Monday, 30 April 2012

Is Anything African Anymore? Join the debate #Africanfashion

Marni for H&M
A couple of weeks ago, I went for a fancy dinner in Knightsbridge, London. On leaving the restaurant, I saw a modelesque Sloaney popping out for a cigarette. She was wearing a pair of trousers similar to a pair of Jewel by Lisa trousers I own, and so I rushed over and asked excitedly "OMG! where did you get your trousers?" and she said "H&M". I literally just walked away.

I don't know why I expected her to say Jewel by Lisa, or even mention an African designer. All I know is I was frustrated. Marni for H&M, Burberry. It's all over the high street, in Harrods, Harvey Nicks, it's popping up in a Primark near you. Wherever you look. It's everywhere. The African Print revolution has reached the masses of the Western world yet the biggest users of these prints, the designers who work with these prints on a daily basis are making next to nothing. Great job!

Following recent blog posts and tweets from the fabulous Terrence Sambo of, I learned about Burberrys visit to the JBL studio in Lagos, Nigeria. They were just having a little look see it seems. Fair enough, free country - except Lagos isn't really the kind of place one just pops over to for a little look see. Anyways, they did. They had a look see, and then they made $1billion in profits. Interesting.

JBL - Cover of Genevieve Mag November 2009

Burberry SS12 Collection
I'm not an economist, but I do have a PhD, so I'm somewhat bright. Africa is a continent with tremendous potential (no sh*t Sherlock!). A friend who just visited Nigeria said to me "seems there are a lot more foreigners there than the last time I went". Smart business people are looking to Africa for business. So imagine how saddened I was to hear from several designers during a recent buying trip, that they were all seriously considering production outside of Africa. So not only do we have to deal with the fabric issue, production is rearing its ugly head also.

Now, the history of the fabric is a tale for another day (soon to follow). "African Print" fabric may not belong to Africa, but Africans do rock it like no other! The continent is by far the biggest market for "African" Print fabrics, but really ask, what is the African stake in this global industry?

Gone are the days of homegrown African textile mills (thanks China!), gone are the days of economically sensible production in Africa. All that is left is constant power failure, inconsistent government policies, lack of support, corruption, security issues and the list goes on. At My Asho we struggle with supply chain issues on a daily basis. It is a challenge.

So, nothing against Marni, nothing against Burberry (well, maybe a little something against Burberry), nothing against good old-fashioned capitalism. My question to you all is what is Africa going to do about this? Is anything African African anymore?

Join the debate:


  1. The thing is, we don't get sued or crusified for using western fabrics (or even western shapes) over here. It's a free world. Designers draw inspiration from all over all the time. If Nigerian designers decide to tap into traditional Japanese/Chinese/Indian cloth making technics no one is going to stop them. The real reason we feel slighted is because we depend so much on the western fashion industry for validation! And that's because Africa has failed to grow it's own market. If we didn't have so many s**t-faced leaders our economy (and therefore our industries) would be thriving so much that no one would be bothered by what Burberry is doing this summer! We would not even have to deal with black models not gracing the many different covers of VOGUE often enough. How often do you see an Arab or Chinese on the cover of US VOGUE ?? Are they complaining ?? No. They don't need the west to tell them that they are beautiful! We do NOT need them to tell us this either! Let's look inward and stop expecting so much from the west!

    - Gboyega.

    1. I agree!! Love your response

    2. I adore your response too, when it comes to fashion, Nigerians (slash insert your own African country), need to look within and stop looking at other luxury brands in the West. The problem runs far much deeper than Burberry making $1 billion profits seemingly off 'ripping off' JBL!!!!

      African fashion brands will begin to make lucrative profits if they focus on EDUCATING its designers about the business sense of fashion, how to work with the seasons, how to price their collections (realistically!!), where to produce their collections, MAKE SURE THEY CAN PRODUCE TO KEEP UP WITH DEMAND, determining their target audience and how to use communications to communicate effectively with their target audience.
      Also the Nigerian industry needs to learn how to support its own in all aspects of the fashion industry- support and PAY its writers, stylists, photographers and the like- instead of keeping larger payments for its Western employees. I won't name the no.1 African fashion magazine that does this, but y'all know the mag I'm talking about!!
      The African fashion industry needs to allocate and distribute its fashion budgets well and stop using its little resources to host a million fashion shows in one year!!
      I could go on, as this topic really fires me up but I will stop here.

  2. Couldn't agree more either!