Fashion with a dusting of folklore

Things of beauty Maki Osakwe fashion

Maki Osakwe (26) thought she could be a dancer for Femi Kuti, a synchronised swimmer or a Formula One driver before she went to study fashion at the Arts University Bournemouth in the United Kingdom. Today, the Lagos-born and -based designer is at the head of eponymous label Maki Oh, and in 2012 won the Arise magazine fashion award for designer of the year. 

She has plenty to feel thankful about. The fashion line, born only in 2010, is already stocked at the MNZ store in New York and Totokaelo in Los Angeles. It was also recently listed on the coveted Women's Wear Daily website and, and her fashion devotees include style icons Solange Knowles and Leelee Sobieski, as well as new American rap phenomenon Azealia Banks. 

The designer first encountered fashion when she and her mother co-designed all the clothes she wore as a child. She displays her sense of humour when she says that the most valuable advice she ever received was to drink a lot of water every day. 

She also cites fashion counterpart Duro Olowu as her mentor and describes herself as a remix of Tomaso Albinoni's Adagio in G Minor and Kuti's Blackman Know Yourself, a motley combination that mirrors the nature of her designs. 

Osakwe defines her brand as a mix of "couture techniques, cultural heritage and ethical practices". 

Her range offers interesting contrasts, layering of fabrics and colours, but also stricter feminine cuts, sometimes softened by the Yoruba Adire motifs placed on the fabric. 

The brand is not only rooted in African culture, telling through its clothes folk stories like griots of another time. It is also the bearer of a "better fashion", in which quality rhymes with fashion conscience.

"We use mostly natural fibres [and] natural materials that are grown in Africa; [even] materials that are not associated with fashion, like the dried gourds [used in her spring 2014 collection as subtle polka dots]. 

"Our fabrics are naturally dyed and sometimes hand-woven; we often use couture-style, handmade methods of garment production. We employ local artisans and use traditional techniques," she says. 

Each collection has a strong story-telling focus: her autumn-winter 2011-2012 range was an interpretation of Love is a Mystery by Ludovico Einaudi – "the emotional troughs, peaks and plateaus that are inevitable in the course of a romantic relationship". 

Her latest range focuses on women in the workplace: their voyage between home and work, femininity and boyhood, and delicacy and sportiness. 

Regardless of her success and worldwide recognition, Osakwe claims that the main challenges remain "technology that threatens age-old traditions, a lack of appreciation for these traditions, a lack of skilled labour and mediocrity". 

But when asked her opinion on African fashion, Maki Oh replies without blinking: "It is the future."

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever. But it comes at a cost. Advertisers are cancelling campaigns, and our live events have come to an abrupt halt. Our income has been slashed.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years. We’ve survived thanks to the support of our readers, we will need you to help us get through this.

To help us ensure another 35 future years of fiercely independent journalism, please subscribe.


ConCourt settles the law on the public protector and interim...

The Constitutional Court said it welcomed robust debate but criticised the populist rhetoric in the battle between Busisiwe Mkhwebane and Minister Pravin Gordhan

Small towns not ready for level 3

Officials in Beaufort West, which is on a route that links the Cape with the rest of the country, are worried relaxed lockdown regulations mean residents are now at risk of contracting Covid-19

Press Releases

Covid-19 and Back to School Webinar

If our educators can take care of themselves, they can take care of the children they teach

5G technology is the future

Besides a healthcare problem Covid-19 is also a data issue and 5G technology, with its lightning speed, can help to curb its spread

JTI off to court for tobacco ban: Government not listening to industry or consumers

The tobacco ban places 109 000 jobs and 179 000 wholesalers and retailers at risk — including the livelihood of emerging farmers

Holistic Financial Planning for Professionals Webinar

Our lives are constantly in flux, so it makes sense that your financial planning must be reviewed frequently — preferably on an annual basis

Undeterred by Covid-19 pandemic, China and Africa hold hands, building a community of a shared future for mankind

It is clear that building a community with a shared future for all mankind has become a more pressing task than ever before

Wills, Estate Administration and Succession Planning Webinar

Capital Legacy has had no slowdown in lockdown regarding turnaround with clients, in storing or retrieving wills and in answering their questions

Call for Expression of Interest: Training supply and needs assessment to support the energy transition in South Africa

GIZ invites eligible and professional companies with local presence in South Africa to participate in this tender to support the energy transition

Obituary: Mohammed Tikly

His legacy will live on in the vision he shared for a brighter more socially just future, in which racism and discrimination are things of the past

The best local and international journalism

handpicked and in your inbox every weekday