Fashion in Africa: designers in the spotlight | Expert opinion

Forget Paris, London and New York, enter Johannesburg, Cape Town, Lagos, Accra and Nairobi. With their Africa-inspired ready-to-wear fashion, young African fashion designers have earned their place on the continent’s catwalk. What is happening in  upcoming fashion in Africa, we ask Africa’s fashion trendwatcher Diana Opoti.

On Africa’s emerging fashion stage, many promising local heroes attract more than regional attention. They are closely followed by Kenya’s rising star in fashion reporting, Diana Opoti. At the young age of 30, she is the host en presenter of Africa’s popular weekly fashion show, Designing Africa. Watched by tens of millions of viewers in 47 countries (including recently added: UK), Diana covers all major fashion weeks and shows in South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and other countries.

She interviews fashion designers, stylists, photographers, models and producers of textiles, footwear and accessories – anything that may be of interest to the emerging and increasingly fashion-savvy middle and upper-classes in Africa’s capitals that have the means to buy the fashion that is locally designed, produced and sold.

Fashion arena

The arena of fashion in Africa offers names you may not yet have heard about, like Taibo Bacar from Mozambique, Kenya’s John Kaveke, South Africa’s Anisa Mpungwe, Thula Sindi and David Tlale and Ghana’s Nelly Aboagye of Duaba Serwa. “There are equally promising fashion names in Africa, like Nana Brenu of 1981, Katungulu Mwendwa and Nkhensani Nkosi”, Diana adds.

While Nigeria and Ghana offer some of the continent’s most amazing designers, South Africa offers a mature African fashion environment, both for manufacturing and distribution. “The country has some great and internationally recognised fashion schools. It also has a very interesting concept of the regional ‘fashion councils’ such as the Cape Town Fashion Council headed up by Bryan Ramkilawan. These councils enable designers in different parts of the country to access resources and to showcase their work.”

Challenges to designers

South Africa has ready-to-wear fashion on the catwalk, as well as in independent and franchise stores. “There are not many other African countries that have a fashion industry yet”, Opoti explains. “Kenya offers amazing talent, but our industry poses challenges to designers trying to retail. Confidence in local brands is still shaky and designers have to fight the second-hand apparel industry. Only a handful of designers have stores where you can purchase their brands”, Opoti adds.

To improve their situation, designers would need access to local producers, which are hard to find. “This may be an industry that has potential. Investors should first invest in supplying good-quality textile, cotton and other fabrics. Two: start a small- or medium scale textile production facility in Kenya or any other East African Country. These two actions could be the start of a local industry in ready-to-wear fashion. Local production would increase the availability of local fashion at a reasonable price. The market is there. Reports about consumerism in the apparels market support this. The growing middle class that makes a € 1000 per month is there and it is growing. Fashion in Africa is waiting for investors that are willing to tap into the market.”

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