Designers around the world have drawn inspiration from Africa’s rich cultural heritage and in recent years, African designers themselves have been taking the continent’s legacy to the world stage in a voice that is representative of the new African. We look at 10 Women Designers Setting Trends in Africa and beyond with brands that are pushing the boundaries of what African fashion is.
1. Kai Kollective
Nigerian fashion designer Fisayo Longe of Kai Collective changed the game when she defied allodds to grow a fashion brand during the Covid-19 pandemic. The trendsetting millennial gained global popularity when her ‘Gaia Dress’ was sold out almost as soon as it was launched in 2020. Despite a slow start in her entrepreneurial journey, Fisayo’s now iconic dress earned her an Elle cover and a spot in Beyonce’s Black Owned Everything directory of brands to support in 2020. Kai Collective is synonymous with trendy, colourful fashion and distinct prints and the brand’s attainable luxury aesthetic is popular especially amongst young Black women the world over.
2. Selly Raby Kane
Senegalese fashion designer Selly Raby Kane is part of the continent’s movement for empowerment through a celebration of individuality and identity. In 2017, Selly made history as the first ever external Creative Director for the Design Indaba Festival in 2017. Since launching her SKR label in 2012, she quickly blew up on the Dakar fashion scene. She was soon enough getting recognised on the global stage with her signature style that fuses contemporary and traditional style brought to life through an Afro futuristic lense.
If you watched Congolese fashion label Hanifa’s virtual fashion show in mid-pandemic 2020, you would have predicted a great future for the brand. Presented on the official Hanifa Instagram page, the 3-D fashion show changed the way we all see fashion shows. Hitting the ramp were virtual models in the form of holographic images complete with realistic African curves perfect for Hanifa’s signature figure-hugging ensembles. The Pink Label Congo collection paid homage to designer and founder Anifa Mvuemba‘s parent’s home country the Democratic Republic of Congo – celebrating her heritage while highlighting the country’s painful social plight. A year on, the most interesting runway show of 2020 has not turned out to be a one hit wonder for Hanifa. The brand is steadily growing in popularity in Hollywood and stars likeZendaya, Traci Ellis Ross and Sarah Jesica Parker have all been spotted in Hanifa.
4. Soraya da Piedade
This Angolan clothing and accessories designer is known for her classic, elegant yet innovative fashion moments. A trained Entrepreneurial Business Management professional, Soraya’s work has earned her numerous accolades including the Fashion Stylist of the Year Award at Curitiba Fashion Week in Brazil. Soraya is a veteran participant of Angola Fashion Week and her work isthe perfect marriage between the interconnected cultures of Angola and Brazil.
5. Lisa Folawiyo
Nigerian fashion designer Lisa Folawiyo merges puts a twist on traditional West African fabrics with modern tailoring and intricate beadwork. Her work has earned her international recognition, giving an interesting take on modern African fashion and through that, opening doors for her label not only in Nigeria but in the UK, South Africa and New York. Folawiyo showcased for the first time in South Africa at the AFI Fashion Week (Arise Africa Fashion Week) in 2009. Folawiyo has worked with fashion labels like L’Oréal, has showcased her work across the world and has been featured in international publications like Vogue. Her garments are primarily made from Ankara, a tradition she upholds in honour of her maternal heritage.
Katungulu Mwendwa is a Kenyan designer setting trends not only in Kenya, but beyond the East-African nation’s borders too. Edgy, defiant and leaning on Afri-Futuristic themes in her work, Katungulu through her brand KATUSH explores the future of fashion by studying the evolution of culture alongside the aesthetics of the modern world.
Tanzanian-born and raised in South Africa, Anisa Mpungwe is the talent behind the Loin Cloth +Ashes brand which explores fashion from a “modern, functional and relevant” point of view. Since bursting on the scene at the tender age of 19, Anisa has dressed the likes of Solange Knowles and even Michelle Obama. The recipient of the 2013 African Fashion International Emerging Designer Award, she has collaborated with big brands like Bobbi Brown, Maserati and Samsung.
Award-winning Ghanian designer Aisha Ayensu has had quite the impactful career with her luxury brand Christie Brown. Since its launch in 2008, Christie Brown has become one of the continent’s top fashion brands, boasting an impressive list of clientele that includes Beyoncé. She was also awarded an Emerging Designer Award in 2009 by African Fashion International. The brand has withstood the test of time and even when fashion shows were cancelled during the 2020 lockdowns, Christie Brown made waves with their 2020 Fall/Winter virtual show which attracted over 30 000 viewers on Instagram live. They continue to be an example of successfully merging traditional and online marketing and sales to grow a brand in the 21st century.
Farai Simoyi is a textile designer and fashion expert with Zimbabwean origins and currently based in New York. You may recognize her from her stint on the Netflix show ‘Next in Fashion’ where she participated with partner, Kiki Kitty. Simoyi is the founder and Creative Director of theNative – a brand that assists independent designers to elevate their visibility through strategic collaborations. She became the Thomas Jefferson University Program Director and Professor ofFashion Design Programs in 2020 and her contributions to the fashion industry have earned herfeatures in major international publications like Vogue and Essence magazine.
Ivorian designer Loza Maléombho has dressed several international stars but her biggest fashion moment came when Beyoncé donned one of her designs in the Black is King visual album. Loza draws inspiration from West African royalty and is known for her appreciation of traditional craftsmanship which she uses to elevate modern pieces.
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