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Design Spotlight with Tolu Omoyele

Last update - Saturday, March 1, 2014, 03:07 By Tolu Omoyele

Experiencing less a renaissance than enlightenment, today’s African fashion is no longer mere inspiration to the established fashion industry - and closer to home, it’s inspired diaspora designers to pool their talents and resources, says Tolu Omoyele

In the last five years alone, the fashion world has experienced a dramatic overhaul, eschewing traditional practices for 21st-century enlightenment. What do I mean by this? Let me take it from the start.
Fashion, as we know, is not simply about the making and wearing of clothing. It’s so much more than that, both tangible and intangible – it can be touched, felt, tasted, seen, experienced and imagined.
While fashion has its origins in France, it was in New York where the annual statements of Fashion Week were conceived, back in 1943. Ever since, the concept has been replicated across the world’s fashion capitals, with Paris, London, Milan and Tokyo joining New York as the ‘Big Five’, but cities on nearly every continent can also boast of their own fashion weeks.
Taken generally, a fashion week is an industry event comprising exhibitions, art installation and, as the centrepiece, catwalk showcases of the latest collections. Fashion weeks are a platform for fashion designers, brands and houses to push their latest ideas and establish the latest trends. Such events are a twice-yearly occurrence for each of the Big Five, representing the spring/summer and autumn/winter seasons.
Of course fashion weeks are held several months in advance of the respective season, to accommodate fashion buyers’ strategies and magazines’ production lead times. Usually autumn/winter (or A/W) collections will be previewed anytime now, from January to April, while September to November is the standard period for spring/summer (or S/S) shows.
At least, that’s how it’s always been – until recently. Fashion as an industry caters to the entire worlds, but it’s dominated by western – and especially European – culture. That’s not to say the rest of the world has never had a role to play. Africa, for instance, has long been an inspiration to fashion in the west.
But what of ‘African fashion’ in and of itself? It’s often seen to entail ‘traditional’ dresses and costumes made with indigenous fabrics and patterns, influenced by customary beautification practices. But traditional dress identified as specific and unique to particular cultural groups is not fashion. For fashion to prevail, it must be shared by a wide range and diverse set of people.
The year 2009 was a turning point for the concept of African fashion, with New York’s hosting of the first Africa Fashion Week. That in turn has spawned satellite events in London, Berlin, Paris, Milan, Toronto, Los Angeles – you name it. As fashion weeks these events serve multiple purposes, but it should not be overlooked that as specifically African, they provide a platform for designers of African descent to showcase their work, and set their own trends.
In a way, this could be taken as a kind of enlightenment of fashion in the 21st century, implying a rethinking of the interpretations that have held for so long and developing perspectives far more relevant to today’s shared global experience of fashion.
Africans around the world are now active participants in the fashion industry, not just as consumers but also as producers. And they’re gradually shifting the received interpretation of what constitutes fashion, as part of a greater social movement that’s unifying the people of Africa between the continent and the diaspora and promoting a positive image.
Dublin saw its first Africa Fashion Week in 2010, featuring talented designers such as Afro Chique, Afro-Ropean, Bot I Lam, Deenola, Dilko, Eric Raisina and Ngone Creations. Subsequent events have showcased work by Ugandan-Swedish milliner Linda Mirembe, Irish-Eygptian knitwear designer Lisa Shawgi, Ghania-British designer Yaa Liza, ethical fashion designer Palvika Rathod from Ethiopia and the online fashion store
Their achievements have inspired the creation of a new group of African and Irish designers in Ireland, under the umbrella of the Fashion Collective Dublin.
The ethos of the collective is ‘together as one we are stronger’: a group has more strength and bargaining power if they collaborate rather than trying to negotiate individually...

Diana Mukushi is a Zambia-born fashion designer, trained at the Grafton Academy. Her fashion career started at young age: as a daughter of an upholsterer, she learnt design creativity at home, while in school she studied needlework. Her perfect hand craftsmanship often led her teacher to show her work around the class as an example. Over the years she continued making clothes for friends and family, eventually starting her award-winning label Akani – specialising in bespoke evening glamour and elegant day clothing.

Dami Okesanya is a Nigerian student, currently studying Creative and Cultural Industries at DIT. Her label is Urban Asho, a fusion of western and African aesthetics catering to streetwise young people. Dami says she loves fashion because it’s like an extension of her, an expression of her identity, signifying her innermost feelings without need for words. “My style speaks volumes about me,” she says, “and gives me the courage to be bold and stand out.”

Angela Osondu is a Nigeria-born designer with a professional background in fashion that includes four years of education in Fashion & Textiles at Colaiste Ide, Fashion Industry Practice at Sallynoggin and Advanced Fashion Design at Bray Institute. For Angela, a bridalwear specialist, the design process is the most fascinating thing about her work, for which she draws inspiration from nature and life’s moments and memories. “I love how fashion influences our lifestyles, and can change our moods,” she muses.

Feyisola Adeyemi is radio broadcaster and researcher for Inside Africa with PhoenixFM. She runs a label called SimplyGlamorousFashion, and uses the same name for her fashion blog where she gives out tips and tricks on how to look good for less. Feyisola is a graduate of the Dublin Business School where she studied Social Science, in addition to her degree in Banking and Finance and a certificate in Radio Broadcasting. Her label specialises in luxurious ready-to-wear cocktail dresses. “I love fashion because of my passion for clothing and I see fashion as an extension of my personality,” she enthuses.

Tina Nyakambiri Williams is a designer from Zimbabwe. She fell in love with design at the age of 10 when she sewed her first garments – a grey shirt with tartined fabric. Her label Helena Kampbell specialises in couture and millinery including hats, hair-pieces to handmade jewellery. “The label is inspired by two cultures, this is my African origin and western culture,” she says. “I live and breathe fashion; it is my passion.” Tina is currently pursuing a Law degree, and says she has “gained tangible experience through numerous internships”.

Ayrene Katabazi is a Ugandan-born Irish designer. She studied fashion design at the renowned Sallynoggin College. Her label Mullalo is for the ones who aren’t afraid to stand out from the crowd ¬– definitely not for the feint-hearted! Ayrene loves contemporary art, fashion and music. “All these are ways of self-expression for me and they play a big part in my collections,” she says. “My line is women’s for the meantime – I can’t say I won’t venture out elsewhere.”

For more inquiries about the Fashion Collective Dublin, contact FashionPR Ireland at

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