Been there, done that

Africa Fashion Week was experienced with a mixture of frustration and fascination. The three-day platform, with two-hour delays each evening, triggered controversy and the collections had mixed reviews — from brickbats to bouquets.

The event rounded off with the Africa Fashion Awards and Ozwald Boateng, a London-based designer of Ghanaian descent, was named designer of the year. In his acceptance speech, Boateng, owner of his own label and former creative director of menswear for Givenchy, said that Africa would have to up its game in the fashion industry.

Africa Fashion Week showcased designers from around Africa, the United Kingdom, the US and India last week. Photographer Oupa Nkosi captured the action both backstage and on the catwalk.

Fashion awards judge Shaun Borstock, a South African-born designer now based in London and founder of Design for Africa, said in an interview that he felt the poor state of the South African textile industry had adversely affected local design.

“Cape Town used to be a world leader in manufacturing fabric, but now access to fabric is limited in South Africa,” he said. “Most of the fabrics are not made locally. China has infiltrated South Africa since manufacturing has moved there.”

Borstock complained that poor-quality fabrics had limited design performance, which was regrettable, because “garment construction, shape, silhouette and form are the most important aspects”, he said.

Environmental consciousness

The runway shows closed with designer David Tlale, who chose to showcase his collection at the South African Mint. Tlale, who launched his brand five years ago, collaborated with the mint to create awareness about climate change. The partnership managed to bring environmental consciousness to the event.

The collection was themed “climate-change couture” and was inspired by the colours of nature; for example, the bright orange of volcanoes. Tlale chose a variation of chartreuse, silver, yellow, beige and gold for both men’s and women’s pieces. In total he showed more than 30 designs. The clothes were embellished with coins minted with Tlale’s name and the year 2011.

The two-hour delay for his show and the menswear collection consisting of skirts caused media and Twitter hype. But the designer was upbeat: “After all is said and done, and whether we have experienced a natural disaster directly or indirectly, life goes on so the show goes on.”

Inspiration came from several places. Malcolm Kluk and Christiaan Gabriel du Toit of the label Kluk CGT wanted to show a romantic side to Africa by using subtle colours. “We wanted to show that Africa wasn’t only about curios, leopards, beads, war and famine,” said Kluk.

Ghanaian designer Aisha Obuobi for the label Christie Brown based her designs on a tribe in the northern area of Ghana called the Talensi. Blue hues, mixed with nude tones, hinted at an earthy simplicity.

Mozambican designer Taibo Bacar’s collection was inspired by Mozambique’s Independence Day in 1975 and the style of its first democratically elected president, Samora Machel. As a result elements of the collection had a military edge.

Locals should lead, not follow

Zimbabwean-born Bisma Ahmed combined the colours of male and female peacocks to create a fusion of Middle Eastern embellishments with Western cuts.

Borstock’s sage advice for the designers was that they should stop following the trends of international designers and start creating their own. He noted that chiffon and georgette were trendy in the United Kingdom last season and, as a result, were the fabrics of choice shown at the African Fashion Week this year.

“Designers are following trends and not creating them even though they have the potential to,” Borstock said. “Design is about leading, not following. Designers should identify their own clear aesthetic and maintain it with innovative design.”

The Africa Fashion Trade Expo took place alongside Africa Fashion Week to allow entrepreneurs, boutique buyers and other professionals to engage with designers.
Simultaneously, an online component helped designers to reach an international market where a physical platform was unavailable.

“The future will be in customising products online,” said Borstock. “Customers will be allowed to choose the components of an item and the product will be created for them.”

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