- Title: African fashion designers thrive in 2016 despite tough economic times.
- Date: 29th December 2016
- Summary: LAGOS, NIGERIA (FILE) (REUTERS) VARIOUS OF MODELS WEARING 'MAXHOSA BY LADUMA' DESIGNS ON RUNWAY AT LAGOS FASHION AND DESIGN WEEK
- Embargoed: 13th January 2017 14:26
- Keywords: Fashion Designers Models Economy
- Location: CAPE TOWN AND JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA/ LAGOS, NIGERIA/ LONDON, ENGLAND/ KITALE, KENYA/ LUANDA, ANGOLA
- City: CAPE TOWN AND JOHANNESBURG, SOUTH AFRICA/ LAGOS, NIGERIA/ LONDON, ENGLAND/ KITALE, KENYA/ LUANDA, ANGOLA
- Country: Various
- Topics: Arts/Culture/Entertainment,Fashion
- Reuters ID: LVA0025EXR4GN
- Aspect Ratio: 16:9
- Story Text:2016 was not an easy year for fashion designers and entrepreneurs. Many struggled in the face of economic slow down and weak currencies.
At this year's South Africa's Men's Wear Fashion Week in Cape Town, many designers worried how the state of the economy would affect their craft.
South Africa's currency, the rand fell more than 7 percent since the start of 2016, adding to a 25 percent decline last year.
Fashion designers like Mzukisi Mbane set sights on export, targeting customers across the continent.
"I started with doing Ghana. I did Nigeria. So I am looking at going into Kenya, yes the brand needs to be identified as a household brand in Africa before I can go over to the other side," added Mbane.
Despite problems in the economy, South African designers showed they never lost their knack to merge modern with cultural relevance.
Designer Laduma Ngxokolo showcased his latest collection inspired by rite of passage regalia worn by young Xhosa men coming back from initiation.
MaXhosa knits are made from merino wool and mohair - a luxurious silk-like yarn from the Angora goat.
Ngxokolo has caught the eye of fashion heavyweights like Jay Z and Beyonce.
"Since I started my brand I've realised over the years that people don't buy my knitwear because of the function that it has like any other knitwear, people buy my knitwear because they want to make a statement," said Laduma.
Challenging perceptions that modest is not fashionable, British designer and artist Hana Tajima teamed up with high street fashion brand Uniqlo to design a collection of hijabs, head scarves, tunics, high-waisted tapered trousers and wrap-around dresses in a variety of bold patterns and colours.
Tajima is part of a global movement of designers trying to show the Hijab and other Islamic dress as symbols of empowerment for women and not oppression.
"I think in fact it's not necessarily just about designing for Muslim women but diversity in general and designing for different body types and people from different cultural backgrounds. I think that that's something that we haven't seen a lot of on the high street, and you can start to see now that brands are branching out a little bit," Tajima said.
Back in Africa, Kenya's Ujirani Mwema Community project - UMAC set out to boost local production of the Maasai blanket, a cultural checked fabric done in bright colours.
The Maasai blanket has inspired fashion products seen on international runways in recent years including collections by French fashion house, Louis Vuitton.
UMAC wants to counter lighter and cheaper versions of the blanket that are imported from China and have found their way into the local market. The workshop produces 40 blankets a day, that are sold in supermarkets and has 10 employees.
"We have decided to discourage people from importing textiles. We have discovered that we are capable of producing the blankets ourselves so that we can sell them locally and internationally because we have a permit from the national and county government," said Gertrude Nalianya, who started the UMAC project.
At this year's Angola fashion week, organizers aimed to make fashion count as a burgeoning investment market in the same way it does for South Africa.
Local designers said fashion could generate valuable jobs for Angola's unemployed youth to counter an economic crisis sparked by a hit on prices of the country's main revenue earner, oil.
"It's time for those in the government to try and revive the industry, we had a national fashion industry some years ago. It died. We need to wake up. We need the Ministry of Culture, we need the Ministry of Industry, we need the Ministry of Youth and Sports above all to be investing in the youth, to see the strength of the youth, to join us and we can give our ideas," said Angolan fashion designer. Gloria Silva.
Fashion hub Nigeria as always turned to tradition for inspiration, giving new life to 'Aso-Oke', a hand loomed traditional fabric woven by the Yoruba community.
The brand - 'ETHINK' creates colourful accessories, sneakers, boots and sandals all made from Aso-Oke.
But again, economic woes meant the business struggled. Nigeria is facing its worst economic crisis in 20 years.
"Once we are able to cross that hurdle and we know that we can get the kind of materials we want readily available to us without breaking the bank then we can start to produce things that will rival the international market," said Tunde Owolabi, who is behind the Ethnik brand.
Tunde, like many fashion designers and entrepreneurs is hoping hard work and unwavering interest in Africa's fashion scene will help overcome the current economic situation.
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