Modupe Oloruntoba Is Pioneering the Shift in Fashion Journalism
Transforming African Fashion Media: A Conversation with Modupe Oloruntoba
With the world experiencing broad, fundamental changes in how we consume information and media, the voice of fashion media in Africa is shifting not only in its potency but in its sense of urgency.
Today, fashion reporting and online content creation are changing. Entrepreneurs in the fashion industry are working hard to make it grow in Africa. They have a fresh and exciting vision of what African fashion can become, and they're transforming the way fashion news is shared with the new generation of fashion lovers.
Based in Johannesburg, Nigerian fashion writer Modupe Oloruntoba’s platform exemplifies these constructive shifts.
Amongst many things, Modupe Oloruntoba defines herself as a fashion journalist and consultant. Exercising a remarkable breadth and depth of her knowledge base that encompasses design and fashion business, Oloruntoba is also the founder and editor of African Fashion Weekly. Leading with a transformative mandate, the online publication defines itself as an “on-the-ground conversation about Africa’s fashion industries”.
Dedicated to relevant information that captures the culture, this platform stands out in its focus on connecting happenings in African fashion to the global climate. Not only does it position African fashion as relevant within the global canon of fashion, Oloruntoba herself asserts: “AFWeekly is in a position to join the global conversation from a perspective that puts Africa first”
Adopting a resourceful, Business-to-Business approach to building a voice in fashion media, African Fashion Weekly also includes a curated list of external sources. In addition to pioneering African Fashion Weekly and her bylines in Refinery29, GQ South Africa and InStyle, Oloruntoba’s enviable portfolio includes consultancy with the United Nations’s Ethical Fashion Initiative.
AFI had an insightful conversation with Oloruntoba about the state of fashion media in the continent and documenting Africa’s fashion industry with African Fashion Weekly.
What was your first job in fashion media? What was it like?
My first role was being a production coordinator and junior writer at Style Africa, then a brand-new title. While building relationships and credibility with a new magazine was a challenge for the team, it was exciting to work on the debut issue of something.
You’ve been in most corners of fashion communication, from consultancy to fashion writing. Which of your disciplines were you first passionate about?
Design, first. It’s the only discipline I’m actually trained in. I’m self-taught in everything else. We had a computer at home with internet access all through my teens, and like everyone else I read ELLE SA and watched Top Billing, so falling in love with design online and on screen was easy. I cycled through some other interests but eventually committed to fashion because it was the only one I never got bored of. Things had shifted for me toward the end of design school, so I made a soft pivot into media thinking it would only be for a couple of years, but I found my lane with writing. I had a decent natural talent for it and the work it took to develop that into a skill fit me well. My highest scores in design school were always written assignments; I should have taken the hint earlier.
How did the concept for African Fashion Weekly first come about?
I’ve told some of the story in the first newsletter, but basically, I’d spent some time in the industry and noticed that whenever conversation turned to challenges, we were saying the same things, for years — nothing was changing. Not the response from the business environment, and not fashion’s own approaches to those challenges. Some of it revolved around the practicalities of treating fashion like the commercial business it is, and while I hadn’t worked in a formal newsroom or practised any business journalism, I knew it was a conversation I wanted to play a role in. I was confident that changing the conversation we were having could help us solve some issues, even for just a handful of fashion businesses, and the rest would eventually follow suit.
What has changed about your perspective of the fashion industry since your platform has gained traction and become a go-to platform for fashion news, career-information and insights?
I started out thinking that to help African fashion contribute to lifting the continent in a measurable way, I needed to attack the perception that creative industries in general and fashion in particular aren’t attractive ‘serious’ investments. The idea that creatives aren’t pragmatic enough, that culture and consumers are too fickle, and fashion is a ‘women’s interest’ thing that doesn’t have scalable business potential outside the global luxury sector. Those things need changing, but my focus has shifted to equipping and enabling African fashion stakeholders to better navigate increasingly challenging market conditions. If they succeed, they’ll change that perception themselves. I still have plenty to learn about how to do that, but I can show my work and learn in community.
How does bridging this gap make crucial changes for African fashion business, designers, and fashion media itself?
I hope it does what good B2B media does for many industries; Increase knowledge, insight and trust to enable more strategically successful trade. Global platforms are getting better at giving the continent more than a cursory glance; for example WGSN now has a small team in Cape Town, and market analysis for Africa has become more frequent and nuanced on the business of fashion. The remaining issues are their limited local footprint (easily expanded with African contractors) and the conflicting priorities — African fashion is not their main client, and they need to prioritise the stakeholders who are, and help them spot opportunities to take advantage of. AFWeekly is in a position to join the global conversation from a perspective that puts Africa first.
There is a lot to read about the impediments of the African fashion industry. What would you say are the rewards of being in this industry, in the country that we’re in, and in the moment that we are in?
1. Doing business is solving problems and getting paid for it. Few places in the world have more problems than Africa, so few places in the world have its potential for innovative solutions and new wealth generation.
2. No matter how saturated a market here looks, it is not. Just look at the explosion of fintech startups across the continent, and how many of them are payment solutions.
3. Our infrastructure problem has become a potential competitive advantage — African fashion is in a position to sidestep some of the environmental and cost issues of the established global supply chain by embracing new technology.
4. We’ve got a large chunk of the world’s youth population, while many dominant markets with ageing populations face dwindling labour forces and spending power. The potential needs to be protected and nurtured, but it’s there. It’s here.
The global fashion industry has historically fortified itself through this reputation of exclusivity, intense competition, and gatekeeping: how sustainable is a culture of gatekeeping in a country where we are still trying to get the infrastructure right?
I believe this issue is more perception than reality in SA; because for centuries, fashion’s hallowed halls have been filled with misfits who ‘didn’t belong.’ The story that global fashion has told culture about itself helped perpetuate the gatekeeping idea, and also attract to the industry the kind of people who believed it, like a self-fulfilling prophecy. In reality, I’ve seen much more community than cold shoulders in almost 10 years in SA fashion. The bigger challenge is accessing and managing resources in the most unequal country in the world.
Who are the three designers you would love to see showcase at AFI’s Joburg Fashion Week in November?
No particular picks for me, but I’m always happy to learn about emerging talent and the challenge it can present to the industry’s status-quo, as well as brands that embody new possibilities for how fashion markets, distributes and produces its product.