A few years ago, when it became apparent to my friends and I that a Google search of “unprofessional hair” gives results of predominantly black women, I recall entering “African fashion” in the Google search to see what would come up. I wasn’t too surprised to find an overwhelming amount of images that could easily be attributed to anywhere in Europe or the US popped up. The runways from the South African fashion weeks by South African designers looked so little like South Africa and Africa itself.
It is a relief now, in 2017, when I Google “African fashion” the results that show somewhat resemble Africa. From the models, to the clothing, to the hair that the models have – there is representation of a version of what is actually found on the continent.
African Fashion International’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in Johannesburg put together an interesting collaborative event this season. The Xperience AFI wing of the event included musicians, young and experienced designers, art and dance to create a new fashion experience. But what exactly is African about this fashion week?
1. Promotional material
My first impression of the event was set by the promotional material – a beautiful black women portrayed in a strong, non-oversexualised and realistic way. In addition that, a rare occasion in mainstream media, there is a direct link of Africa and high quality. On the second poster we see a dark-skinned person, a doeku, braids, sunglasses and African print. What more do you need to slay?
2. Pan-African designers
It is no secret that South Africans tend to hold an elitist stance in relation to the rest of the continent. I think fashion is a great way to break down the borders and celebrate each other. This Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week hosted talented pan-African designers which included Taibo Bacar, Adams Paris, Ituen Basi and more. There is so much room for more intercontinental collaboration and pan-Africanism in fashion can definitely be pushed further.
It is long overdue that plus size brands have a presence on South African Fashion Weeks. Leebex is a body positive clothing brand dedicated to plus-size women, it encourages women to be confident, sexy and celebrate their curves. Co-founders Lesego Legobane (also known as Thickleeyonce) and Rebecca Garande started Leebex in 2016.
It is refreshing to see realistic looking models on runways. It is a fact that not everyone is a size 32 or smaller and having a wide range of dress sizes on the runway doesn’t hurt anyone. While it was refreshing to see the LeeBex models on the runway, South African fashion still has a long way from realizing a healthy representation of plus size women in the industry.
4. The Threaded Man
The Threaded Man is aBlack owned South African business. This company is a pro black, pro African stable that is an example of excellence. The Threaded Man partnered with AFI in providing creative direction, media coverage, advertising and more for this fashion week. It is such a powerful collaboration that African Fashion International, which is headed by a Black South African woman, Dr Precious Moloi-Motsepe, came together with another Black owned company to host such a successful and impactful event.
5. Young upcoming designers
I appreciate that this fashion week had a healthy representation of youth as well. The young fashion designers at this season’s Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week included Swanker, Docc, Sash, Innani, Uniconz, Ohyeslord, Prime obsession and La Familia. These young professionals received first hand fashion week experience at a national scale. Exposure is one of the most important aspects of growth and as Black people in South Africa we need to practice the culture of putting each other on more often.
Overall, I welcome the growth Africa and South Africa’s fashion industry is showing. While there is still an extremely long way to go, I appreciate the change in ownership patterns and the variety of representation of blackness that is starting to emerge and blossom.