A few weeks ago we brought you news of the launch of Jacqueline Shaw’s book Fashion Africa now launched in hard copy by Jacaranda Books. Certain to take pride of place on any African fashion enthusiast’s coffee table, the publication by the founder of Africa Fashion Guide showcases over 40 of these fresh African designers, across the whole continent from Kayobi in Ghana to Brother Vellies in South Africa and Namibia, with specially commissioned photographs and revealing interviews.
We caught up with Shaw to get the exclusive on her work with Fashion Africa.
What inspired you to write Fashion Africa and what do you hope to achieve with this publication?
I wrote and curated my book Fashion Africa as I felt that there were not any great books on the market that represented contemporary African fashion and highlighted the area of ethical and sustainable fashion.
I aimed to present a book to the industry that was not only beautiful in every way but also was original, contemporary and changed perceptions of Africa, African textiles, African fashion and African manufacturing.
Fashion Africa is a visual overview of contemporary African Fashion. What about contemporary African fashion personally excites you?
I have a slight “obsession” with textiles and fabrics, especially hand loomed. It tells a story, it has a history and it’s a labour of love, that is, in my opinion, quite personal. On being introduced to African fashion at a young age, I became intrigued with it and the more I delved in and researched, the more excited I became.
With your extensive research, what will you say is the current state of the fashion industry in Africa? How would you describe the evolution of fashion in Africa in the past decade?
The country state of fashion in Africa is that it is still behind that of Asia, the Americas and Europe. This is a nation where history tells us that the African Moors introduced silks to other nations as they travelled around and into Europe. There is a grand history of textiles in Africa but the modern day lacks machinery and technical skills resulting in a lack of processing which means Africa struggles to compete at the same level as other nations. But there is a renaissance going on and a general interest in Africa– not just in the textile industry but beyond.
In your book you showcase over 40 African designers, across the whole continent from Kayobi in Ghana to Brother Vellies in South Africa and Namibia. What is the common ground you can say they stand on?
Firstly that they are proudly African and secondly that they are passionate about their creative message. They support local textiles, local production and local design and want to change the perception of Africa with the aim of being recognized and respected on the same level as their peers in other regions of the world.
You have worked in the UK, China, Turkey and Africa. What elements of culture in those countries have influenced your fashion designs?
Generally the differences in textiles, the creative techniques and how they represent their country through design and creativity.
How long did it take you to put this book together?
I originally created and self-published this book in 2011 and that took around 16months to source, curate and actually create. This time around working with a publisher took less time and I think it looks great. I’m very happy with the result.
What were some of the highlights and also some of the challenges you encountered working on this publication?
Finding the patience when waiting for responses from designers was a challenge, but I mostly struggling with the fact I was working and studying at the same time as creating the first edition of the book. Second time around, I was still working full time and Africa Fashion Guide, my social enterprise, has been growing from strength to strength with our Fashion Africa Business Workshops, various talks abroad and our own Fashion Africa conferences. This makes doing all three together (business, full time job and a book) quite challenging time wise.
Who are some of your favourite designers or icons in the fashion industry?
There are too many to choose from. Maki Oh is a favourite of mine for her use of adire, Nkwo from Nigeria who uses amazing indigo dye techniques, Mafi Mafi is a young Ethiopian brand using traditional fabrics that I also love. Laurence Airlines is a very exciting designer working with local tailors in Ivory Coast, Loza Maleombho does beautiful work with kente. Of course the big stars of Nigeria Jewel by Lisa, Deola Sagoe, Tiffany Amber, Lanre Da Silva Ajayi, Chichia and Doreen Mashika in Tanzania, Christie Brown in Ghana are amazing and there are so many more! Don’t even get me started on the South African designers.
There has been a lot of push for more African designers to break into the international markets; do you think this goal is attainable?
With events like the International Herald Tribune Luxury Conference in Rome in 2012, Samsung’s work supporting African designers and most recently LVMH, with Woolworths SA collaborating with designers from Africa and the many exhibitions at galleries and museums showcasing African design, it is clear that there are more opportunities and more recognition for African fashion designers, but it is marginal and there needs to be even more support.
From your research what do you think is the major reason for there being only a minority of African designers at Fashion Weeks and global Fashion Events?
Access to markets, government support and international recognition.
Do you think Africa is able to build strong fashion brands like the West?
There is definitely potential but more support from governments is needed in order to progress effectively.