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A look at how African fashion changed trends in 2012

posted 28 Dec 2012, 06:35 by Sam Mbale   [ updated 28 Dec 2012, 06:36 ]

The world came to Africa this year to find out what's hot in fashion. African prints were the top designs of 2012 and in countries like Nigeria and South Africa where fashion industries are growing exponentially; we looked at how that is contributing to their economies.

 DAKARSENEGAL ( (REUTERS) -  The 2012 Dakar Fashion Week, in Senegal was more than an event to unveil a collection for Nigerien fashion designer Alphadi, also know as "Magician of the Desert".

Showcasing bold colors on traditional fabric made in African and modern designs,Alphadi's creations were the highlight of the show.

The Paris based designer said this season's collection was all about his home countryMali, which is currently going through a tumultuous political period, following a recent coup.

"We are here to celebrate fashion and give Africa a chance but we cannot sit back and accept what is happening in Mali today, and that is why I am from Timbuktu, and I have to honor Mali by showcasing its creativity through the clothes and tinted fabrics unique toMali. I wanted to pay homage to the people of Mali by showing that the country is invincible," he said.

The event is the brain child of stylist Adama Amanda Ndiaye, also known as AdamaParis -- the Dakar Fashion Week is one of the highlights of the African fashion calendar.

In South Africa, media, fashion buyers, consumers and influential icons from all over the world came to witness what contributions Africa had to offer the fashion world at this year's 16th South Africa Fashion week in JohannesburgSouth Africa.

Professionals said this years event, which was sponsored by Mercedes Benz, had massive international appeal.

"I love the print, I love the contrast of print on print I think that for me it is just beautiful. The fact that we are embracing African fashion a lot more, like I think we are seeing a lot of more it on the streets as well and I think it is a trend that I am going to be following as well. So that for me was beautiful, it stands, it's bold, it's creative," said Kondi Mudau, a guest at the show.

With events like Fashion Week, South Africa's struggling textile industry has had new life breathed into it by a burgeoning locally produced fashion market in Africa's largest economy.

For decades, the textile industry was a mainstay of Africa's biggest economy until about 20 years ago when cheaper imports from Asia began saturating the market forcing factories to close down.

According to the South African Textile Workers Union (SACTWU) over 160,000 jobs have been lost since 1996.

But the revival of local textile businesses with the emergence of successful South African designers, has seen the rate of job losses on the decline.

With the right marketing and exposure, Lucilla Booyzen, Director of South African Fashion Week says deals with international retail stores in Europe and USA can earn South African designers close to 1 million US dollars a year.

Local clothing retail giant Edgars also stocks designs straight off the runways for easy access to consumers.

But with such opportunities South Africa will have to put the infrastructure in place to avoid the local gains being edged out by more textile import.

"There are a lot of international buyers that are interested, that are interested in buying and there are lot of designers that are at this point in time exporting but we need a lot of imports when it comes to our local design. We do not have fabric, we do not manufacture fabric, we do not design textile and whatever we have in this country gets exported," said Booyzen.

In West AfricaNigeria hosted one of Africa's biggest fashion events attracting over 77 designers from six continents who came to showcase their work, share ideas and make business contacts.

The Arise Magazine Fashion week now in its 12th year attracted international designers like British-Ghanaian Ozwald Boateng who opened his first a shop in London's up-market Savil Row and models like Oluchi and Alek Wek among others.

Organisers said the aim of the event was to help expose Africa's unique creativity in the art and fashion industry to the rest of the world.

"Nigeria as a country has an important role to play in fashion, I think Lagos has real potential, we all know the world for Nigeria, we all know the population so it definitely has a place for being the important country in the world and it is just a question of time and it is good to be here early and I am originally from Ghana, and we are neighbours, so it is another good reason to be here. I am very excited for the future of Nigeria," said Boateng.

In Ethiopia, 33 designers from across Africa flew in to showcase their latest designs from countries including ZimbabweAngolaMozambiqueSouth Africa and Ivory Coast, for the annual Hub of Africa Fashion Week.

This year runways revealed an eclectic mix of traditional and more modern styles, with stark whites and block colours taking centre stage.

But the event is not just for African designers to showcase their latest collections. It's also a platform for buyers and international business leaders from over 20 countries worldwide to meet and swap ideas on the future of the clothes and manufacturing industry.

Also at the shows was Peggy Onyango, vice chair of the Association of Fashion Designers in Kenya. She said shows like Hub of Africa Fashion Week are crucial to pushing African trends on the global scene because they give designers exposure and experience working outside their comfort zone.

"Of course it brings more confidence, more creativity. It makes somebody have that mentality and the ability of I can do it. I have what it takes because before somebody is exposed they kind of tend to think; they don't know what is out there. But when you get to mix with other designers, it is an exposure that makes an African bring out more of their creativity," she said.

In the world's newest nation, South Sudan, the debut of Miss World candidate 23-year-old Atong Demach in the competition went down in history as one of her country's many firsts.

After independence from Sudan in 2011 South Sudanese are still basking in the pride of their hard-won political freedom, but the reputation of being a war-torn nation remains in the minds of many.

Demach, who was crowned "African Continental Queen of Beauty" at the Miss World contest held in China last month, says her participation sent an important message to the world.

"It feels fantastic because, I mean, because it was the first time for South Sudan at Miss World and to be honest, people know much about South Sudan as a history of war so I'm glad that I took part in Miss world. Now they know that South Sudan is much more than just a history of war but also has intelligent beautiful youth that are working to bring change to their community," she said.

South Sudan gained independence last July after the peace deal seven years ago ended the war between the mostly Christian south and Arab north. But tensions remain high following clashes in contested borderlands and rows over oil payments.

But even through decades of war, South Sudanese women have made their mark in the fashion world with their striking features -- rich flawless black skin, high cheek bones and long-graceful frames, making them almost every international fashion designers' ideal canvas.

However, while the unrest ravaged at home, some South Sudanese refugees living abroad where in the right place at the right time to be discovered.

South Sudanese-British Super model Alek Wek was discovered in a London park by a modeling scout. She went on to become one of the first African models to appear on some of the the world's major fashion catwalks.

Today she is one of the world's most sought after models, featuring on catwalks from New York to Milan and the covers of top international magazines and netting millions of dollars in income.

South Sudan's models have also started to consider making careers out of fashion at home.

There is even a rise in fashion publications and industry players are planning a South Sudan Fashion Week 2012.

Managing editor for She South Sudan MagazineAleko Aguero says the industry is developing but it is still governed by deep rooted traditions and the audiences are still very conservative.

Aguero says South Sudan's top exports should help create opportunities for others.

"Despite the war, we have been good at so many things, we have our top models in so many different fields and what I would urge them is, these girls who have been in these careers, they need to come back home, establish something, because people have heard about them … Alek Wek is a supermodel, but they really don't know... what she is doing over there. So it needs her and the rest to come on the ground and do something," she said.

With the success of models like Wek, Demach and dozens of other internationally renowned South Sudanese in fashion, newcomers have plenty of role models and motivation to pursue careers for which they have the genetic advantage.