MADE IN AFRICA

Fash­ion has al­ways been in vogue in Africa – but now it could be big busi­ness, too, as new de­sign­ers and start-up brands tar­get the global mar­ket. Jane Labous re­ports

Business Traveller - - NEWS -

Why Africa’s fash­ion in­dus­try could be big busi­ness for global in­vestors

In a sandy res­i­den­tial quar­ter of Yoff in coastal Dakar, Sene­gal, Al­pha Gu­eye is pe­rus­ing pat­terns with a cus­tomer. A length of acid-yel­low, wax­printed ma­te­rial with a pat­tern of golden birds bil­lows across the tiny shop crammed with sewing ma­chines, mul­ti­coloured bob­bins and stacks of mag­a­zines.“Fash­ion?”Al­pha smiles.“Une Dakaroise will go with­out a meal for days to save her last [pen­nies] for a new dress!”

Dakar has long been known as the Paris of Africa. It’s the home of that leg­endary “queen of cou­ture”, Ou­mou Sy, and where Sene­galese women stalk the city streets like haughty birds of par­adise in deca­dently pat­terned marinières (fit­ted tops and skirts), match­ing head­scarves and high heels. The men are no less chic, sport­ing trendy jeans or grand boubous (long, loos­e­fit­ting gar­ments worn by both sexes) in lus­trous, colourful fab­ric. Down through West Africa it’s the same, from the ef­fer­ves­cent fash­ion cap­i­tals of Abid­jan and La­gos to trendy Ac­cra and stylish lit­tle Lomé in Togo, where women in tow­er­ing heels zip around the dusty cap­i­tal on mopeds.

Fur­ther south, the fash­ion scene has long taken root in Cape Town, Jo­han­nes­burg and Dar es Salaam. Com­plet­ing the con­ti­nen­tal tour, the fash­ion­ista might con­tinue north to Nairobi, Ad­dis Ababa, Kam­pala, Cairo or Casablanca.

De­signer names emerg­ing from Africa are nu­mer­ous – Fikirte Ad­dis, House of Marie, Dar­ryl Jagga, Stu­dio One Eighty Nine, Maki Oh, Lisa Fo­lawiyo, Max­hosa by Lad­uma, and Loin­cloth and Ashes are all be­ing picked up in­ter­na­tion­ally, first by celebri­ties, and now by con­sumers seek­ing some­thing new.

“West African coun­tries have celebrity ap­peal; they’re be­ing worn by in­ter­na­tional icons,” says Adiat Disu, founder of Africa Fash­ion Week in Ber­lin, Lon­don, Mi­lan, New York, Paris and Tokyo. “Celebri­ties are wear­ing de­signs hand­crafted by de­sign­ers or ar­ti­sans from African coun­tries. The Made in Africa brand rev­o­lu­tion be­gan no­tably dur­ing Barack Obama’s pres­i­dency, when Michelle Obama wore a bright pink Mali-in­spired top de­signed by Duro Olowu, a Nige­ria-born de­signer. Other great ex­am­ples in­clude Ali­cia Keys wear­ing Stu­dio One Eighty Nine, Solange Knowles wear­ing Box­ing Kit­ten and Issa Rae wear­ing Lisa Fo­lawiyo.”

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