IT’S NOT ALWAYS GLOOM AND DOOM AS AFRICA STEPS OUT OF THE SHADE INTO THE FASHION LIMELIGHT.
Africa. Utter this word and dare to ask anyone the images that come to mind. Death and destruction, AIDS and evil dictators (think Forrest Whitaker’s portrayal of Idi Amin in the Last King of Scotland.) Then there are the celebs. It seems every celebrity or mega-label under the sun, has adopted an Africa-related issue as a charitable cause of choice. George Clooney & Darfur- Bono & AIDS- the Gap & the whole (product) REDïƒ¤campaign… You get the idea.
Rarely, (if at all) does a positive remark come up, let alone the word: fashion.
Needless to say, yes, it is important to educate ourselves about the aforementioned issues and act in any way to help the situation-but there is more to Africa. Much more. Aside from being the most culturally diverse continent in the world and possessing some of the most beautiful scenery one can encounter (we’re torn between Africa & Australia), fashion thrives here. Africa’s fashion scene is nothing short of inspiring and more advanced than most realise. Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa alone possess a myriad of designers worthy of showing in Paris or New York. These are just 3 of the countries containing some of the most progressive and intriguing designers many have yet to see. This past March Nigeria launched its own Calabar fashion week, based on the ever-expanding group of young, talented designers, with innovative visions for ready-to-wear and couture (state trade developments also aided the development.) Recently iPapier was invited to a private showing of the Kenyan label Wildllife Works and were left completely blown away.
Last year Cape Town Fashion Week had roughly 72 designers from across the continent show and generated nearly 30,000 audience members, according to reports. Not bad, for being considered under the radar and having Nokia as a core sponsor. Johannesburg Fashion Week and South Africa Fashion Week have also attracted mainstream publicity and continue to entice international audiences. South Africa’s role in Africa’s fashion industry as a whole is an important one as so many serious designers flock to this locale to show their collections.
“Africa is the new frontier of design, most other markets are saturated and we have the new and unique,” says Malcolm Kl-k and Christiaan Gabriel Du Toit, the masterminds behind label KLuK CGDT. The duo, who began as solo designers, have been movers and shakers of the South African fashion industry for years. Kl-k and Du Toit joined back in 2001 after a chance encounter during the South African Designer Collections show in Cape Town. They then shared a boutique for 3 years and only last year saw the marriage of both of their separate labels. The boutique is in the ever-so-chic Green Point (in Cape Town) and sells bridal, couture and pr-t-a-porter. Over the last decade Kl-k has seen a great deal of change in South Africa’s fashion climate. “When I first arrived back in South Africa fashion was bland and derivative of other designers, over the years a local perspective of international trends is emerging that is fresh and interesting. You must understand that South Africans do not want to look tribal and local but sophisticated and international,” he says.
Of course like any other city that isn’t Paris, Milan, New York or London- fashion visionaries without big-city backing do struggle when proper resources aren’t aligned. South Africa is no different as much remains a work in progress.
“I think that development projects must be placed on the political agenda for development. We in Africa involved in the fashion and clothing sector-academics, designers, factory owners- should be working closer together establishing networks,” says industry expert Renato Palmi. Palmi is a researcher and development practitioner for the clothing, textile and fashion sectors in South Africa. He lectures students, evaluates designer shows-you name it he does it. Not to mention he is also the founder and director for Redress, a company devoted to assisting emerging designers.
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