"Instead of us labelling ourselves, widen the mat and just be" Wanuri Kahiu, filmaker speaking at TEDx Euston

A few weeks ago, the author Taiye Selasi (@taiyeselasi) gave a talk "African Literature Doesn't Exist" in which she challenged the notion of categorising literature by continent. We apply this same argument to fashion.

A continent of 54 countries
The global view of "African fashion" is either the dated Dashiki (evoking scenes from the movie Coming to America), or simply African prints.

The dashiki debate flared up in recent days, when BP America was accused of firing a top executive Melphine Evans for wearing "intimidating" dashikis to work. We'll save this discussion for another day, but suffice to say for now, it is what most people in the Western world think about when referencing "African fashion"

The other view comes through the lens of the African print. We have already put forward the case on the African print fabric (Is African Print African?), but now we wonder whether designers (from across Africa), who may be heavily influenced by the use of these prints, and who may have been designing using these prints for years can make a real global impact with their designs - and how?

The world is full of labels. Even we are guilty of using the label of "African designer" and "African fashion" - we do it for Googling purposes mostly but we KNOW that the terms makes no real sense. If you've been to Africa - to Nigeria or to South Africa, or to Ghana or Kenya, you know how different each of these countries are. Influences are different, the people are different, even going from North to South of a single country, you see the difference. You don't label European designers or Asian designers in one lump. You have the ethos of Parisian chic, or the look of the classic American, but "African fashion" or "African designer" - it's not one look or even one ethos.

Labels are easy to create. They make things easy for people to digest. Journos are lazy (no offense). You give them a product with some print on it and it's "ethnic" or "African inspired" or "tribal". They need not know more. They have another 100 pages to fill with products and they simply do not have the time to learn the history of each garment.

The problem is therefore this - as you see in the video above, when someone is asked at Paris Fashion Week what is African fashion, references are made to Stella Jean (a designer, not from Africa) who uses African prints. We have absolutely nothing against Stella Jean - who is an amazingly talented designer and stylist. Our questions are simply - how is this to be done? How do designers hailing from the continent, design without being typecast? How do we develop an industry within the continent with consumers outside of it? When Lagos Fashion and Design week or the South Africa fashion weeks happen, they includes designers from different parts of Africa - African designers. What is the best way to push fashion from the continent in a united way (so that it may have more impact) without conceding to sterotypical labelling? Why when there is a story about someone wearing African clothes to work is the stock image always of 70s style dashiki wearing folk? Have we made no impact at all in the past few years?

We're throwing these questions out to you and making this open for debate, suggestions, links and ideas. Do feel free to leave a comment below or on Facebook or Twitter.
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