African Fashion: Past, Present, Future
By: Hannah Pool
Founder and creative director of online African fashion and lifestyle boutique Heritage1960 Enyinne Owunwanne is jetting in from New York to take part in the Africa Utopia fashion panel, which will be chaired by journalist, author and curator of the Africa Utopia talks and debates Hannah Pool. Hannah caught up with Enyinne for D’accord to talk fashion, Africa and social change…
You’re taking part in the Africa Utopia fashion panel - what points do you want to get across?
When we speak of “African Fashion”, there’s no one definition of what this truly means. Fashion, generally speaking, is purely subjective. The same goes for the notion of African Fashion. Our parents and grandparents may view “African Fashion” as the traditional dress coming from specific regions of the continent. Whereas a younger generation like ourselves, may view “African Fashion” from both the historical context of traditional wear and also the modernized interpretations that we’re seeing gracing the catwalks on the continent and overseas. Furthermore, the notion of “African Fashion” implies that African culture and tradition is similar across all countries. When the reality is, even within single countries, there exists a vast array of languages, ethnic groups, and traditional practices.
What role does fashion have in creating social change?
The fashion industry is a billion dollar business, from concept to consumer. The more emphasis we place on fostering the growth of Africa’s apparel supply chain, the greater the economic impact will be for all stakeholders. The more players involved along every step of the way (from manufacturing to public relations to retailing) the more sustainable our industry will be.
Every country within Africa is steeped with tradition and artisanal craftsmanship. Africa’s manufacturers may not be able to compete with the speed and mass production of China, but our advantage lies in the added value of skilled artisanal work. Designers such as Maki Oh, Jewel By Lisa, and Laurence Airline have perfected the craft of conveying a story of tradition, respective to their cultures, while appealing to a global audience. There is no one “African aesthetic”. Rather, every brand that manufactures on the continent or gains inspiration from African culture, tells their own story through their own viewpoint. Storytelling is one of the most meaningful methods of cultural proliferation. Fashion tells a visual story, often times coupled with a story of history and tradition, and this is invaluable for promoting the sustainability of African culture.
Why did you set up Heritage 1960?
I created Heritage1960 as a platform for discovering Africa’s influence on creativity and design. Africa is such a rich and diverse continent – inspirational to so many different types of people from so many different walks of life. I believe in celebrating and indulging in different cultures as opposed to keeping our culture to ourselves. As such, you’ll find that all of the designers and items that we sell on Heritage1960 and highlight on our blogazine, H1960Edit, are related to Africa but in all sorts of ways, many of which are unexpected.
What do you think of the current trend for African inspired pieces by mainstream designers on the catwalk?
It’s a beautiful thing when people can embrace cultures outside of their own. Africa is a beautiful continent, chock full of beautiful people. So why not look towards Africa for a source of inspiration? It excites me to see various interpretations of “African-inspired” design on the catwalk!
Is this a good thing for the African fashion industry?
The proliferation of African-inspired design creates an unprecedented level of awareness and buzz about Africa. Granted, non-African “African-inspired” designers are gaining more media attention than African designers themselves, but the hurdles and obstacles that African designers need to overcome are no different from their overseas counterparts. Burberry and Louis Vuitton are going to gain media attention regardless of where they draw their inspiration. I like to celebrate and revel in the fact that mainstream designers look to Africa for what’s fresh and new. It’s an amazing opportunity for us to use this momentum to further the dialogue and attention placed on Africa as a source of creativity.
Does the fashion industry do a good job of representing Africa?
The fashion industry takes a very safe and narrow approach towards representing Africa. It’s undeniable that all eyes are on Africa as a fresh source of creativity. But by the same means, the industry remains cognizant of their respective target consumers, therefore, much of what is out there may not be relevant for their eyes. This makes it difficult for many fashion professionals to know where to begin. They turn to the same handful of designers, they are barely scraping the surface of African fashion and design.
What else are you looking forwards to at Africa Utopia?
I’m excited for the ultimate Afrobeats night. There’s nothing like the sweet sound of African music to move your soul and body! I’m also looking forward to the Africa Sci-Fi screening. I think I’ll walk away with an interesting perspective to African literature and film. Lastly, The Robbin Island Bible performance sounds intriguing. I’m a fan of Shakespeare so I’m interested in seeing how South African prison inmates interpreted some of his works during their captivity.
More than zebra print – the African fashion panel is part of an extensive weekend of Africa Utopia talks and debates taking place on July 20th, 21st and 22nd(11am-7pm). More details will soon be released on the Southbank website.