Modern-Day African Fashion is more Than Traditional Caricatures
Fashion has over the past decade or so seen a gradual increase in the use of African-inspired prints and silhouettes, mainly derived from the West and East African regions. We have seen these influences on the runways of Louis Vuitton, Marc Jacobs, Valentino, OAMC, and Thakoon, among others. Many thought that like any other trend, African-inspired garments and accessories would peak and fizzle after a season or two.
However, Africa as a reference point has, instead, proven to have significant staying power and has diversified further into other industries, largely because it responds to and speaks to the genuine needs and interests of a large sum of global consumers – black people.
Despite what may appear to be the case, this trend was not fueled by Africans in Africa. Rather, it was initially put forth by African diaspora millennials across Europe and the U.S. – and then carried further by big brands and other entities, alike. As this generation of black youth has come of age, we have seen them look to the cultural heritage of their parents and ancestors, largely borne of an absence of representation in the mass media.
No shortage of these individuals has looked to their ancestral sensibilities and applied them to their own lives (in many instances neglecting to do the necessary research into the various symbolism and appropriate usage of the pieces); they have built businesses, fashion brands, blogs, and other media outlets as a way to validate – and monetize – their interpretations of African culture. As a result, this generation plays a key role – albeit unintentionally – in leading the global narrative on Africa and its fashion (accurately depicted or otherwise), and – more generally – blackness.
In terms of fashion, many African expatriates have been drawn to some of the more performative aspects of African cultures, looking to traditional and traditional-inspired fabrics, beads, etc. What is often overlooked in the modern-day treatment of Africa is the fact that the continent has thriving streetwear, bridal, swimwear, footwear, and jewellery brands with offerings that are capable of seamlessly transcending borders. Still yet, where we can, we are also a vibrant tech-savvy youth documenting our reality and aspirations online.
Despite what you might see on the runway or in editorials, it is worth noting that African youths do not walk around in Kente dashikis and seShweShwe headwraps – similar to how the Japanese youth, for example, do not live their daily lives in Hikizuri Kimonos.
Such creations and styling while the result of African influence, are – in reality – not an accurate depiction of the fashions created or worn by a majority of Africans in Africa today. Instead, they are juxtapositions of indigenous cultural and religious beauty standards, socio-economic circumstances, organic local fashion subcultures, as well as the Western ideals imposed through generations of colonialism and systematic racism with current global trends.
African fashion is a melting pot of ideas and aesthetics unlike anywhere else in the world. That is also often excluded from the global mass media’s coverage of African fashion. In fact, brands based in Africa, which have received the most consistent global attention, are often those that peddle aspects of African-ness that appeal to the white and Western gaze – namely colorful prints and beads – in ways which often lean towards being a form of caricature of that culture. By no coincidence, these are in line with the aspects cherry picked by African expatriates in furtherance of this trend.
Millennials now comprise 37 percent of Africa’s population and 70 percent of the Sub-Saharan African population is under the age of 30, making it the world’s most youthful continent. With that comes a constantly diversifying approach to fashion that deserves to be covered, respected and supported globally, and led by Africans in Africa.
Featured Images: Kenyan designers
By TSHEGO ‘RED’ MOSIANE; The fashion law
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