Despite how magazines like Vogue, Cosmos and others neglect African fashion, it is currently the one style/culture that is making a tremendous international impact. This stretches from Berlin, to Australia, to Canada, to Brazil, USA, UK and more.
So in recent events, we have had extraordinary numbers of international celebrities outside Africa in African fashion, Beyonce and her sisters have kept it up consistently appearing in print fashion every now and then. Chris Brown and his love for the angelina print/dashiki and more. However, notice when Michelle Obama wore Maki Oh that seemed to be one of the only moments that the designers name could be traced to an African designer.
So that brings the question, why is this trend of African fashion growing but our fashion designers are nowhere to be seen. Where are Africa’s Georgio Armani, Versace, Louis V and more. Yes Africa and Africans do not have a monopoly on print, but we are fairly sure what one associates certain print fabrics with and the essence to why they feel the need to support such styles. We all love the styles, the prints, the culture, and we see how it goes viral online, but hardly can any of the fans identify a brand which they stick with, or even name a brand which they are sure the peers will know of. And below explains why.
I started off as a model booker in UK and I recall the first moment we had a model booking at a main LFW show. Not only were our models booked but also we had one of them shoot the look book for the designer. Therefore in attending the show, I managed to get hold of my trophy, the look book which I proudly held onto with 20 pages of my model spread across.
Mercedes Benz Africa Fashion Festival 2015 is on the way and will commence in 3 days. Designers from Angola, South Africa, Nigeria, UK, Uganda and more will be showcasing, I can assure you none of them will have a look book (a printed hand out showcasing your designs) to give out. In fact I have never seen a look book in Ghana. Which means if you do not buy the dress that they have just fitted right there on the model, you most likely aren’t going to have any reminders or outlets for it with the exception of getting off your ass one day to do a google search for designer. After which you will then explain to her/him the dress, your size, run around finding out to transfer money to them with not guarantee if you are about to get your money’s worth or not, and very unlikely return or money back policies. Now what is the likelihood you are even thinking of the dress or marked it down in the first place.
But to their defense most of our fashion shows do not have buyers, the cost of printing is very high, and let’s admit we are in 2015, where everything is online and online is mobile phone, so one can excuse the importance of printing.
Fair enough, But what about press? Our entertainment media is so dry out of stories the biggest topic this week we all witnessed was based around a Ghanaian rapper Sarkodie’s feature with an American rapper. That literally lasted the whole week. Despite this, you will find probably about one designer article on an entertainment website roughly every 4 or so months, and we only have entertainment sites. On FashionGHANA, we publish 3/4 articles a day, that is at least 20 articles a week, 80 a month, 960 a year. Giving you the core of fashion activities on the ground.
From look books to events what if I told you roughly of that amount, less than 10 of those per year are actually sent by the designers or event organizers in Africa, let alone Ghana. The most our designers will do is to post it on their instagram or facebook.
So in order for us to keep you updated with look books and fashion stories literally means a consistent process of checking designers social media pages. It is a sad case, especially when a simple solution lies in gathering emails and putting out a forward mail. Arrogance or ignorance one can never tell.
But it’s okay because we have online boutiques, can you find African designers on there? Not really! I have come across maybe 3 online boutiques that managed to get African designers on there, but for some reason most did not maintain the relationship. In fact these two conversations from two of Ghana’s known designers will give you a sense of the train of thought.
FashionGHANA: Hi we would like to sell your upcoming items belonging to the look book on fashionghana.
Designer: Sorry, I’m not looking to sell it on other sites.
FashionGHANA: Okay, no problem you don’t mind if we ask why?
Designer: Because I want people to come to my website and buy it.
FashionGHANA: Fine no problem, we can credit your website when we publish the look book in our news feed, is it an eCommerce website?
FashionGHANA: Okay, so how will people outside buy it.
Designer: They will contact me.
FashionGHANA: Ah I see, ok great, will send you a link when we publish it.
A call earlier with another top Ghanaian fashion designer after 2 straight months of avoiding calls.
FashionGHANA: Hi we would like to work with you to get your stuff on FashionGHANA.com, I hope you managed to read through the terms and conditions we sent.
Designer: Yes, we are not looking to have our stuff on any online retail store because we do not have much in stock for people who come.
FashionGHANA: Oh sure, we don’t stock it at FashionGHANA, we can just arrange the shoot, have it online and when it’s bought we purchase it from you.
Designer: Yes but I would want people to come to the shop to get it as it is only a few.
FashionGHANA:ah ok, no worries, good luck with everything.
Mind you, these are the ones that were nice enough to pick up their calls after months of disturbing their assistants. Then you have those who agree but don’t attend appointments nor follow up on calls. And then, there are those that never replied or kept telling their assistants to say their not in, you could easily confuse them with financially successful designers. This is not an exaggerated character of a few being applied to many, this is literally almost (not all) every established designer in Ghana we contacted.
It may be possible that FashionGHANA might not be of interest to them and we might be at fault somewhere, but after getting contacted on separate occasions by Jumia and Kaymu (Africa’s largest buy and sell websites) and hearing them ask us about advice on why our fashion designers are so limited when it comes to expanding business, I could only laugh and tell them I have no advice. At one point I even thought I was talking to the same person due to the similar critique of the designers they shared.
The unfortunate part is, as much as they are talented and creative, most of them have not built a brand strong enough to have people chasing them, therefore in most cases it is even more work and costly for online boutiques to work chase known designers as selling their items do not yield much benefit. Did I forget to mention, in our attempt to fill our directory with contact details of the designers, with the exception of South Africa, literally over 95% of our designer here in African do NOT have websites.
So let’s recap, no look books, no press releases, no online boutiques, and no websites! And due to the fact that there is no mass production going on, it also means no distribution to local shops.
Now is it surprising why the African fashion style print skirt Beyonce decided to wear happened to be the work of Italian designer Stella Jean, and not an actual African fashion designer?
Although, here is what we do get generally from our designers. Runway shows and a bow, local celebrities wearing their stuff which they take to social media and cherish, Stalls at events, picking up awards, TV interviews, and anything associated with doing something with Europe or America. Technically speaking, anything that deals with the limelight. In other words…a fashion show is what it really is, but zero efforts when it comes to the core business of fashion and production.
This article is not supposed to be hard hitting despite the fact I have had quite a few of these in the past, but it’s only in hopes that it can influence our style of work and potentially bring progressive change. If that can not happen with the current designers in the industry, hopefully up and coming designers can review the content of this article and succeed where they fail. Because the development of such an industry where the press benefits, producers benefits, retailer (both online and stores) benefit, should not be limited.
There are millions of people currently buying and supporting African fashion or at least what falls under the banner of African fashion, and they are also willing to support African brands. However it is a shame that such limitations, whatever the reason may be, is driving a wedge between a growing industry and it’s supporters. The real truth as it goes right now is, African tailors are proving more successful that African fashion designers. And the main beneficiaries under the current banner of African fashion are the tailors and the fabric manufacturers (mostly Chinese and dutch).