The second edition of Fashion Africa Conference organised by Jacqueline Shaw, founder of The Africa Fashion Guide and The Fashion Africa Conference and the author of Fashion Africa – came back much bigger than the 2013 maiden edition, happened over two days on 25-26 May, held under the theme, “Africa. Fashion’s Future”.
As much as I was there to moderate the ‘Future Narrative Voices’ panel with the founders of two equally delightful online fashion portals, Parisian Chayet Chiénin of Nothing but the Wax and New York-based Ekua Odoi of African Prints in Fashion, I was also keen to check out the exhibition which featured a range of ethically sourced and produced fashion.
I am loath to say “African fashion” as I still find the idea of a continent-wide generalisation irksome; if we do not pile fashion from Britain along with, say, fashion from Greece, and call it “European fashion”, it is troublesome to think why we would pile together fashion from 54 nations and call it “African”? While Ekua mentioned that for the time being, it is almost acceptable for marketing purposes of spreading the love for fashion from Africa, a recent article from Hannah Pool voices my sentiments about this troublesome classification.
Without further ado though, I would like to share with you some of my highlights from the exhibition.
I had been stalking Gitas Portal and her amazing work on social media for a while including the Rose jumpsuit that had been on my lust list since August 2016 so imagine my joy at meeting the inspirational founder Mariatu Turay who escaped civil war in Sierra Leone and a brief period of homelessness in the UK to establish her fashion brand.
Barefoot in Business
Another fascinating lady was Carol Cooke, BAFTA award-winning filmmaker, founder of Scrumptious Productions who is aiming to tackle inequality in enterprise one film screening at a time with Barefoot in Business. Barefoot in Business, a groundbreaking documentary driven campaign showcasing the work of female entrepreneurs across Uganda and creating a new online marketplace.
18 Forever is an online social enterprise fashion brand for women aiming to create an avenue where artisans are empowered and fairly rewarded for their work. I was fascinated by the stories of the women Brand Manager Sally Kah shared – Aminat based in Ibadan, Nigeria, manufacturing beautiful wax, handbags, Neshelle from Kenya sewing African print skirts, Adama from The Gambia producing African print tops, blazers, skirts and more. It is clear that the enterprise works hand in hand with their locally based Africans as they work towards having an in-house manufacturing hub. You can shop to your heart’s content knowing that not only do you get to score some very affordable pieces but you are also supporting the Made in Africa movement and the artisans in Africa.
Proudly Made in Africa
Proudly Made in Africa is a not-for-profit organisation that facilitates and promotes ethical trading of African goods. Also one of the partners of this year’s Fashion Africa Conference, Proudly Made in Africa showcased a range of products from coffee and tea to fashion accessories and clothing.
I was attracted to the Massassi Batique showcase by the beautiful plexiglas African print accessories – the vibrancy of wax and the added gloss and protection of plexiglas. Massassi meaning the “first woman on Earth” (from Zimbabwe) is the brainchild of a group of friends keen to offer an Ankara clothing service, ranging from bespoke garments to standard sized clothes.
Soul of Africa
Another partner for the event, Soul of Africa, a social enterprise devoted to providing skills, earnings and support for the communities. Since 2003, From that beginning, Soul of Africa has been making shoes in South Africa, Tunisia and Ethiopia; it has helped over 17,000 children and families and supported over 100 projects.