The 3 Queens of African Fashion Discuss The Lack of Diversity at New York Fashion Week

With the burgeoning of African influenced fashions on a global scale and New York Fashion Week (NYFW, Sept. 8-15) right around the corner, I wanted to get the perspectives of 3 powerful women who are on the forefront of this industry to discuss the fashion trends ahead, the value of this movement plus some of the challenges in controlling the narrative and growing market.

Who Are These 3 Powerful Women?

Charlene Dunbar

Charlene is originally from Liberia, Africa and is the Founder of suakoko betty

Chiedza Makonnen

Chiedza is of Jamaican and American roots now residing in Ghana is the Founder and CEO of Afrodesiac Worldwide

Kelechi Anyadiegwu

Kelechi is a Nigerian American is the Founder and CEO of Zuvaa and listed on Forbes 30 under 30 in Retail and E-commerce.

Everywhere you turn there is some sort of compelling influence that Africa is having on fashion from colors to tribal to Ankara prints – even Louis Vuitton in the past couple years put their stamp on the Ghana Must Go bags! According to designers Charlene and Chiedza there is a lot of evolution and growth in store for African influenced fashion. “Prints are becoming a lot more abstract…[with] colors that are not as traditional,” remarked Chiedza. “Now we’re seeing more diversity in terms of styles that speak to distinct style preferences, whether it’s bohemian, sexy, preppy or artsy,” noted Charlene. As far as the fabric, Kelechi and Charlene agree that Ankara rules as seen in the photo below however Charlene predicts that more tie-dyes and mud cloth will be incorporated.

suakoko betty

Suakoko Betty – “Ankara Dress” Fall 2016 Collection now available. Photo Credit: Charles Dunbar

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Veteran fashion designer, Lamine Kouyaté, originally from Mali launched his line Xuly.Bët back in 1989 and his last presentation at NYFW in February 2016 introduced an outwear jacket made with mud cloth for Fall/Winter 2016. He boldly presented models exclusively of African descent. Kouyaté is the sole African designer presenting in the upcoming NYFW starting in two days.

Xuly.Bët mud cloth outwear jacket, Fall/Winter 2016 collection – NYFW

Xuly.Bët mud cloth outwear jacket, Fall/Winter 2016 collection – NYFW

This discovery beseeched the question as to why there are so few designers of African descent/Black designers presenting at the official NYFW. Charlene offered the issue of limited resources and questioned NYFW’s relevancy in terms of providing that critical return on investment as well as its outdated cycle of introducing fashions 6 months before consumers can buy. “At the end of the day, it’s all about connecting with customers and there are more options than ever to do that.” Chiedza expressed that “People are still not confident that African fashion is really a part of the industry. They look at it as a trend or just for people of color…a niche market [but] we see people of all races at Zuvaa pop-ups.” Kelechi sees the lack of diversity at NYFW as a struggle with perception and the prevailing dominance of “whiteness” in mainstream fashion.

Afrodesiac Worldwide will be showing at the COTERIE Show at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center Sept 18-20

Afrodesiac Worldwide will be showing at the COTERIE Show at the Jacob Javitz Convention Center Sept 18-20

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Regardless of the mainstream fashion industry’s reluctance to fully embrace African fashions and women of African descent…this movement is here to stay. There truly is a remarkable power behind the African cultural representation in fashion. “I see the look on the women’s faces – I look like a queen; I look like a princess! [Now] we are able to find clothing that speaks to us!” proclaims Chiedza. To Charlene the natural hair movement goes hand in hand with the African fashion movement reinforcing pride in our culture and beauty as a people. “Fashion paints a picture of how we see ourselves and who we aspire to be,” she remarks. Kelechi and Chiedza also noted the global nature of African fashion and how people of all ethnicities appreciate the meaning and connection behind it. “Now that [African influenced fashion] is more accessible [women] can just get this clothing and relive their travel experiences,” states Kelechi.

Afrodesiac Worldwide factory in Ghana

Afrodesiac Worldwide factory in Ghana

It is clear that African fashion is loved and adorned by many but how do we make sure that it stays grounded in its roots benefiting the original creators of these beautiful prints and styles? Designers, Charlene and Chiedza emphasize the importance of consumer knowledge and demanding the source of clothing – not only who the owners are but where the textiles are made. There is a difference in what it takes to deliver a $20 garment versus a $200 garment states Charlene. “There has to be something [in the supply chain] benefiting to Africans to call it African fashion,” contends Chiedza. While Kelechi suggests that we need to continue to innovate and stay ahead of the curve.