he first African Fashion Week London took place on the 5th and 6th August 2011 at Gibson Hall in London. The hype, the talk, the excitement raised was all worth it as though the pressure was on being the first of many I am sure, the expectancy was high but overall beside some issues (the usual suspects that comes with event organising such as the over booking of tickets, and the ‘can’t be helped on the day’ blunders such as the infamous red wine spilling on the white catwalk (who the culprit is we will never know) the event was pulled off well and will grow to be respected in the official fashion calenders.
It was an event open to designers of all origins and ethnicities providing an opportunity for them to showcase their talent. But as we at AFG continue to stress creating awareness is great but must remember the aim to showcase, promote and to sell through African fashion is key. Those of us that love to purchase African designer fashion or made in Africa fashion who attended and connected with designers do check out their websites.
Sponsored by Berekete, Rukkies Concept & Fashions Finest a long list of media partners including www.shadders.net all helped to lift the importance of this event to a wide market of readers and followers.
The event was buzzing with many attendees and the showcase outside the hall of designer products was an interesting way to spend your time until the show arrived as well as capturing moments to network with the attendees. As well as this the streetstyle celebrated African fashion for sure!
Alongside the catwalk shows at Africa Fashion Week London the exhibition area in the Garden Rooms of Gibson Hall showcased a variety of African designed and produced fashion.
Some exhibiting companies, such as Ozora, featured on the catwalk as well. Ozora is a bespoke and ready to wear luxury Nigerian fashion company whose collection mix African and Western styles and prints to create eye-catching, big impact pieces. You can check out their collections at www.ozora.co.uk or if you’re lucky enough to be in Nigeria you can visit their flagship store in Lagos.
Also based in Nigeria and producing bespoke and ready to wear fashions, Prima Rouge exhibited their collection on an outside stall at the show. Their collection of men’s and women’s wear featuring traditional African prints and textiles and accentuated with golds and metallics is produced in Lagos by a small workshop of around 15 employees. This allows them to use hand finishing methods to create intricate detail. The company also supports the local community by making donations to motherless shelters and rebuilding schools.
A third but altogether different Nigerian company exhibiting was Mmabon. Mmabon stands apart from the others due to its much more casual ‘urban ethnic’ designs and style. Elizabeth Ido is the woman behind Mmabon which began as (and continues to be) a custom T-shirt producing company. She is quick to deny the title of ‘designer’ and instead says she’s ‘just in a fiery love relationship with T-shirts, colour and African prints’. And it was this love that developed the Urban Ankara ready to wear range. The pieces are created by a small workshop of 7 employees in Lagos and they are hoping to find more outlets in order to increase sales so they can employ more local workers. The website is currently under construction but will be available shortly at www.mmabon.com.
Another company showing their produce in the exhibition was 4Shift, a social business based in Malindi on the coast of Kenya. Despite being a popular tourist destination, Malindi has high unemployment rates and 4Shift aim to provide as much ‘good’ employment as possible. They produce gorgeous quality leather, African beaded sandals (shown below and available fromhttp://www.4shift.com/catalogs-SANDALS.html ) in a small workshop and all profits are donated to a local children’s charity called the Lea Mwana centre that helps to educate disabled, orphans and vulnerable children (http://www.leamwanachildrencentre.com/ ).
The exhibition gave visitors the opportunity to take a closer look and even purchase a piece of African fashion to brighten up the summer wardrobe, very important on an overcast day in August!
There were various shows and we managed to attend quite a few. In particular we picked up those with an ethical focus such as MIA by Mia Nisbet a designer of Scottish origin. She showcased at the opening Gala show how she picks up clothing from the secondhand markets in Malawi and fuses them with Malawian print fabric working with tailors in Malawi with a focus on raising economic development, supporting local businesses by working with the local tailors and so creating a sustainable business model. Check out our photos from her show and overall from the event.
Mia’s collection was the first to use African music and really made you feel like you were in Malawi enjoying the experience with her.
Top Model of Colour 2010 winner Nana Afua Antwi presented her label (images above) Adopted Culture and focused on kente fabric – we have been saying over and over again the importance of weave – how the woven craft fabric will take over from prints, it is coming…keep an eye out 🙂 Adopted Culture is simply embracing different cultural original fashion, fabrics, colour, style and ethnicity to form one piece. The main concept is to promote ‘African Unity through fashion. The name ‘Adopted Culture’ is to experience the unique and originality of different cultural designs together. Adopted Culture has positive vibe with a funky twist as well as theatrical inspiration from Leigh Bowery which is going to go a long way in the fashion industry with its upcoming designs. The collection ranges from sizzling evening wear to couture, promoting fashion with different cultural style and design for today’s woman to embrace curves and appreciate their wonderful body in every style.
A fresh new label to the seen is Jezreel Designs with their made in Nigeria bags taking the industry by storm. A fantastic bag collection fusing leather and ankara in a modern way. Keep an eye out for this label as they will be launching new product over the coming months and seasons that you are certain to want!
At the end of the first Gala night came Ronke Ade – the visionary of Africa Fashion Week London and worked on it for a year. The fact she is based in Nigeria and came to London to put this on is commendable but also a shame that no Londoners be it Africa or not didn’t do this but it took someone from abroad to come over to make it happen.
Overall it was presented professionally at a lovely venue and did not run on ‘African time’. We at AFG were quite impressed. The only area it lacked in was the marketing of the designers in the lead up to the shows, the event is all about them and we would have loved to have embraced them more as many were new designers to this market. So we needed more information on the site. But it is the first one in London so we do give them kudos for the work that was executed and we are sure the next one 2012 will be bigger and grander!
Even more exciting is the launch of the Africa Fashion Week Boutique launching this year! This whole event is proving to be a very promising venture that not only showcases the designers but provides the opportunity to purchase and allows African fashion to be invested into and therefore creates, most importantly, VALUE added to the designs through sales.
Authors: Jacqueline Shaw, Imogen Butler and Dannike Walters