Photo credit: Kelly Gullet


African Fashion’s Global Ascent Contends with Practical Limits

Photo credit: Kelly Gullet

African designers have carved out their spot at top events, but a lack of  government support and investment threaten to curtail the momentum

By Kingsley Kobo

October 2023

African designers need not toot their own horn, as their work has become a staple in the upper echelon of the fashion industry. There is hardly a global fashion event without the presence of an African-inspired collection. While some may consider it as only a trend, it is certainly capable of revitalizing the sector, while restoring pride and dignity to the entire continent. 


“The fact that Africans based in Africa or in the diaspora are showcasing their work in top fashion events across the globe brings not only pride but demonstrates how talented we are as a people. It’s like a global sports event where you see our footballers or athletes representing us. We are happy and proud,” says Brou Gislain, a researcher at the Faculty of Economic Sciences of Félix Houphouët-Boigny University in Abidjan, Côte D’Ivoire.


“That is how I see it with fashion weeks. African authorities need to show adequate support for our designers. African ambassadors need to attend those shows to show support.”


The Big Four global fashion events – New York Fashion Week (NYFW), London Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week and Milan Fashion Week – have seen designers of African descent making their maiden appearance or returning to the shows. 


While attendance could boost brand awareness, help establish a good rapport with industry gatekeepers and offer financial and growth opportunities, the barrier to entry remains high, according to some experts.


“It’s a very difficult task for an African designer to showcase at top shows. You need sponsorship, invitation and even then, you will spend your own money. African designers based in the diaspora have some administrative advantage but those based on the continent would have to fight for visas, which is very difficult,” says Yves Eya’a, president of the Centre of Fashion Designers of Cameroon. 


Since 2009, when the likes of Lamine Badian Kouyate (Mali), Folake Coker (Nigeria), Fati Asibelua (Nigeria) and Nkhensani Nkosi (South Africa) took the lead by showing intriguing collections at the NYFW as part of the African Fashion Collective, the Big Apple has welcomed a significant number of African labels.


Nigeria’s Amaka Osakwe, who owns womenswear label, Maki OH; Deola Sagoe, also from Nigeria; and David Tlale of South Africa, are some of the topflight designers to have appeared or reappeared at the NYFW since 2009. 


Last month witnessed this year’s second edition of the NYFW – the first took place in February. Acclaimed designers such as Sergio Hudson, Christian Siriano, Proenza Schouler, Brandon Maxwell, Ralph Lauren, Jonathan Cohen, and 3.1 Phillip Lim, among others, made their return to the fashion extravaganza, showcasing their vibrant spring/summer 2024 collections.


Senegalese designer Omar Salam, who launched the Sukeina brand in 2012, also returned after his debut in 2020. His intricate ladieswear collection of skirts, strapless party dresses, and coats was unveiled almost entirely in red.  


“It’s about making a meaningful difference and showing the world what we can do and the potential we have. The NYFW is the highest platform to display your creations to industry professionals and the general public, who pass on the message. Therefore, African designers need to be at their best when they come here,” Salam says.


Two years after his first official appearance at the NYFW, Nigerian-British designer Chuks Collins made a triumphant comeback to the stage with his twelfth collection tagged “012”, which evokes the need to preserve aquatic ecosystems. Fronted by a challenging caption – Marine Euphoria: A Harmonious Tribute to Oceanic Splendor – Collins’ sustainability message echoed through his 39-look aqua-themed collection at the Springs Studio. 


The presentation offered a mixture of classical and contemporary outfits in bright colors and patterns – an indispensable development that Collins says has boosted African brands.


“African designers are gaining recognition for their traditional designs and contemporary, innovative styles that blend local influences with international trends. They bring a fresh and unique perspective, adding value to the global fashion landscape.”


When speaking about the visibility of African fashion at the NYFW, Collins says: “NYFW has been making conscious efforts to promote diversity and inclusivity in recent years. This includes showcasing designers from various backgrounds, cultures, and regions, including Africa.”


The NYFW could serve as a good telescope to examine talents, products and economic potentials as the continent’s fashion market keeps grabbing the attention of global investors. According to Euromonitor, Sub-Saharan Africa’s clothing and footwear market alone is worth more than $32 billion.      


“The African market is substantial and growing, and NYFW provides a great opportunity for African designers to showcase their collections to a wider audience, including potential buyers and investors,” Collins adds.


Handcrafted luxury garments and accessories brand KORLEKIE, debuted as part of the Black in Fashion Council and IMG’s seventh seasonal showroom at the Spring Studios. 


Launched in 2013 by British-Ghanaian designer Beatrice Korlekie, the knitwear collection “exudes sex and sexiness in an elegant, mature and powerful way,” suitable for a diverse clientele, she says.


“I’ve found out that my brand has a varied clientele, ranging from different sexes and races and body types whose shared personality is to celebrate, live and love life. It’s for some a coming out celebration of “womanhood”, testing confidence and being confident.”


Beatrice Korleike emerged from the show stronger and brighter, joining the legion of African designers to have received the blessing of the NYFW. 


“In my personal experience, KORLEKIE grew in awareness and received business growth opportunities,” she says.


“Fashion week impacts the career of a designer by bringing recognition of the brand to a wider audience whilst rewarding loyal followers with an update on progression so that they can continue to support.”


Two weeks after the curtain came down on the New York Fashion Week, the Paris Fashion Week opened its doors on September 26, with B2B wholesale platform, The Folklore Connect, presenting 10 African-based and Black-owned brands from Ghana, Nigeria, Côte d’Ivoire, Columbia, New York, and London.


Among them was gender-neutral brand, Kente Gentlemen, from Cote D’Ivoire and Lagos-based label, Fruche, known for its straw-like raffia details.


Kente Gentlemen’s founder and creative director, Aristide Loua, highlights one of the main setbacks African designers are grappling with.


“If we must survive and strive in the business we have to get involved in commercial production. But how many African designers boast such infrastructure to be honest? To be selected for the Paris Fashion Week, your brand must provide proof that it has the infrastructure to cater to larger orders from retailers,” he says.


”Through collaboration on the international level, we could… work things out but back home it remains difficult.”


That leads us to a broader context on how to move African fashion to the next level, since having a slot on the international fashion calendar alone may not be enough.


Developing textile manufacturing infrastructure and industrial zones dedicated to fashion production, alongside supportive policies, tax incentives, and funding opportunities for fashion enterprises should be the first step, according to Collins.


“Enhance fashion education and offer skill development programs to align with industry needs while promoting technology adoption for efficient production, supply chain, and global marketing,” he says.


To sustain African fashion as an industry requires massive local consumption, but the influx of cheaper and fairly-used products from Asia, especially, appears to be staging an unfair competition.


“It would be difficult to stop that trend because the purchasing power in Africa is still very low. Designer clothes are still out of the reach of many Africans and this is a big problem for the fashion industry,” says Brou.


While the African fashion industry will likely put up with its trials and tribulations for the foreseeable future, the efforts of our designers continue to provide international exposure for designers at the forefront. 

Photo credit: Lolu Photography; Styled by: Overdosed Kulture


A New Dawn for Fashion and Afrobeats Kings

Photo credit: Lolu Photography; Styled by: Overdosed Kulture

New artists are using fashion to challenge cultural boundaries, spurring both controversy and diversity

By Elvis Kachi

September 2023

Last week, Afrobeats king, Asake, who currently ranks as one of Spotify’s best, with over 634,218,132 streams, started a “How to Dress like Asake” challenge, featuring funky jeans and signature jewelry. That challenge has since garnered over 2,000+ posts on Instagram alone. It is a stark reflection of how much power artists and superstars have in shaping and influencing the cultural zeitgeist. Asake came into the limelight in 2022, after being signed into Olamide’s YBNL record label. Almost immediately, his bold fashion choices became a conversation focal point for fans and critics, and he has only continued to pique interest with his signature style.


“A lot of these artists are now very aware of fashion trends both locally and internationally, and they try to infuse their personalities in their styles, so it reflects who they are,” PR officer and music journalist, Robert Solomon, tells STATEMENT when talking about the ever evolving fashion of Afrobeats artists.


The evolution of fashion within the Afrobeats genre reflects the cultural shifts and ever-changing landscape of men’s fashion. Afrobeats, characterized by its fusion of African rhythms and contemporary sounds, emerged in the early 2000s. During this period, male artists often incorporated elements of traditional African attire into their wardrobe. “If you looked at the men from back in the days, you’d see that artists like Lagbaja, Fela and Olamide would always infuse African prints,” Solomon says, “but I think this shift [in men dressing more expressively] is as a result of Afrobeats getting more international acclaim.”


As Afrobeats has gained global recognition in the last few years, the experimental fashion of male Afrobeats artists lives at the intersection of cultural preservation and contemporary expression. Artists have been embracing a more eclectic and globalized style, drawing inspiration from international fashion trends while maintaining a distinct personality flair. Artists like Asake, Flavour, Adekunle Gold, and Boj have fashion senses that are notoriously gender fluid— exaggerated pants, multiple accessories, skimpy tops, and platform shoes. Their sartorial sensibility is important as they are Black men in a conservative country like Nigeria. By embracing a wide range of styles, they encourage dialogue about diversity and individuality within the fashion world.


Flavour, styled by celebrity stylists Swazzi and Oray, caused quite the stir back home, while on tour in the UK last month. On stage in London, he wore a white ensemble with cinched waist and hips and loosely fitted bell-buttons. He paired that with a top made from glittery stones, designed to show off some skin. The current [conservative] nature of Nigeria is one that rarely allows for expression, especially from men. These artists are at the forefront of societal attitudes toward not only fashion, but masculinity as a whole. Inspiring many a dialogue about diversity, their flair for expression has extended far beyond the music industry, impacting the entire fashion industry as well.


Aguocha Chigozie Hillary, stylist and founder of Overdose Kulture, who has worked with the likes of Wande Coal, Joe Boy, Zinoleesky, and Buju, thinks that it’s essential to understand the physical and innate attributes of the artists. “I personally look at their skin type, eye color, features, who they’re inspired by, the part of their bodies that makes them confident, etc.” There is no doubt that how an artist chooses to represent themselves impacts our experience of the music itself.


The marriage of Afrobeats and fashion highlights the dynamic nature of both the music and fashion industries. It reflects their commitment to preserving tradition, embracing global influences, and promoting gender-fluid fashion. Their impact is starting to extend beyond music charts and runways, inspiring individuals worldwide to break free from conformity and express their true selves through fashion. These artists are trailblazers, reminding us of the power of style to transcend cultural boundaries.

Credit: AskPhotos, Tonia Marie Parker


Maame Yaa: Ajabeng’s All-Female Collection Celebrates African Women

Credit: AskPhotos, Tonia Marie Parker

Ajabeng Ditches Minimalism for More Vibrant Statements

By Eyram Rafael

July 2023

  • Creative Director Travis Obeng-Casper finds inspiration in his brother’s wife to create the new Ajabeng collection for women.

  • Casper draws on African style history, while incorporating modern flair.

  • The new collection emphasizes the rich colors that represent the diversity of the human experience.


Since its debut in 2018, Ajabeng has been a trailblazing unisex brand, redefining the traditional boundaries of gendered fashion. The Ghanaian fashion house is widely known for its Afro-minimalist sensibilities, which seamlessly blend the vibrancy of everyday African life with the clean lines and simplicity of contemporary fashion that has previously been associated with the West. 


This season, the Ajabeng atelier makes a return with a debut all-female collection dubbed Maame Yaa. For creative director, Travis Obeng-Casper, when inspiration strikes, it often comes in the most unexpected ways. The creative spark for his latest collection came from an unlikely source: his sister-in-law. A casual challenge from Maame Yaa, his brother’s wife, prompted Obeng-Casper to design his first all-female collection, aptly named after his muse. “My brother’s wife casually challenged me to work on a women’s collection and when I was researching, I was heavily inspired by Catherine E. McKinley’s work in the African Lookbook,” he recounts. “Funny enough, I came across the name Maame Yaa while reading the African Lookbook so I knew this was just it.”


The Maame Yaa collection draws inspiration from the rich cultural tapestry of African women, as documented in the African Lookbook. As Obeng-Casper himself puts it, the thing about Ajabeng is you get two things: a story you can relate to and pieces that anyone can wear, and this collection is no different. 


Each piece in the collection serves as a celebration of the everyday beauty of African women, as well as a tribute to their remarkable contributions to the world of fashion. By highlighting the often overlooked and underappreciated role of African women in shaping global fashion trends, Ajabeng aims to set the record straight and give credit where it is due. The collection features a wide range of styles, from flowing dresses to tailored pantsuits, all crafted with the utmost attention to detail and a keen eye for elegance and sophistication that still harken to the allure of African women’s fashion over the years. 


One standout piece is the chic asymmetrical one-shoulder dress, which takes the value and aesthetics of a traditional African women’s toga and gives it a contemporary twist. The result is a stunning piece that combines timeless elegance with cutting-edge style.


Another highlight of the collection is the use of the wrapper, which informs the silhouette and design of several pieces, including a beige drawstring skirt and an off-the-shoulder dress with ruffle bands that imitate the creases and drapes of the wrapper. Additionally, the collection features revitalized bell bottoms that are tailored to suit the modern woman. The wide-leg design adds a touch of retro flair to the collection, while the muted bold colours and intricate textures give the garments a fresh and contemporary feel. Everyday pieces like tank tops are elevated with a cowl neckline and shirts are given a spruce with a half-back detail while other shirt dresses spot a bold belt detail at the back.


What makes the pieces more beautiful is that each piece in the collection is thoughtfully named after women who have left their mark, from the past to the present. Take for instance the Abban off-shoulder dress, which pays homage to Felicia Abban, a renowned Ghanaian photographer who made history as one of the first women photographers in West Africa.


However, the new collection is not just a celebration of African women, but also of the colors and textures of the continent itself. The color palette is a visual feast, with a range of hues that are both bold and sophisticated. Obeng-Casper once again skillfully balances the bold colors with a clean aesthetic to create a colorful minimalist palette that Ajabeng is becoming known for. Hues of watermelon pink add a playful touch to the collection, while off-whites and cream lend an air of elegance and understated sophistication. Meanwhile, the use of dark coffee hues adds a sense of depth and richness to the looks, making them perfect for both daytime and evening wear.


With Maame Yaa, Ajabeng has once again proven that fashion can be so much more than just clothes – it can be a means of celebrating and honoring the richness and diversity of the human experience.