African fashion is no longer just lovely to admire or just something you get made back home or by the tailors in the UK for dirt cheap prices. But it is finally receiving the recognition it deserves.
Designers such as Bunmi Koko, ZedEye, Sika and Ohema Ohene (to name a few) are selling online with their own online stores but there is also a revival of stores selling African fashion in online boutiques.
Chichia London has launched with Made By Africa with a store in Tanzania and designers Burberry and Northface showcasing collections that use Ankara print or inspired wax print brings African fashion (or inspired fashion) to the market place.
But specific online boutiques give an opportunity to bring all this into one place. The likes of ASOS, Ebay and now even Amazon have all clocked on to the importance of an online marketplace to sell apparel and it seems to be the perfect solution for those of us who love African product and designers but have been frustrated with the lack of opportunity to purchase these goodies.
Definite contenders in the game are the reputable MyAsho which stocks nearly 30 designers; South african based Africhic which was awarded with the Retailer of the Year Award 2010 by African Fashion International; the similarly named AfroChicOnline – a Ghana based company with a vision to “clothe Africa from within”, and the more recent ethically business focused Agnes and Lola – who generously give 20% of sales to Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) an independent international medical humanitarian organisation that delivers emergency aid in more than 60 countries.
The 2010 launch of StyleHouseFiles ‘Buy Nigerian’ Campaign seemed to emphasize the importance of retailers buying African fashion product but also for consumers purchasing it too. But they recognised it in the aspect of the full cycle of the fashion industry :
While we are all trying to grasp the concept of Buy Nigerian, we think it is imperative for designers to understand that fashion retail is typically a consumer goods market and it is characterised by very short product life, fickle consumer preferences and competition. Our designers therefore have to be sensitive to changes in fashion trends, buyers needs, competitive pricing and be able to softly change their line of production when the need arises.This can encourage consumers to buy more.
There are many sides to this story. African designers who are getting the word out about their label whether its made in Africa or not, and then initiatives which have a social aspect to them too. The former brings African fashion to the mainstream market and also offers the opportunity for lovers of African fashion to buy into their favourite designers, whereas the latter has more of a social development element to what they are doing with the website as a means to bring in revenue to a social enterprise, non-governmental organisation (NGO) or charity to help support and promote their artisan groups or in some cases women in developing African countries. One such online company is called Exclusive Roots which forms part of Tabeisa which has Enterprise Centres based at four institutions in South Africa.
Tabeisa is an enterprise which ‘encourages black economic empowerment by helping entrepreneurs from previously disadvantaged communities to set up small businesses’. It helps local HE institutions become catalysts for economic regeneration. They offer business advice, support on training, information on access to finance, mentorship through the early years of setting up a small business. They offered ethical fashion competitions such as Design 4 life Ghana which enabled winners of design companies Choolips and Julia Smith MadeInAfrica to form and work with batik print cooperative Global Mamas in Ghana and gain them access to British and European High Street markets such as Top Shop (back in 2007/8).
The encouraging thing is where stores like US retail giant, Nordstrom’s creates a new venture (called Treasure & Bond), to stock African designers Terrence Bray, Colleen Eitzen and Leigh Schubert. The designers’ collections will be available to buy from the Treasure & Bond store, opening on Broadway in New York City, on August 15 and the whole initiative has been supported by the South African Department of Arts and Culture’s craft project. They also will donate all profits from it to charity or charity related causes/events. Nordstrom has over 150 US stores and has a good reputation so this is a great look for African fashion.
There does seem a growing interest for fashion companies to support African fashion or to collaborate with designers, initiatives etc to showcase Africa in a new light OR it could be argued that fashion companies just want to be seen as doing something ethical i.e though be it not just for CSR (corporate social responsibility) purposes but for marketing strategies too.
Either way African fashion is on its way to big things. There is an obvious interest and does not seem to be stopping just yet.
If you have an online store selling Africa fashion product do let us know about it too.