With African fashion in vogue, home talent shines

South African model Lulama Mlambo poses while wearing clothes made by Kisua.com, an online clothing retailer launched by Ghanaian entrepreneur Samuel Mensah, in Johannesburg, February 2, 2015. REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko

When Michelle Obama and Beyoncé Knowles attended high-profile events in clothes made by African designers, it was a sure sign that the continent’s vibrant style has arrived on the world stage.

The showcasing of clothes from home-grown African designers in stores in New York, London, and Tokyo is a sign of decreasing ignorance and a broader change of attitude towards a continent which is being covered more completely, beyond the reductive and sensationalized stories of war and disease that had been used to generalize the continent.

Global fashion designers like Yves Saint Laurent took inspiration from Africa decades ago and more recently brands like Burberry, Louis Vuitton, and Christian Dior have embraced the continent’s style and broadened its appeal.

But consumers now want products made by Africans, not replicas produced by Western clothing chains, according to Bethlehem Tilahun Alemu, who owns Ethiopian shoe company, soleRebels, which has a dozen stores from Singapore to Greece.

“The global consumer today is hyper-aware. They want authentic and innovative ideas delivered from the authors of those ideas,” Bethlehem said.

“We have always had incredible design and production talent here.”

In 2010, the first annual New York African Fashion Week gave home-grown designers the chance to showcase their work on the world stage.

Global celebrities have endorsed African designers including Nigerian label Maki-Oh, Ghana‘s Osei-Duro, and South Africa-based retailer Kisua.com.

Nigerian lawyer-turned-designer Duro Olowu has become a well-known name in fashion circles and has a collection at U.S. department store J.C. Penney and his own boutique store in central London.

“It was a good thing to see international designers putting African fashion on the map,” said Ghanaian entrepreneur Samuel Mensah, who quit his job as a fund manager to launch online clothes retailer Kisua.com.

“Now we’re starting to see Africa taking ownership of its own cultural assets. African designers are being noticed. They are stocked in international stores.”

While attitudes abroad have changed the industry is also trying to meet demand for quality fashion among the growing middle-class at home.

“The change has been brought about by global developments, both economical change and a communication change,” said Roger Gerards, creative director at Vlisco, one of the world’s biggest producers of African fabric.

“People see other countries and other cultures more easily than 20 years ago because of social media,” Gerards added.

Sub-Saharan Africa is the second fastest growing economic region in the world behind Asia and has a rapidly growing middle-class who have more access to world trends as mobile phones and the Internet reach tens of millions more people every year.

Source: Business & Financial News, Breaking US & International News | Reuters.com.