Hey guys!! The past weekend…FAFA.I have no words.What a show! It was spectacular. I’ll do a post when I get photos of the event. You could check out what I wore on my instagram page @winniethefashionista ;-). But today I bring you my experience of the designer masterclass which was held at the Michael Joseph Centre on the 30th of May.Basically, there was a debate that centered around the question ”What is the future of African fashion in a world dominated by international brands? And what role does the youth have to play ? ” It was actually a captivating debate that got heated at some point what with the variation of opinions. There were 2 teams .The team for and against the question with each team supporting their stand with facts. Botswana designer Mothusi Lessole who showcased at FAFA yesterday was also in the house and of course he was for the question.
The debate started with rounds of giving points for and against with rebuttals in between and contributions from the crowd. The proponents put across points that African fashion has a future because…
- In countries like Kenya and especially Nigeria, the government has invested in the film industry and the film industry heavily relies on fashion.
- The huge turnout at the designer masterclass was testament enough that the problems in African fashion have drawn concern of many and that it has a future
- International designers like Vivienne Westwood use Africa for their new collections,whether it’s its natural and human resources or use it as inspiration like Louis Vuitton.
- There is increased support which is evidenced by the creation of learning institutions dedicated to fashion such as School of Design at the University of Nairobi and Kenyatta University.
- Companies like Samsung,Blackberry,Moet & Chandon and Mercedes Benz have been supporting,funding and creating shows and events focusing on African fashion.
- African designers like John Kaveke and Anne McCreath(KikoRomeo) are increasingly showcasing at international runway shows .
- The Internet is being utilised to sell African products like jewellery to the world . An example is shopsoko.com which carries jewellery hand-crafted by Kenyan artisans which improves their livelihoods. Kazuri Beads is also a high end jewellery line that aims to create sustainable employment and uplift the disadvantaged in society.
The opponents also came out strong and stated categorically that African fashion has no future.Not sure if they were being realists or pessimists…Here are some of their points and rebuttals…
- Clothes in the African film industry don’t necessarily come from African designers.
- We have all embraced second hand and imported clothes because they are more affordable and accessible to the common man as compared to high end expensive African designs.
- International designers such as Vivienne Westwood and Louis Vuitton are actually taking away from African fashion and enhancing International fashion(Which the proponents replied by stating that if it wasn’t for such influencial designers,the world would not know what Africa has to offer)
- Most international designers are white.If there are hardly any black designers from the developed world, African designers don’t stand a chance.
- The GDP of most African countries does not rely on fashion like in the developed nations where the fashion industry is a multi-billion dollar industry. For example,Kenya’s development blueprint- Vision 2030 has not included fashion anywhere. African countries thus don’t take fashion seriously.
- Designers focus on small scale rather than the business aspect of fashion.Most people are focused on making single expensive garments rather than expanding and making creations that meet the needs of majority of people.
- Most African parents don’t take fashion seriously just like photography,modelling and other fashion-related careers.
- Many African designers focus on ‘Kitenge’ and ‘Kikoy’ fabrics for their designs. They should diversify and also look into the many other cultures out there eg neighbouring countries like Ethiopia,Somalia,Uganda, to name but a few.
The discussion was taken further by the two judges Connie Aluoch(Celebrity fashion stylist ) and Robert Mobya(CEO of the Bow-Ties Events) .Robert told us that Kenya gets 23 billion Kenya shillings from fashion each year and majority of the amount comes from ‘Mitumba’ (Second hand) imports.The questions is how can designers capitalise on this ? He also reiterated the point that many African designers make one or two garments and stop there.They neither brand nor market their products thus there is no awareness or growth.Also that we should not compare African fashion to international fashion houses such as Gucci ,which was started in the 19th century. Connie confirmed that one can live off fashion and that she was living proof.She’s a stylist by profession.She also said that the African fashion scene has definitely grown and it will continue to grow because there are more fashion stylists,models,make up artists and fashion photographers than there were 10 years ago. After all these arguments and remarks,there were solutions given to solve the problems facing the African fashion industry.The ones I got were:
- African designers should do consumer research and not just make stuff hoping that people will buy.In order to succeed,they should have a target market.
- Many young people think fashion is easy but many end up disillusioned and giving up because they make clothes and expect to make a quick buck and have success overnight .Patience and hard work is key.
- In the Kenyan context,the 8-4-4 curriculum needs to be changed to incorporate more arts,cultural studies,fashion etc and the government should realise that sciences are not the only things that will propel Kenya to that developed nation status.
- Mithusi the designer from Botswana, suggested that designers should not limit their products to local markets.They could start exporting their designs because people love them out there. Most designers dream small and sell themselves short.He said ” The world is ready for us.but we are not ready for the world” .
- Africans eg Kenyans should stop having such a negative attitude towards African fashion.A story was given about the way a Kenyan designer,Iona McCreath (Fashion line-Kikoti)once put her collection to be sold at Enkarasha. You know how stuff at that store did not come cheap…The astonishing thing is how people would spend insane amounts of money on imported clothes and pass her collection.Also someone spoke about how their designer friend tried to look for a retailer to sell her designs in town and all turned her down .The only ones that would accept to sell her stuff were dealers in second hand clothes. This was baffling to me! My eyes are open to the negativity surrounding African fashion.
- My observation was echoed by one speaker who stated that most Kenyan designers’ clothes are damn expensive.I even complained about it HERE . I guess it’s the difference in quality and your target market,but really, some designers really mark up their prices.If I have to save for 4 months to buy a KSh.15,000 shirt, then that won’t work for me. The point put forward was that designers should make their clothes more accessible . If people in the slum can afford your clothes,you may make more of an impact and become a household name.Then again,if you can afford that KSh.20,000 African designer dress you saw in True Love Magazine, knock yourself out.
- The youth should push hard for the legal regime to be stepped up eg the creation of stronger patent laws to protect the work of designers.
I like the campaign that Anne McCreath,Founder of the KikoRomeo fashion line and FAFA is spearheading. The campaign is dubbed ”Buy Kenya,build Kenya” .This statement speaks for itself. The only way we will make the world believe that African fashion is worth it is by supporting it fully. We should buy it,wear it and savour our African heritage ,otherwise the ascent of African fashion will be but a piped dream.
But first,let me take a selfie 😀
Look out for my post on the just concluded FAFA 2014.