Laduma Ngxokolo has been making international waves for a while, since launching his knitwear brand, MAXHOSAby LADUMA in 2010. His collections have graced runways all over the world, including AFI Mercedes Benz Fashion Week – JoBurg in August.
Inspired by Xhosa beadwork distinctive patterns and colours, I was lucky enough to see his collection first hand at Africa Utopia 2016. As part of the team who created the first official magazine for the annual festival, I was in the photographers’ pit when the #AfricaSquad Fashion Show kicked off! The show’s creative director, Agnes Cazin, created a collaborative, afrobeat, disco vibe as models wore a mixture of designers from Africa and the diaspora, including MAXHOSA Knitwear pieces.
Photo credit: Belinda Lawley
Knitwear isn’t the first thing that comes to mind when I think of an African fashion label, and that’s one of the elements I like about MAXHOSA BY LADUMA; it caught me by surprise. Harnessing creative prowess from traditional Xhosa culture, MAXHOSA has reimaged stylish African knitwear.
Photocredit: Belinda Lawley
After winning the 2015 Vogue Italia Scouting for Africaprize, MAXHOSA has been covered Elle Magazine (South Africa) and earlier this year went viral after Beyoncé visited the Smithsonian Design Museum in NYC, and became aware of the brand.
MAXHOSA is making the world take note of African knitwear, not just in clothing (including socks) but furnishings too, with a collection of rugs.
At Lagos Fashion & Design Week a few days ago, the Apropriyeyshin SS17 collectionwas on full display.
“With this collection, I aim to express the beauty in culture exchange of the dress codes of western and Xhosa dress-code. All the looks are sketched with an ultimate objective of constructing an innovative utopian African feel, that will outlive the time span of the collection.” – MAXHOSA
Fashion isn’t just about clothes and models; it’s supposed to be but it isn’t. There’s been a lot of talk about racism in the fashion industry, from those within and those outside the industry. Racism is a problem in many industries, fashion isn’t unique here. No matter how creative/chic/stylish the clothes are on runways in the West, the lack of ethnic diversity is always on show – race and fashion now come hand in hand.
The fashion industry has been a certain way for a long time and change is difficult to embrace. It’s not just about having more ethnic models on the runway, but ethnic people in positions of power and influence behind the scenes of the industry, whether that be designers or casting agents etc. Fashion designers get inspiration from various cultures, but generally display their creations on a white canvas. This has been done for years, but now with everything else that’s going on, it seems we’re grappling with race in nearly every facet of Western society. Whether it be in the education system, in the corporate world, the film industry, the judicial system – the issue of race lurks.
Black models have been complaining for years about makeup artists unwilling to work with them, not having the makeup they need for photoshoots and sometimes resorting to bringing their own make up. It’s also been voiced about how much harder it’s for black models to actually get modelling jobs, compared to their white counterparts. For one famous black model, Sudanese beauty, Ajak Deng the industry became too much to bear and she announced that she was quitting! Ajak didn’t explicitly say that racism was the cause of leaving a career that millions of girls around the world covet, however the media has drew its conclusions.
“I am happy to announce that I am officially done with the fashion industry, I will be moving back to Australia in order to live the life that I fully deserve. Which is real life.” – Ajak Deng.
Ajak arrived in Australia as a child refugee, and has been photographed in renowned fashion publications and modelled for world famous designers, such as Louis Vuitton, Jean Paul Gaultier, Valentino, Givenchy and Marc Jacobs. She has appeared in Vogue Australia before, but it was earlier comments by her manager Stephen Bucknall, which gave further indications that her decision to quit had something to do with discrimination. Bucknall claims he finds it difficult to book jobs for Ajak in Australia, and was quoted in an Australian newspaper saying, “The Australian market doesn’t want to take the risk of using darker models as mainstream models…“They’ll book the big Caucasian girls, spend the big dollars, and fly them in from LA, but I’m yet to see them book a dark skinned girl in that way.”
Psychological and emotionally it’s hard to accept that a country you call home doesn’t accept you just because of your skin colour. However, when I heard that Ajak quit modelling I thought it was a bit premature and so did she! A few days ago, after a week ‘in retirement’ she announced she is coming back to modelling!
photo credit: fashionhauler.com
Even if she can’t get work in Australia, she does well in other markets! When you’re put in a position of prominence sometimes you have to stick it out and pave the way for those to come after you. She is part of a bigger picture and summed it up nicely:
“I feel like I have touched so many young people’s lives, gave them hope. Just because I come from NOTHING does not mean that I can’t make something for myself and for that I will still want to continue to touch more lives. Yes sure giving up is easier but who will fight the war that we are so in denial about? … I apologize to every kind souls/hearts that I have broken in the past week. I thought giving up was easier but I am going to stay and fight this war with kindness, forgiveness, love, and support to all humanity.”
Good for you Ajak!
“Representation” is another word you’ll find dancing around the fashion/race row boxing ring, but like most things in life, the solutions to this issue are not black and white. During Zac Posen’s show at NYFW 2016, 25 black models (including Ajak), walked the runway, displaying his designs.
Photo credit: Daniele Oberrauch.
This rubbed some people up the wrong way. There were white models in the lineup, but some spectators were not happy that black models were in the majority, in a country (America), where black people are a minority. In general Posen’s show was well received but some were not filled with the same sentiment. Is it simply a case of mirroring model quotas to census data of the general population?
Part of this problem is that there isn’t any balance in the world, full stop. If the fashion industry in Africa, the Caribbean, Asia and Latin America was as established as it is in the West, then maybe there would be a larger pie to eat from? The race issue in fashion is no longer dormant. If the industry wants to divorce itself from its unsavoury companion, then it will have to change. That may only happen if society changes, after all the fashion industry is run by human beings. If the fashion industry is prejudice, it’s because society is still prejudice.
Whatever the cause / intention of one of the shortest retirements in history, the fashion and race discourse continues. Watch this runway…
Snippets of an African legacy from a colourful perspective.
The two-day annual African fashion extravaganza that is Africa Fashion Week London 2015, celebrated its finale on Saturday. Showcasing the talents of African and African-inspired designers from the continent and the diaspora. For a 5th year running this event was embraced by London once again. More than just a trend, there is no doubt that African fashion is here to stay. Owning the most colourful segment of the fashion industry, African designers can tell their stories through the woven threads of African print (and non-print) fabrics.
In addition to shows like this, the driving force behind the crescendo of popularity surrounding African fashion has been Africans themselves! In Africa and across the diaspora, social media has given African fashion a voice, with YouTube vloggers and fashion bloggers sharing their own favourite designs and fashion tips with the world, making African fashion accessible. One of the most notable elements of African fashion which has made a crowning comeback over the years within the diaspora is the head wrap.
Head warps were worn by Africans before slavery (where it was used a symbol of poverty and disgrace) illustrating the wealth and social status of men and the beauty, spirituality, marital and social status of women. As time has moved on, the head wrap has become a feminine accessory ubiquitous across Africa; and known by various names including dhuku and Gele.
Although the head wrap has been a staple in African traditional culture for centuries, it’s becoming a coveted accessory for the young and old, at special occasions and for every day casual wear.
What do you think about the head wrap? Vote below!
Africa Fashion week London 2015 kicks off in a few days, providing the ideal opportunity to put the spotlight on African models. It’s not easy breaking into the fashion world, especially when you’re black, with short natural hair and ‘plus-size’, but Philomena Kwao has done just that. A Miss Ghana UK finalist in 2008, the London born Ghanaian model has a first class degree in Economics and a Masters’ degree in International Health Management adding to her list of achievements. Not subscribing to the usual stereotypes of the modelling industry and dubbed ‘Britain’s first black plus-size model’, Philomena is challenging what is means to be beautiful.
Find out more about Philomena in 60 seconds:
I’m not a fan of the term ‘plus-size’, but it’s human nature to categorize things. If you’re a model, then you are a model full stop. The average dress size in the UK is said to be size 16; women such as Holly Willoughby, Nigella Lawson, Beyonce, Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez are celebrated (whether you like them or not) for their physiques; which are not seen at high fashion catwalk shows but admired in popular culture. The fact is, women (and men) come in different sizes and it’s normal to see this in real life. It’s about time the fashion world starts to imitate the real world, rather than having sub-cultures of modeling. Whether your ‘slim’ or ‘plus-size’, as long as you’re healthy, that’s normal, and seeing different body sizes at mainstream fashion shows should be normal.
After winning a national modelling competition with Models1, Evans and Cosmopolitan UK Magazine in 2012, Philomena went on to win the Rising Star award at GUBA (Ghana UK Based Achievement awards) that same year. Philomena signed with Ford Models and flew across the pond to NYC to commence her (unplanned) modeling career.
In December 2014, Philomena was introduced as the latest brand ambassador for Torrid in the U.S. She recently created The Lily Project, connecting young girls with inspirational mentors. Having darker skin is unfortunately uncomfortable for many women, and an issue which has been debated within the black community many times over; in a recent interview Philomena recounts one of her most memorable experiences with The Lilly Project.
“I received a question on my Tumblr about how I’ve learned to love my dark skin. I remember it clearly because the girl in question listed all the bleaching products she had tried and was reaching her wits end with desperation. She wanted to try out an injection or something before she saw my picture and decided to message me. It touched me because I remember not always being so confident in my size or my skin colour. I wanted to be lighter like all the celebrities and beautiful women I knew….”
Obviously more comfortable in her skin, Philomena continues to walk that walk, demonstrating that there is beauty in intelligence and what you have on the inside too. Sometimes what we think is a hindrance can turn out to be an asset.
African fashion is becoming a global buzz and the fashion world seems to be opening up; the status quo challenged. In the UK there are various designers using African prints as their staple inspiration, which have been showcased across the world including; African Fashion Week London, last year’s NY Fashion week, African Fashion Day Berlino (included African, Afro-Caribbean and African-American designers) and Ghana Fashion and Design week in Accra, which had vogue Italia as its international media partner.
I’ve never watched a full episode of BBC interview program ‘HARDtalk’, but after watching the Ozwald Boateng interview (click here to view) aired earlier this year, the program definitely lives up to its name! Established Sudanese presenter Zeinab Badawi didn’t make Ozwald Boateng (Oz B – I will use this throughout the rest of the post :-)) comfortable and asked some pertinent questions (I suppose that’s what any credible interviewer should do). Some of which, I have wanted to know the answers to for a while.
For me, this year has been quite eventful for African fashion outside of the continent. I am no professor of fashion, just someone with an opinion, but I definitely think the tropical sun shone like a lighthouse on fashion capitals of the world. A few weeks after I started blogging, I met up with a friend in Starbucks (I think this was before their tax avoidance scandal) and she quizzed me about my new path to ‘bloggersville’ and stated “I never, knew you were into fashion!” To be honest I was never ‘not into fashion’, but only started taking a real interest since it became more relevant and inclusive! Every year during the Fashion Week showcase, the usual players receive the most media attention, but this year I felt that African inspired fashion from African and non-African designers was allowed to take a bow on the runway.
Not very inspired by what I see on the high street, I’ve been spending less on clothes/shoes etc; partly because I am waiting for the sales but also because there are few things able to break the magnetic field between my cash and my hands. However, recently I bought some pink leopard print wedge trainers with blue laces (I know what you’re thinking, but trust me they look good! Lol) that were in the sale – I do love a bargain! Anyway, I think the fashion industry is opening up; and it would be nice to see other cultures represented in the mainstream, such as Asian, Caribbean, South American and Middle Eastern…. everyone has a story to tell so why not? We all wear clothes don’t we?