Whenever I read something positive about Africa – and especially about African fashion – written in the mainstream press, it lifts me up. Literally elevates me. For those not paying attention to what the media covers in terms of Africa, being uplifted by one news article might seem a rather exaggerated response to something so seemingly trivial.
But when you’re fully immersed in the business of promoting something as original and beautiful, and as yet relatively unseen on the global scene as African fashion, this is a small victory. To anybody who ever doubted it, I can wholeheartedly attest to the fact that only a tiny part of what’s reported about Africa is positive; and in the fashion press, African fashion barely gets a mention at all.
So waking up this morning to read this FT.com article by Melanie Abrams entitled ‘Lagos: Global Fashion Hotspot’ – which quotes me on why Nigerian luxury brands are doing well – has totally made my weekend.
I met Melanie Abrams when she attended our Clerkenwell Pop Up Boutique in the Summer. She was interested in Nigerian fashion and what it had to offer the high-end international fashion market. She was curious about why Lagos had emerged as a clear leader in the luxury space, as opposed to other fashion capitals on the continent.
Talking to her raised in me some interesting observations, and highlighted the huge opportunity that Lagos has to carve out a niche on the global luxury fashion scene. Economically, Nigeria alone has enough of an emerging middle class (and a substantial super-rich class) to fully sustain labels such as Jewel by Lisa, Lanre da Silva Ajaye, Iconic Invanity and Nkwo (to name a few) – and the majority of these designers’ customers are indeed home-grown.
However, not only can these labels be desirable to Nigerians and other Africans, there’s also an international appeal to the diverse colours, textures and silhouettes that draw from centuries of culture and craftsmanship, which these designers are taking advantage of. What’s evident in Nigerian and also African popular culture (whether music, film, art or fashion) is that there is a certain pride in the influences inherited from past generations which perhaps wasn’t there before.
No longer is the West the only source of inspiration to creatives across the continent. I remember growing up in a time when youth culture valued American music over local, and did our best to emulate every fashion trend coming out of London and New York. But thankfully attitudes have changed, and this new-found pride is what will drive the exportation of fashion, art, music and even film to the world.
What remains now is exposure beyond the shores of Africa. Proper exposure: an alternative viewpoint, a steady drowning out of the negative vibes that are so often linked, bound even, to ‘Brand Africa’, and permeate even the editorial desks of fashion magazines.
Lately we’ve seen high profile individuals like Michelle Obama and Beyonce Knowles don Nigerian labels with pride. And so must this trend continue. Which is why an article such as this (and many more of the same please!) are crucial to getting the global consumer to appreciate, trust and embrace what’s coming out of Africa as legitimate and worth a look. We must move from featuring Western labels using African designs as inspiration as a one-off, to covering African labels doing that as a matter of course.
Sapelle isn’t a player on the luxury fashion stage, but I believe that continued exposure to top African labels and changing mindsets in the luxury space will see benefits flowing to the mid-market players we work with, who have lots to offer in terms of beautiful, original, relevant fashion for everyday wear.
So hats off to you, Melanie Abrams and FT.com. And thank you for making my weekend!