African fashion is exotic, funny, flashy or sophisticated. It is has the same political meaning as African music or street art because it reflects the social change and the changed self-esteem of young African generation. African designers show their latest collections at the African fashion weeks in Johannesburg, Dakar or Lagos. They dress up actors, stars and politicians, e.g. Michele Obama, Beyoncé and Rihanna.

African Fashion is Changing the Cities

The fashion looks in African streets have changed tremendously. In order to be cool, young people no longer wear Western fashion. They have created their own self-confident style which is traditional and international. Traditional fabrics and designs are transformed into high fashion. Female designers change traditional shirts for men into visionary dresses for women. Their male colleagues leave behind the uniformed Western fashion style and allow men to wear a colorful style mix.

Does African Fashion has to Look like African Style?

The roots of young designers are tied to African traditions and at the same time they follow international trends. Their fashion is different. Most of them demonstrate that they are outsiders. Many of them have a distinctive sense for colors and fabrics. Some use traditional fabrics and patterns – e.g. Kenté fabrics from Ghana, patterns of the Masai and colors of the Tuareg – and mix them with Western cuts.

African Street Fashion

African street fashion is the melting point of Africa. Johannesburg is the Mecca of the African street fashion. Street fashion is fun, sporty and unconventional. It reflects the ideasof the young generation, their culture and their self-confidence in style. They decide how Africa changes, and how quickly it changes. Examples?

The Smarteez started as a street gang, tailoring their own clothes. Now they are among the stars of the fashion industry. This is also the origin of the streetwear label AMA KipKip.

The Sapeurs – originally a French word for clothes – clothe men with courage to eye-catching colors and cuts. It just must be elegant. The fashion trend started in Congo and originally was a protest movement against dictator Joseph Mobutu. The Congolese singer Papa Wemba was the icon of this trend.

Tip: The South African magazine Cuss informs about fashion, events and culture.

Where are Africa’s Fashion Centers?

Cape Town, Lagos, Nairobi and Dakar are the African fashion centers. The annual Swahili fashion week is the highlight for Eastern and Central African designer.  In Angola, Mozambique and Ghana fashion platforms are organized to promote domestic designs. New trends and brands are disseminated through fashion magazines, blogs, festivals and Africa-wide broadcast satellite programs such as the pay TV DStv in South Africa.

Is Dakar the African Capital of Fashion?

In Dakar as European you feel badly dressed even on normal days. Women in Senegal wear tailor made clothes with pattern of the skirt matching the blouse. The material for producing the dresses mainly come from Burkina Faso, Mali and Ghana, the cuts however almost always come from Senegal. The 30 most famous African designers present their creations once a year at the first fashion show of the African continent, the “Dakar fashion week”. The trends of the year are made there and they decide what is hip.


Who are the Stars among the African Designers?

The young African designers are cosmopolitan, however cleave to the fashion of the African population. They say “anything goes”, everything is possible as long as itis unique and humorous. Actually there is a growing worldwide interest in African designs. The most popular designers like Duro Olowu, Nadir Tati, Maki Oh or Ozwald Boateng feel at home at the most important international fashion shows in London, Paris and Berlin. In 2016 the Africa fashion Day was the highlight of fashion week in Berlin.

Problems and Obstacles

The fashion industry can boom only if larger quantities can be produced. However, the problem is a lack of industries and well-trained professionals. This will take time and will last, but the African textile industry is growing. Another phenomenon which is disadvantageous for the designers is the massive import of second-hand clothes. Not only mass production is unfavorable but the fact that many African countries offer low priced second-hand designer fashion from Europe.
Is Fair Trade Fashion an Option for African Designers?

The African fashion market, having products made according to ecological and social standards, is growing internationally. Thus the Ethical Fashion Initiative of the International Trade Centre in Geneva connects artisans in developing countries with international fashion buyers. So far nearly 7000 small producers, mainly women in Kenya, Uganda, Mali, Burkina Faso, Ghana and Haiti, took advantage. Top designers like Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood support this initiative.