African Fashion
Pith Africa.

THE AFRICAN FASHION ENVIRONMENT.

Earlier today, I spent my time perusing Virgil Abloh’s 2016 GQ cover story ‘The Life of Virgil’ which accentuates his role in documenting a revolutionary paradigm shift in the fashion industry, collapsing the distinctions between couture, high-end fashion and streetwear. In his interview, he briefly highlights fashion’s transition from couture, ready-to-wear and finally streetwear.

‘’There was couture. And then there was Yves Saint Laurent. Like, ‘Hey, news flash: No one wears these clothes.’ So here comes ready-to-wear. And now: streetwear.” “These days a hoodie is pretty much the new suit jacket” he says. That’s what Off-White’s about.

That shift in fashion? I’m pointing straight at that.”

off-white 2015/2016 fall autumn winter women collection.

The baseline definition of streetwear was taking a multi-faceted, subculturally diverse, T-shirt brand and imitating the limited feel of a high-end luxury brand. Streetwear grew to encompass vital elements of hip-hop culture and for the black community, it felt like an identity in the fashion industry, a staple, one which embodies their life, struggle, and breakthrough.

Likewise, Africa is undergoing a similar paradigm shift in reinventing her aesthetics and elucidating her identity. A number of appellations have been used to describe this revamp –Afrofuturism, Afro-modernism, Afropolitanism, New Age – in an attempt to set the tone for the African revolution. Growing up, I never truly understood what it meant to be African, what is my essence made of? Yes, I am black but what’s more to me than my skin tone. What is my identity as an African and as a Nigerian amidst the poverty and suffering, where is my silver lining in all of this? It might be a tad difficult to pinpoint an identity encompassing all cultural and subcultural intersections. However, it is imperative that in defining a new Africa, we recognize the diasporic and African Renaissance as ‘one’, with a common cause, so we don’t establish a rooted divide in the culture.

The new Africa has access to an ever-growing catalog of information by virtue of the internet and postcolonial mobility which has taken leaps at dissolving our insular nature and sparked conscious narratives channeled towards rediscovering our identity. Although there are still a lot without access to the Internet in Africa, little by little, we are committed to bridging this discrepancy. We have witnessed the emergence of a skateboard community here in Nigeria[WAFFLES AND CREAM], tattoo culture in Kenya, punk rock culture in Zimbabwe and the continuous growth of the music industry which shaped Africa and spearheaded the revolution we see going on.

 

Waffles N Creams Skate Jam in Nigeria.

We use the music to communicate our life, struggle, and resilience, now we are leaning to the fashion industry to represent our identity through clothes. I want to talk about the fashion scene; is there even such a thing called African fashion and what does it hold for the younger generation of Africans who want to own their identity.

 

The African fashion industry in is still a relatively small community designing for a niche market and probably does not fully communicate the fashion environment in its entirety.

The African fashion scene as we know it is a hybrid of Eurocentric and traditional garb which forms a crucial part of the African style. The presence of Eurocentric inspired apparel translates into a dynamic street style which has evolved over time in congruence with our level of freedom and creativity.


‘#streetfashion’ a photo documentary which I embarked on via my Instagram page showcases the raw output of the Nigerian fashion scene, it reflects cultural diversity and intersection. It is my curious attempt towards understanding the fashion scene and our identity as one nation.

On a deeper examination and interaction with my environment, I realized they made an unconscious effort in defining their identity using accessible cheap garb in channeling their personal style. It’s crazy because these staples also appeal to a younger fashion generation looking to define their style. It’s like a conscious-unconscious ecosystem, coexisting irrespective of disparate social strata. A tainting attribute of this scene is the inherent knock-off culture claiming a good number of merchandises offered for sale to the public. The Knockoff industry thrives majorly on economic disparities as the uneven distribution of wealth and income grapples the purchasing power of the ‘lower-class’ who in turn purchase shoddy clothes to keep afloat.

Going forward, this will have a negative ripple effect on the growth and sustenance of the fashion industry, as copycats damage sales and reduce the incentive to innovate.


The African fashion scene marinates global cultural influences which breed self-expression, innovation, and self-discovery, but should this imply ditching intrinsic cultural values and customs? I am African, strong, resilient, intelligent and in a lot of scenarios, I am downcast. I fight every day for relevance, I am killed, cheated and denied my human rights; my tribe shouldn’t be a singular representation of my fashion identity. More so, exploring African fashion as a multifaceted ecosystem spins the fashion cycle faster towards an identity and aesthetic.

 

 

Africa is on a come up and this paradigm shift is vital to the growth of the fashion industry. It’s a time to restructure our broken society and fill in those gaps propagated by ignorance and disorientation. We have to educate ourselves, the clothes should have a meaning. We need to see fashion as a tool for aggressive activism against erroneous precepts in our environment, our narratives should be different and meaningful. I live in Nigeria where democracy is but a facade, where there’s no freedom of speech, where education is a privilege, our systems are failing. We need people talking about these things. Fashion communicates, fashion tells a story, fashion embodies an idea with clothes. We need relevant narratives speaking against all of this through our sense of style.

Cosmas Akhere

You will find me at clothes, food and a clean environment.

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