous people in high fashion, where they had been absent for decades. As an innovative stylist who was appointed as the Editor-in-Chief for Dazed Magazine, Kamara also consults for big brands like Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacob, and artists such as Beyoncé, Rihanna and Madonna. Lately, the creative duo has been busy with creating several enigmatic stories together, using the power of photography for social change and racial justice. They continue to create awe-inspiring looks with a vibrant color palette and sculptural silhouettes that aim to turn heads, but also to send strong messages to the next generations with the hope of changing the historical narrative on racial representation.
A FUTURISTIC EYE: OSBORNE MACHARIA
Kenyan photographer and Afrofuturist artist Osborne Macharia stands out as one of the most powerful voices shaping the post-colonial narrative in Africa today. He is famous for his fictional photography series portraying an eclectic array of models from all ages and walks of life, placed in surreal stories. Although his portraits are more imaginary, rather than being documentary, they convey sharp realities from different African communities. For his “Remember the Rude Boy” series, he teamed up with the stylist Kevo Abbra to portray a series of old men posing in their eclectic styles, as a tribute to Abbra’s father who fascinated his friends and family with his creative way of dressing. In his “Magadi” series, on the other hand, he told the imaginary story of a group of former female circumcisers who abandoned their former practice and took up ethnic fashion as an alternative livelihood. Macharia continues to use Afrofuturism style as a strong tool to break stereotypes about African people, build new ways of thinking and imagine a more positive future for the continen
MADE IN AFRICA: TONGORO STUDIO
Although it is hard to talk about an African fashion industry today, a new generation of African talents has already started to shape its future. Sarah Diouf, a Senegalese designer from Dakar, is one of the leading figures of the African fashion ecosystem who achieved international fame. Launching her brand Tongoro Studio in 2016 to produce garments that are made by local tailors with 100% local materials, she stood out with the bespoke black and white dress and “durag” Beyoncé was wearing at the music video of her song “Spirit”. Tongoro continues to charm with its collections of bold and feminine pieces for women who are not afraid of trying new styles.
WEAVING FOR CHANGE: AAKS
The Ghanaian designer Akousa Afriyie-Kumi’s small artisanal business has enjoyed an unexpected popularity in the aftermath of the Black Lives Matter movement. But that comes as no surprise, as several local African brands have had the same boost effect due to a spontaneous campaign to support black-owned businesses globally. Eventually, the direct online sales of AAKS grew by 700 per cent in 2020 alone and the brand’s elegant raffia bags have also started to be demanded by major international retailers. AAKS bags are handcrafted in raffia from palm tree leaves by women from local Ghanaian tribes with ages-old techniques and owe their striking colors to natural vegetable dyes. Each AAKS bag carries a “signature” tag by the woman who weaves it, while the final touches of the designer by linen and leather details give them a truly stylish and global feel.
IMAGINED FUTURES: THEBE MAGUGU
The South African designer Thebe Magugu‘s global success is yet another proof of the fact that “African fashion is so much more than what it has been painted out to be in the West,” in his own words. Thebe Magugu attracted global attention when he became the first African designer to be awarded the prestigious LVMH Prize for Young Designers in 2019 for his sculptural garments that are inspired by South Africa’s handiwork tradition. Thebe Magugu explains his brand’s design attitude and mission of putting African style forward so vividly as follows: “Sleek, forward-looking design intersects with motifs and details that draw from our continent’s storied past, complex present and exciting imagined futures, providing smart, multifaceted clothes that mirror the inspiring qualities of the people they are made for.”
EMPOWERING ARTISANS: MAISON CHÂTEAU ROUGE
Senegalese Fofana brothers are bringing African fashion to the heart of Paris –the capital of fashion– with their streetwear brand Maison Château Rouge, which is located in the working-class African neighborhood of Château Rouge. As the sons of Senegalese immigrants, they first founded an association called Les Oiseaux Migrateurs (The Migratory Birds) to bring traditional African goods to be sold in Europe. To support local businesses for real social and economic development in the continent, they first imported local products like bissap (hibiscus juice). Their new venture Maison Château Rouge is now popular among young Parisians with its streetwear collection -ranging from cushions and backpacks to hats and t-shirts made of colorful African clothes sourced from manufacturers of Sub-saharan countries, like Uniwax from Ivory Coast, or Global Teinture from Mali.