A growing emphasis on valuing what has been made by hand (www.luxurysociety.com, 2012) is challenging current perceptions of what defines luxury, and it is this area of production that could potentially tap into the strength and quality of artisanal craftsmanship produced across Africa’s diverse regions, providing an opportunity for growth by aligning fashion brands whose products demand a high level of skill and craftsmanship.
Recognising this potential for the continent, the International Herald Tribune’s annual IHT Luxury Conference 2012 will be held in Rome this November, and high on the agenda is “…the potential of Africa as a producer and ultimately consumer of luxury goods.”
This event will be the latest in a series of debates that have been focusing on producing high quality fashion products in Africa. May 2012 saw the inaugural Design Africa event that was held at Soho House in New York, with a similar event being held in London next week, 9th October 2012.
Along with identifying the opportunities for luxury production in Africa, SOURCE contributor Tapiwa Matsinde gives an overview of some of the luxury designers and companies that are spearheading this trend – along with the producers and countries they are working with.
INTERNATIONAL FASHION BRANDS PRODUCING IN AFRICA
Oliberté produces premium footwear ranges using an all-African manufacturing process. The company works towards vertical integration and aims to source all the materials, machinery and tools it uses from the Continent.
Headquartered in Canada, Oliberté has a reach that extends to Ethiopia, Liberia, South Africa and Kenya, with Cameroon, Congo, Uganda and Zambia identified for expansion.
Bantu Wax is a swimwear and accessories brand inspired by the vibrant beach cultures of Africa. Collections are made in an entirely all-African manufacturing process, namely Cameroon, Ethiopia, South Africa and Côte d’Ivoire.
SUNO NY, a directional womenswear label, is one of several brands producing their collections in partnership with the clothing production workshop, SOKO Kenya – whose production is geared towards the international fashion industry and offers clients a full CMT process that includes: sourcing fabric, manufacture, labelling and packaging, and shipping. SOKO Kenya also works with local artisans and cooperatives to source trimmings and components like crochet, woven fabrics and beading.
Edun is an ‘ethical’ fashion brand that produces a portion of its collections in Africa in countries that include Kenya and Eritrea, with the aim of producing 40% of its entire collection on the continent by 2013.
Edun has partnered with the Crochet Sisters, an order of 103 nuns sourcing materials and working in Nairobi, Kenya to make crocheted fashions for the international market.
The Crochet Sisters have also worked with Italian brand Max&Co, as part of the International Trade Centre’s, Africa Inspires initiative, and produced a range of fashion accessories comprising shoulder bags and necklaces.
Maiyet is a relatively new luxury clothing and accessories brand focusing on forming partnerships with artisans to help promote self-sufficiency and entrepreneurship.
To help achieve it’s objectives Maiyet has partnered with NEST, a social enterprise dedicated to building and developing artisan businesses in developing countries. NEST, in turn works with cooperatives in Africa collaborating with the Collaborative Group, an organisation that helps create sustainable employment by sourcing artisan goods for socially aware retailers and distributors. In Africa, the Collaborative Group works in Kenya, Togo and Morocco.
Holly Dunlap 4 MaCoHa
Holly Dunlap is an American designer working with the Malawian Council for the Handicapped (MaCoHa) to produce clothing and interior furnishings ranges for the international market.
As part of MaCoHa’s rehabilitation services the organisation offers training in a range of subjects that include tailoring, leatherwork and metalwork, in addition to production units operating from the Bangwe Factory, which offers opportunities for weaving, block screen printing, tailoring, and tie and dye; techniques used in the collections produced.
PROMOTING ARTISAN CRAFTSMANSHIP
Women for Women International
Women for Women International is an organisation helping women survivors of war to rebuild their lives through a range of programmes.
In Africa the organisation runs tailoring, and tie and dye training in the Democratic People’s Republic of Congo (DRC), and tailoring and jewellery-making in Rwanda. US-based fashion designer Lauren Pierce is one company using the tie and dye fabrics produced in the DRC in its collections.
International Trade Centre (ITC) Ethical Fashion Initiative – Nairobi Hub
UK brands Vivienne Westwood and Stella McCartney, Australian brand Sass and Bide; and Italy’s Ilaria Venturini Fendi – Carmina Campus have all worked with the ITC’s Ethical Fashion Initiative hub in Kenya primarily producing bag ranges. The Nairobi hub works with women from the Maasai communities as well as a diverse range of local artisans, utilising skills such as beading and embroidery (Menkes, S; 2012). Sustainability is the focus and materials used include recycling scrap metals, and tent canvas.
The San of the Kalahari
Combining traditional techniques with modern materials like satin ribbon, One Fine Thread collaborated with members of a local San community to produce a collection of high-end jewellery that uses Ostrich-eggshells combined with recycled materials like glass beads. High-end jewellery designer Pippa Small has also worked with the San communities.
The Maasai of Kenya
Tapping into the Maasai’s renowned beading skills is high-end jewellery designer Carolyn Roumeguere, who grew up in the Maasai community and now works with Maasai women to produce pieces that showcase their traditional techniques.
Moroccan Kilim Weavers
Cobra Society utilises handwoven Moroccan Kilim rug weaving traditions into its contemporary footwear designs. The company works directly with the weavers who comprise women from the villages of the middle Atlas Mountains, and a male weaver from North Morocco.
The Tuareg of Mali and the Sahara
Paris fashion house Hermès collaborated with Tuareg silversmiths to produce solid silver belt and bag buckles that bear the Tuareg’s signature etched marks.
Organisations are also playing a role in helping to promote production opportunities, as seen with the establishment of the Fashion Fusion Project, an initiative between South African Fashion Week and the Department of Arts and Culture that works towards preserving artisanal skills, such as beading and embroidery, by getting local fashion designers to work with local crafters in producing innovative collections. The project also aims to attract international designers looking to connect and collaborate with artisans. Also based in South Africa is Africa Fashion International, an organisation that has given designers from across the Continent a platform in which to develop, by recognising, nurturing and encouraging innovation. Whilst in Angola the annual Fashion Business Angola event is looking to strategically position the country as leading fashion destination, attracting regional and international designers.
RECOGNISING AFRICAN DESIGNERS
International designers producing in Africa is just one side of the story, and true lasting sustainability across the continent’s fashion industries requires the participation and recognition of local designers.
In a recent Q&A with Design Africa, Edun’s Head of Production, Melanie Reichler says, “… if brands collaborate with young African designers, that’s another way to move things forward.” Working to develop their individual country’s burgeoning luxury sectors, African designers are taking the initiative and experimenting with the diverse range of traditional and cultural craft skills from their respective regions. A selection of these celebrated designers include:
Jewel by Lisa
Jewel by Lisa is a luxury women’s label based in Nigeria. Working with a team of skilled artisans, the company’s signature style is the embellishment of local fabrics such as wax cloth/Ankara fabrics with crystals and sequins for a contemporary update.
Sara Jomaa is a jewellery designer based in Tunisia, who combines ancient silver filigree techniques and craftsmanship with contemporary styling.
Atelier Annick is a luxury handbag designer based in the UK who incorporates her Côte d’Ivoirian heritage into her designs by commissioning handwoven kente fabric strips that are made by local craftsmen using ancient techniques.
Buki Akib is a textile and accessories designer based in Nigeria and the UK, whose recent handbag collection was made using traditional Yoruba handwoven textiles and features leatherwork that is produced by artisans in south-western Nigeria.
Lemlem is a luxury casual wear label based in New York, that was founded by Ethiopian supermodel Liya Kebede, whose contemporary designs work towards helping preserve and rejuvenate Ethiopia’s ancient weaving traditions which were dying out in favour of the new.
Sandstorm Kenya is a luxury range of hand sewn travel bags and accessories that make use of particular sewing and finishing techniques that have been honed by the predominately Luo tribe’s craftsmen and women to weave and repair items like fishing nets. The company works with the artisans to produce the collections.