The date of 25 May is no ordinary day for Africans. Africa Day commemorates the founding of the Organisation of African Unity (OAU), now known as the African Union. This year the organisation celebrated 55 years of independence and liberation from imperial European powers – a celebration that would not have occurred if that inaugural meeting had not taken place in 1963. Today there are 55 member countries, and even in the midst of often tumultuous African politics, our continent is a goldmine of creativity, art, and culture that we proudly exhibit to the rest of the world. This Africa Day we’re giving a special mention to Africans who are making an impact in the fashion industry, whether it is through commerce, modelling, art or design:
1. Kenya – Liamara Caesar
21-year old Kenyan Liamara Caesar is the founder of Manufacture 4 Me – ‘a source and supply platform created for fashion designers, that supplies them with pre-vetted manufacturing, sampling and production services.’ Caesar told Blavity that Manufacture 4 Me was triggered in response to large organisations that continue to ‘contribute towards keeping certain parts of Africa dependent upon aid over trade’, as well as the numerous manufacturing challenges she faced as a designer of her own label L.A. Caesar.
2. Angola – Keyezua
Keyezua is an Angolan-Dutch artist who uses handmade masks to express feelings of grief, trauma and suffering in a visually attractive manner as a means of giving these human experiences power, despite their unpleasantness. According to Dazed, Keyezua’s latest series, Fortia, which forms part of the Refraction: New Photography of African and Its Diaspora exhibition at Steven Kasher Gallery, New York (until 2 June 2018), aims to subvert our perceptions of physical disability. The artist’s father lost both his legs to diabetes and passed away while she was still a child – possibly the reason why she chose masks made by six Angolan men who also no longer have legs. She takes pride in being an artist who uses the female form to tell a story, as she says: ‘I use the female body because I am a woman and I know what my body goes through when I am telling a story.’
3. South Africa – Siphosethu Ncise
Born and raised in Khayelitsha, Cape Town’s Siphosethu Ncise always knew he would be an international model. He travelled abroad for the first time last year, and his career has since skyrocketed. Times Live reported that Ncise’s trip to Milan resulted in a main editorial in Vogue Hommes shot in Paris by Italian photographer Paolo Roversi. His resume now includes heavyweight labels such as Gucci, United Colors of Benetton and Jil Sander.
4. Ghana – Akosua Afriyie-Kumi
Akosua Afriyie-Kumi is a Ghanaian luxury handbag designer of ethical brand AAKS. Her handcrafted bags have garnered international attention, as she’s showcased in Milan, has been featured on CNN, and supplies to global retailers including Anthropologie and Urban Outfitters. ‘The scene is really [flourishing]. People are paying attention and it’s cool to be a part of it,’ Afriyie-Kumi says of the globally expanding African fashion industry.
Hey IG, yes I have been gone for too long. . . Been busy traveling with the bags and sharing my story in #London and #Lagos. . Now heading off to Burkina Faso to check on my #weavingforchange Lamps with the #UNHCR 😊 Thank you for the traveling mercies. 🙏🏾 @lionessesofafrica @lagosleatherfair @forbes @andreagiaccaglia @kitty.kn @suzymenkesvogue honestly, Thank you for the love and support ! 🙏🏾🌈❤ (we also had the opportunity to speak about AAKS in Forbes > link in BIO) It hasn’t only been fun and games. Lots of work too. 😆
5. Uganda – Gloria Wavamunno
Coming from a family that was deeply involved in Uganda’s textile industry, Gloria is no stranger to the fashion scene. She is both a womenswear designer and the founder of Kampala Fashion Week – a space she created in which fellow designers could also succeed. Wavamunno launched her own inimitable label in 2009, which is also proudly ethical and environmentally conscious. She’s shown in South Africa, Zimbabwe and the UK, while her brainchild Kampala Fashion Week continues to shine the spotlight on homegrown talent.
Africa’s fashion cup is overflowing with creative innovators and, thanks to the accessibility that social media creates, talent from home can be highlighted for the world to appreciate. As the ‘charity begins at home’ adage advises, let’s be encouraged to support our own designers, buy local, and keep the money at home and on the continent.