The Growth of the African Fashion Industry

Image Credit: Chris Halderman

This month marked the 2nd annual Africa Fashion Week London, where designers, retailers and lovers of African fashion gathered to enjoy a showcase of vibrant African garments, accessories and customised items. The exhibition is only a year old, which highlights the fact that African fashion has only recently begun to have it’s moment in the sun in the Western World.

The vibrant prints from traditional African fabrics have become the newest craze in the world of fashion in the past few years, so much so that high fashion designers, such as Burberry, Jimmy Choo and Vivienne Westwood have created African inspired collections. British online retailer, ASOS, also took a liking for African prints and started ASOS Africa in 2010, where the prints are used to add an exotic edge to Western garments.

As the African fashion industry is booming, more and more Africans are exploring the business of fashion. Ghanaian fashion designer Kofi Ansah is a prime example of a UK-educated African who decided to take his talent to his home country and achieve success. After decades working and living in Europe, Ansah decided to return to Ghana, where he established his business and achieved his aim of creating jobs for people in his home land.

Young designer Phyllis Taylor is no different. Although she was born in the UK, her love for the West African fabrics she came across when visiting Ghana on summer holidays prompted her business. Now, the production of her designs are all done in Ghana.

Nigeria has recently dropped its textile import ban, driving renewed interest from international fashion and apparel retailers. However, African fashion is not only going from Africa to the West, as Western brands are targeting Africa’s emerging markets. Nigeria is currently home to brands such as Levi’s, Mango, Nike and Swatch, which have set up stores in the Palms Shopping Mall in Lagos.

The country has also hosted major fashion events, such as Nigeria Fashion Week and MTN’s Lagos Fashion and Design Week. The industry is attracting collaboration from other sectors. MTN, Africa’s leading telecommunication company, collaborated with the fashion industry in Lagos to host MTN’s Lagos Fashion and Design Week, which brought together media agencies, industry agents, buyers and consumers to explore the collections of Lagos’s fashion designers.

African-inspired fashion and designers have also made a mark in New York City, considered to be one of the world’s fashion capitals. Arise Magazine, a publication on African fashion and beauty founded in Nigeria, partnered with IMG Mercedes Benz New York Fashion Week to host African Fashion Week. The magazine also hosted an event in Lagos in March 2011, where more than 51 African designers partnered with 81 models, five music performances and three days of shows and events.

Some of the most renowned African fashion designers include Ozwald Boateng, of Ghanaian decent, Asake Oge of Nigeria, and Nigerian designer Duro Olowu, who has found a loyal customer in American First Lady, Michelle Obama, who has been spotted wearing his designs on several special occasions.

The rapid growth of the African fashion industry also prompted the Editor of Arise magazine and African fashion enthusiast, Helen Jennings, to write a book on the industry. The book explores the growth of the industry, along with a look at some of the best African designers and how their modern take on traditional African garments has brought about “new” African fashion.

Famous designer from Niger, Alphadi, expressed that more investment in the African fashion industry could revolutionise the African economy. Stephanie Hogg, founder of Sierra Leone-based NearFar, also believes that “it is possible to create sustainable employment through fusing African creativity with western demand for fashion.”


Image Credit: Chris Halderman