This is UP’s Fashion Issue, and though we have devoted nearly all our pages to the subject, we’re still unsure of its true definition. Is it beauty? Is it confidence? Is it style? Does it come from the inside? We reviewed our list of so-called fashion icons in search of meaning and could generally agree that David Bowie is ‘fashionable’, because he wrote the iconic theme song of an industry (“Fafa- fa-fashion…turn to the right”) and is married to one of greatest supermodels of all time, Iman.
Andre 3000 is definitely on the list because of his talent and his outrageous sense of style. Alicia Keys—the new ‘Voice’, and the list goes on. For us, there is definitely a link between unique, brightly burning personalities and their ability to inform the trends of the fashion world—that includes everyone that possesses this ‘cool power’, in whatever form, shape, race, sex or creed. The fashion industry as a whole certainly doesn’t feel this way. However, we define fashion as individuals, for us here in Kenya and Africa, the fact remains that ethnic exclusion and even racism persist in the design halls and runways of Milan, Paris and elsewhere.
Despite the growth of the fashion industry in Africa over the past five years – made even more evident through the recent Dakar Fashion Week and our own born and bred FAFA – ethnic minority models are rarer on the runways than they have ever been. Carole White, co-founder of Premier Model Management, which supplies models to top fashion brands, admitted at a recent London Fashion Week that finding work for black clients was significantly harder than for the white models, because both magazines and fashion designers were reluctant to employ them. White said the lack of ethnic minority models was partly due to a lack of courage in catwalk shows on the part of designers: “In the Eighties and Nineties, you had whole shows with black girls.
Now each agency will have one, maybe four; the designers are not as brave.” Despite the fact that there are not many people of colour who are designers, buyers, stylists, models or organizers in the mainstream western fashion industry, Africa is most certainly the new frontier in Fashion. However, the rest of the world does not always comprehend the unique expressions and flourishing innovations that are the pillars of the rising African fashion industry. Posting from Dakar Fashion Week in July, writer/blogger Tanya Bindra summarized an ironic bright spot that was marked by Vogue’s entrance into Africa: “Last May, Vogue Italia devoted their entire issue to Africa and called it “Rebranding Africa”. Naturally, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon was on the cover.
The issue details the Vogue expedition into Africa, with editor-in-chief Franca Sozzani pleading with Nigerian president Goodluck Jonathan to build an “African Rodeo Drive”, and gallantly emerging with development statistics, trend reports and photo spreads that purposefully did not include anything “sad, trashy or poor”… She continues: “The Vogue Italia issue is just one example of the pervasive patronizing frameworks underlying the sudden discovery of fashion and hence, ‘modernity’, on the continent.
Even journalists seem to surprise themselves when, as the New York Times put it, “Africa is in the news — but not just for the sad and familiar reasons of conflict and suffering.” While there seems to be a way to go, we should be proud of what we’re achieving, and in our own way we can see ourselves as the envy of the world: less constrained and more expressive and free. But only you can be the judge. Enjoy this issue celebrating fashion and our rightful place in it. Read about the plus size model, 19 year-old Michelle Njeri Nganga, who is proud to be strutting her curves on the catwalk. See the pictures of the greatest designs from FAFA 2012 and check out the must-haves for the ‘Summer’ season. Also, the talented illustrator Point Blank has released his debut comic “Homeguard”—read about why you need to discover the world of the hard hitting detective duo Ben and Round Sam. And have a very, merry holiday and happy New Year. Peace and blessings from the UP team.
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