New styles, textures and silhouettes have emerged in the global fashion landscape. These trends have also influenced how we perceive and wear African clothing, accessories and textiles. African fashion has expanded from being solely about traditional cultural garments to a segment that includes modern everyday clothing with subtle ethnic influences. The demand for such apparel is on the rise globally and especially among millennials who want to look unique while staying relevant. There has been a growing urgency among young African designers to reclaim the narrative around African fashion.
Nomaan Abdul-Hamed is a Kuwaiti-born, London-based designer, who believes that sustainability and social awareness are crucial to the future of fashion. He has created a line of luxury hijabs and abayas (long gowns) that are handcrafted in Kuwait using traditional handmade stitching techniques and pure silk fabrics. Abdul-Hamed was inspired to create his brand, Ha Hijab, after witnessing the significant rise in demand for modest fashion from Muslim women wanting to wear the hijab. He recognized the need for an eco-friendly and ethically produced product and decided to focus his design expertise on producing high-quality hijabs and abayas.
Makiwa Shittu is a Nigerian designer who uses traditional fabrics and handmade textiles. Her collections are often inspired by West African culture. Shittu’s designs are unique and have been featured in several international exhibitions and publications, including the Vogue India Young Designers Issue. She also received a special commendation at the African Fashion International Awards in 2016. Shittu graduated from the University of Central Lancashire in the United Kingdom with a degree in Fashion Design and Technology. She later received a scholarship to study Fashion Business at Middlesex University in London. Shittu is the founder of the social enterprise, Dirie. Dirie is a fashion label that supports and empowers young women in Northern Nigeria who are traditionally labelled as “tribal people”. These women have been largely ignored by Nigerian society and the global marketplace. Dirie aims to change that by providing economic opportunities for these women through designing and producing garments and accessories inspired by their rich culture.
Nena Shada is an Egyptian-born, Australia-based designer, whose brand, Nena Shawls, has become known for combining traditional Middle Eastern designs and patterns with modern silhouettes. Shada’s shawls are derived from traditional and authentic Middle Eastern shawls. Her designs are inspired by the colours, textures and patterns of the Egyptian villages, which are depicted in their architecture, decoration and textiles. Shada has been recognised for her work in promoting Middle Eastern culture. She was invited as a guest designer to showcase her shawls at the Fashion Fringe Festival in New York and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in Scotland.
Ghada Al-Yawm is an Egyptian fashion designer and founder of the eco-friendly label, The Nile Project. Al-Yawm is passionate about creating eco-friendly fashion using fabrics and patterns inspired by Egyptian heritage. Her designs are made from organic fabrics that are naturally pest-resistant and safe for humans to wear. She is also committed to using eco-friendly and sustainable practices in her production. Al-Yawm has implemented several programmes to support local communities. The Nile Project has partnered with the American University in Cairo to launch the Sustainability Academy. The Academy trains local artisans in sustainable production techniques to create eco-friendly garments and accessories.
Fudah Djoummi is a London-based Tunisian fashion designer who uses Arabic calligraphy and geometric patterns in her designs. Her garments are handmade and made from organic fabrics. Djoummi’s designs have been worn by several celebrities including Emma Watson, Rihanna and Naomi Campbell. Djoummi’s clothing is inspired by the intricate architecture of the mosques in her hometown of Tunis. She is committed to promoting her culture and uses Arabic calligraphy in her designs. In 2016, she participated in the Vogue Festival of Islamic Fashion in London where she showcased her work. Djoummi has also partnered with the eco-friendly luxury brand, Eco-Age, to create a line of garments and accessories that use eco-friendly fabrics and sustainable practices.
Wanuri kikunga is a Kenyan-born, Berlin-based designer whose clothing is made from traditional fabrics and hand-dyed fabrics. She is inspired by the colours and textures of Kenyan textiles and has used them in her designs to create modern silhouettes. Kikunga has exhibited her work in various fashion shows around the world and has been featured in Vogue and Interview Magazine. She has also been honoured with several awards including the Emerging Designer Award at the International Fashion and Trade Show in Las Vegas. As a way of giving back to her community, Kikunga has partnered with the non-profit organisation, Diri wa Ikimeniki, to provide employment and business skills training to members of her community.
The fashion industry is a multibillion-dollar business and has often been a source of inspiration for African cultural heritage. With the rise of the fashion industry in Africa, the focus on cultural inspiration has now shifted to the continent. With the increasing demand for African-inspired clothing and accessories, there has been a growing urgency among young African designers to reclaim the narrative around African fashion. They see this as an opportunity to shift how Africa is portrayed in the global marketplace by creating their own brands and labels that are inspired by their heritage and local aesthetics.