By Madison Back
Friday, October 5, 2012.
ACCRA, Ghana :
If one take’s a stroll down Oxford Street, this city’s main commercial hub and one will see endless signs of American culture pervading Ghana: Coca-Cola served at every restaurant, a bounty of American blockbusters on DVD for sale, and, most obviously, a three-story KFC towering over the local food joints.
But where is Africa’s influence on the West? One answer can be found on the runways.
Titi Ademola is a 33-year-old Nigerian-Ghanaian designer who is igniting the fashion scene with her smart-casual African designs. Her brand, KIKI Clothing, has been featured across the African continent.
Propelled by its success across Africa, KIKI is gradually working its way into the larger international market, gaining popularity amongst everyday shoppers and celebrities alike.
American actress Nicole Ari Parker, best known for her role in ‘Soul Food,’ and her Broadway turn in ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’ has been known to sport Ademola’s designs at red carpet events including the 2011 BET Awards.
Saville Row tailor Ozwald Boateng, Kofi Ansah, and Aisha Obuobi (creative director of Christie Brown) are just a few of many other Ghanaian designers that, like KIKI Clothing, have succeeded in making their mark in the greater continent and are now tackling the globe.
African influence in western fashion has been on the rise since Spring 2009 Fashion when afro-ethnic prints made a bold resurgence on the runways for designers such as Ralph Lauren, Yves Saint Laurent, and Marc Jacobs.
Three years later, the trend has not died down, as Burberry Prorsum unleashed a women’s collection last spring that is bursting at the seams with African prints and patterns. Anna Wintour, editor-in-chief of Vogue and fashion icon, was spotted wearing one of Burberry’s African print trench coats during Paris Fashion Week in March 2012.
However, as European and American designers continue to use Africa as a source of inspiration, many people from the continent feel that it is not getting the recognition it deserves.
“I think the international world is being unfair to Africa,” said Fritz Baffour, 60, Ghana’s Minister of Information of Ghana said recently. “People have a mindset against anything coming out of Africa artistically.”
Baffour he believes that Africa is used as a source of inspiration without receiving any of the credit, while its own designers are not recognized on the same international level as other European designers.
“It’s pretty evident that these [western] designers acknowledge the influence that African fashion has in general, it’s just a matter of ‘Do we love your influence so much that we’re willing to share the limelight with you?’” said Aminata Steele, 27, director of public relations for African Fashion Week in Los Angeles (AFWLA). “There is a large gap in terms of the representation of the fashion industry in the fashion world.”
AFWLA, an inaugural event tentatively scheduled for October 2012, aims to bridge this so-called “gap” between emerging African designers and a broad audience to which they might otherwise not have access. Steele says that the event-filled week is an opportunity for talented African designers to gain the exposure that they deserve.
Similar fashion week events (unaffiliated with AFWLA) held in New York and London have tried to pry open the doors of retailers and fashion magazines for African designers given the opportunity to participate.
Kenyan designer Kiko-Romeo, participant in Africa Fashion Week New York in 2011, was featured shortly after in L’uomo Vogue in May 2012.
For Steele, increasing opportunities for exposure in the western world is key to the designers’ success. “It’s a matter of sharing that space with African designers,” Steele said.
On the flip side, some African designers feel that there are inherent challenges placed on them by their own countries and situations.
“If you’re from a developing country, your priorities are different from a person in a developed country,” said Juliet Azedi Ajaah, 26, co-founder and designer of ZediCross. “Fashion is secondary.”
But the evidence across the continent indicates that this is rapidly changing.
African Fashion International (AFI), a fashion events and promotions company, is the powerhouse behind Africa Fashion Week, Cape Town Fashion Week, and Joburg Fashion Week, all of which gained the sponsorship of Mercedes-Benz this year. AFI, which boasts on its website that its events are Africa’s “most globally recognized fashion platforms”, says that pairing up with Mercedes-Benz “bridges the gap of global relevance” to its existing events.
This year is the first time the events will be backed by such a large corporate sponsor. It could serve a major role in linking African designers to bigger players in the international fashion sphere.
“We are getting there, but we are not yet there,” said Jennifer Richlove, 27, marketing executive of the Ghana Fashion Awards, an annual event celebrating the growing Ghanaian fashion industry.
“Everybody is busy doing one thing or another to look after money. I think it’s about time we begin looking after our nation instead,” Richlove said, commenting on the goals of designers who have started to taste international success. She added that the two worlds could come together if everyone realizes the importance fashion has in preserving African culture.
Juliet Azedi Ajaah of ZediCross agreed that the African people play a pivotal role in helping propel designers towards international exposure. “The people themselves have to appreciate and love [the clothing], and then it will catch on with other people. When we consume it, other people will notice it.”
For Titi Ademola, the responsibility to move forward is ultimately placed in the hands of the designers themselves.
“We have to push ourselves,” said Ademola said. “We need to take advantage of this time when wearing African is acceptable in the fashion world, and make the most of it.”
Madison Back completed New York University Journalism’s ‘Reporting Africa’ program in 2012 and can be reached at Mlb488@nyu.edu
African Fashion International (AFI): www.afi.za.com,
Africa Fashion Guide: www.africafashionguide.com
KIKI Clothing: www.kikiclothing.com, Accra Mall shop
Fashionista GH: www.fashionistagh.blogspot.com
Ghana Fashion Awards: www.ghanafashionawards.com
Christie Brown: www.christiebrownonline.org, Christie Brown Studio in Accra
Ghana Fashion Festival: www.ghanafashionfestival.com
Canoe Magazine: www.canoeafrica.com
My Asho: www.myasho.com