Popular

Mowalola Ogunlesi's 'Psychedelic' collection.

11 Women-Led African Fashion Brands Making a Global Impact

From Sarah Diouf's Tongoro to Loza Maléombho and Sindiso Khumalo's eponymous labels, here are 11 trailblazing African brands owned by women designers.

While in Nigeria for Arise Fashion Week in 2018, British supermodel, Naomi Campbell, told the international press about the need for the Vogue magazine franchise to have an African title.

The proposal of a Vogue Africa is an obvious wink at the immense creativity from the African fashion industry; a wave of designers rethinking the paradigms of African fashion. And a handful of them are women, pushing creative innovations and engaging with local communities in preserving age-old methods of textile production. Their collaboration with artisans in honing traditional craft skills has provided employment, especially economic empowerment for rural women.

As fast fashion continues to overproduce garments, with countries like Ghana since becoming a huge receptacle for these garments to arrive as second-hand desirables, some designers are bringing awareness to this crisis of waste, the filling up of landfills and degradation of the environment in the process.

Because the global fashion landscape is dominated by white gatekeepers sustaining narrow beauty aesthetics, predominantly giving platform and access to white designers and operating on excess, it's important to recognise the work of African labels helmed by women especially in the area of environmental justice and making strides in innovation.

Below are 11 impactful African brands with women at the helm. The list is in no particular order.


1. Sindiso Khumalo​

Earning a master's degree in textile futures at Central Saint Martins, South African sustainable fashion and textile designer, Sindiso Khumalo, launched her eponymous brand in 2015. Adopting an empowerment-led, community-driven approach by working with artisans and making garments from naturally sourced materials like cotton and hemp, Khumalo's design milieu tells stories about historic women from her country and across the Black diaspora.

She's also decorated with international fashion laurels: Independent Designer of the Year at the Green Carpet Fashion Awards 2020, recognising her contributions to sustainability and a 2020 LVMH Prize finalist.

2. Tongoro

After carrying out intensive market research and wanting to amplify the image of African women in the fashion industry, stylist and entrepreneur, Sarah Diouf, launched Tongoro in 2016 in Dakar, Senegal. The brand is unequivocally African and subverts concepts of luxury by being affordable and having a model that empowers local communities and promotes Senegalese craftsmanship. Diouf did this by training a team of local artisans in her home country to make quality garments to international standards. The Tongoro aesthetic is unwaveringly bold but also playfully feminine–billowing dresses and vivacious prints–and doesn't compromise in promoting the Made-in-Africa label.

3. Hanifa 

In 2020, the coronavirus pandemic presented new challenges for the global fashion industry to navigate. And while it saw many brands pivoting towards digital mediums to showcase collections, womenswear label Hanifa unveiled a virtual 3D fashion show that became a viral sensation, reverberating through the corridors of fashion in the process. US-based Congolese designer, Anifa Mvuemba, was behind this technological feat. Her first runway show since establishing the brand in 2012, she turned the limitations imposed by the pandemic into a resounding success. With bold colors and precise tailoring, Mvuemba is unequivocally concerned with dressing Black women, especially fuller, curvier Black women who often are underrepresented in the fashion industry.

4. Selly Raby Kane

Born and raised in Dakar, Selly Raby Kane is one of Senegal's most renowned designers pioneering a booming creative movement in her home country, a multidisciplinary artist whose creative footprint overlaps beyond fashion and into the realms of art, film, sculpture, etc. After quitting law school in Paris, she returned to Senegal and launched her brand in 2008, her garments marked by the seamless juxtaposition of traditional West African textiles and futuristic elements drawn from watching American science fiction, horror, fantasy, supernatural movies as a child.

In 2018, Swedish furniture brand IKEA collaborated with her and other African creatives to design a collection for their homeware range. For the collection, Kane made a basket out of braided hair, referencing the culture of hair braiding in West Africa.

5. Nkwo

After years of cultivating an Afro-bohemian chic aesthetic since 2007, founder and creative director, Nkwo Onwuka, relaunched her eponymous brand in 2012 with a new ethos: environmental consciousness. Turning to traditional textile handcrafts and preserving the artisanal legacies and skills in local communities, the Dakala fabric was the innovation that emerged from exploring weaving techniques using leftover denim. Today, the brand is at the forefront of the sustainability movement in Nigeria, operating on the ''philosophy of less'' mantra as a way to address fashion's waste problem and its negative impact on the environment.

6. Deola Sagoe

As one of Nigeria's enduring fashion brands with international acclaim, Deola Sagoe brought opulence and romanticism with its innovative use of aso-oke, a handwoven cloth worn by the Yorubas in South-Western Nigeria. Tinkering with the textile overtime produced functional bespoke pieces known as Komole, skewed towards the high-end market with its laser-cut intricacy, patterns, colour range, and modern silhouettes. At the brand's creative helm is Deola, who is not just dressing different generations of women, but is also staying true to her cultural heritage.

7. Mowalola 

While some became aware of Mowalola Ogunlesi in 2020, when she was hired by Kanye West to design for the Yeezy-Gap collaboration, the Nigerian-British designer had already enraptured the fashion crowd with her brand's neon punkish leather, cut skimpily in skirts, tanks, crop tops, halter dresses, and other bizarrely sleek pieces.

Born in Lagos, Nigeria, Mowalola went to Central Saint Martins and channels her Nigerian roots in her work. Her BA collection was an ode to Lagos petrolheads and Nigeria's '70s and '80s psych-rock scene in a way that challenged the current mores around African masculinity. Not afraid to incorporate profanity and religious motifs into her designs, Mowalola has fashioned a brand now synonymous with sex and youth.

8. Chloe Asaam

Born in Ghana, Chloe Asaam's fledgling brand came about as an alternative to Kantamanto, where Ghana's biggest secondhand clothing trade takes place, a fast-fashion economy receiving 15 million secondhand garments per week from the Global North which consequently leads to overwhelming waste. The Accra-based womenswear designer repurposes fabrics from the market like cotton and linens, combining them with traditional Ghanaian textiles in refreshing, innovative ways. She also incorporates QR codes into garments to supply details on how they are made.

With sustainability thrown around in the fashion industry as a buzzword, Asaam is providing traceability. In a photo series, her brand was recently spotlighted by Mercedes Benz Fashion Week last November, zooming in as one of the emerging talents in Ghana.

9. Loza Maléombho

Beyoncé in the music video for 'Already' featuring Shatta Wale & Major Lazer.

Still taken from YouTube.

Making clothes rooted in the rich cultural spectrum of Cote d'Ivoire, where Loza Maléombho is from, has always been foundational to her brand's make-up. Founded in 2009, her namesake womenswear label has been flipping these references to accommodate the wide-angled facets of Maléombho's upbringing–Brazil, Abidjan, the US–with also a lean towards West African royalty. Her collections over the years have seen deconstruction and juxtapositions, traditional textiles that flatter the feminine form through modern cuts and styling. In synergy with local artisans and craftspeople, the brand has produced ethnic jewelry and footwear with tribal touches.

Celebrities like Iman, Kelly Rowland and Solange Knowles have been seen in her pieces. And perhaps the biggest moment for the brand to date was Beyoncé in a custom shoulder-padded blazer in the Black Is King film.

10. Deepa Dosaja

Deepa Dosaja is one of Kenya's top fashion brands founded in 1991, and known for its signature hand-embroidery and appliqué. Over the years, the brand has focused on working with local communities in Kenya to create employment such as tailors, beaders, cutters and training them as well. In 2015, the label dressed Lupita Nyong'o for her Kenyan homecoming. In 2018, the label participated in the inaugural Commonwealth Fashion Exchange at Buckingham Palace, London, an initiative for emerging and established fashion talents from across the Commonwealth's 53 countries to showcase the power and potential of artisanal fashion skills.

Exchanging with artisans from Zambia, Deepa Dosaja created a hand-painted, hand-embroidered bespoke piece made from organic silk locally produced in Kenya. Behind the label is Deepa Dosaja herself, who is also concerned with reducing waste and encouraging recycling.

11. Doreen Mashika

After working and studying in Switzerland, Doreen Mashika returned to her home country of Tanzania to pursue fashion, setting her eponymous label in the cosmopolitan environment of Zanzibar. Inspired by the textiles of her Tanzanian heritage and Zanzibar's breezy, Island aura, Doreen Mashika's collections feature East African wax print Kitenge done in frocks and beach-ready dresses. The brand has also shifted towards accessories from bags to jewellery; combining materials in an interesting way.

Featured
Photo Credit: From Taamaden

10 Upcoming African Films to Look Forward to in 2022

From Nigerian thrillers to South African documentaries, here are 10 African films we are looking forward to in 2022.

The glitzy and glamorous Durban International Film Festival (DIFF) recently returned for its 43rd edition. The eight day festival, which took place in Durban (KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa), featured an embarrassment of riches on the program, from around the world. The festival is a good indicator of what we can expect from African cinema for the rest of 2022.

The 10 films on this list were all screened at the festival. These films managed to stand out for reasons that have been explained below. (One of those films, Robin Odongo's Bangarang from Kenya, won the Best African Feature Film award at DIFF.)

Do not miss these movies when they come to a theater or streaming platform near you.

1960 (South Africa)

This pleasant, King Shaft directed period musical centers a heroine who may have been inspired by the life of the late South African icon Miriam Makeba. 1960 opened the Durban festival this year and set the tone for what would come after. Lindi (played by both Zandile Madliwa and Ivy Nkutha) is a singer who in her twilight days digs back into her past to shed light on the murder of an apartheid-era police officer when his remains turn up in Sharpeville some six decades after the infamous massacre of 1960.

African Moot (South Africa​)

There are plenty reasons to be hopeful for the future of the continent. According to Shameela Seedat’s African Moot, the educated youth are leading the way. This fly-on-the-wall documentary follows a group of bright law students who are participating in the annual African Human Rights Moot Court Competition. Seedat, a human rights law specialist turned filmmaker, heads to the University of Botswana with her subjects. Her film details the interesting ways the students approach the fictional case of a people crossing fictional African borders to escape oppression.

​Bangarang (Kenya)

Inspired by true events, Robin Odongo’s chaotic feature expounds on an earlier short film. Bangarang’s protagonist, Otile (David Weda) is a graduate of engineering who has failed to secure decent employment a decade after university. He makes a meagre living as a bike rider instead. When election violence erupts after the disputed Kenyan presidential elections of 2007, an embittered Otile leads rioters on the streets of Kisumu. Before long, he is on the run from the law, accused of murder.

Collision Course (Nigeria)

A frustrated young man collides with the brutal power of the police force. Can a tormented official stop the descent into carnage? The third feature length title from Nigerian director Bolanle Austen-Peters (The Bling Lagosians, The Man of God) is a propulsive thriller set over the course of 24-hours. Starring Daniel Etim Effiong and Kelechi Udegbe, Collision Course digs into the underbelly of urban crime, law enforcement gone rogue, and the desperate victims that suffer the consequences.

The Crossing (La Traversee) (Burkina Faso)

After years in Italy, Djibi returns to his native Burkina Faso and begins to mentor a group of young people whose sole purpose is to leave for Europe. Djibi prepares them for this crossing through a tasking physical and intellectual program that helps bring them personal achievement and may end up neutering their resolve to migrate. Can he make this difference? Irène Tassembédo’s social drama embraces the complicated nature of the immigration experience.

Lesotho, the Weeping Motherland (South Africa)

Told interchangeably between South Africa and Lesotho, this Lwazi Duma-directed documentary engages with the effects of climate change on the agricultural sector, a key income earner in the region. Duma follows Khethisa Mabata as he attempts to revive his father’s farm. The film uses Mabata’s personal story as an entry point into the larger national crisis that has taken Lesotho from a thriving food basket to one suffering extreme drought.

Skeletons (South Africa)

Conceived as an experiment in theatre-making during the COVID-19 lockdowns, this magical realist expression was re-written for film and now sits somewhere as a hybrid between theatre and film. Set in the heart of the Maluti mountains, Skeletons grapples with the issue of land and ownership as told through the lives of four characters. In an environment of scarcity, these four people wrestle to break free from the vicious cycle of oppression. Skeletons confronts notions of home, belonging, and identity.

Streams (Tunisia)

Amel, a married Tunis factory worker is imprisoned on charges of adultery and prostitution following an assault. Upon release, she attempts to put back the pieces of her life and reconnect with her teenage son whose life was derailed by the scandal. Director Mehdi Hmili comments on the decay, contradictions, and hypocrisies of contemporary Tunisian society with this engaging drama about the breakdown of a working-class family and the state’s unwillingness to protect the vulnerable.

Taamaden (Cameroon)

In Taamaden, Mali-born filmmaker Seydou Cissé paints a uniquely intimate portrait of immigration and zeroes in on spirituality. Taamaden, which is the Bambara word for traveler or adventurer, presents two different points of view. The first is that of Bakary, a young Malian preparing for yet another attempt at crossing over to Europe. The other is a motley crew of West African immigrants struggling to survive in Spain. They are united by their ties to their spiritual clairvoyant.

You’re My Favorite Place (South Africa)

Jahmil X.T. Qubeka (Of Good Report, Knuckle City) is one of the most exciting and original cinematic voices on the continent. His latest, which closed the Durban film festival, is a change of pace attempt that also carries some of Qubeka’s slick imprint. On the last day of high school, the young heroine of You’re My Favorite Place and her three friends embark on an unforgettable road trip. They steal a car and head to the remote Hole in the Wall, a landmark that according to Xhosa legend, enables communication with the dead.

Featured
Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

An Inside Look Into the Underground Queer Party Scene in Nigeria

As a result of the laws and law enforcement bodies in the country, queer nightlife in Nigeria is shrouded in secrecy and has been forced to go underground.

A few minutes before midnight on a June evening, there was a line of people attempting to gain access to an unmarked apartment block in Lekki Phase 1 — a suburban neighborhood in Lagos State. To the uninitiated, it was a regular house party in the heart of Lagos Island, which is populated with young people in their 20s. For the attendees who had a flier on their phones and a passcode on their lips, this was an event they had looked forward to for weeks. When they arrived at the doors, they were all asked for a passcode which transported them into a vibrant pulsing party which had drag queens walking across the room and men in shorts that barely went past their crutches gyrating on other men while afrobeats blared. Welcome to queer nightlife in Nigeria where, on weekends, apartments turn into gay clubs, barred with passcode-guarding doors to protect against homophobes.

Party people hugging each other

Secret house parties, discrete raves, and clubs are now becoming increasingly popular amongst young queer Nigerians.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

Across the country, especially in the big cities like Lagos, Abuja, and Port Harcourt, lounges, clubs, and bars dedicated to the LGBTQ+ community have started sprouting despite legislation that makes it illegal for them to exist. In 2014, the Nigerian government passed the highly controversial and homophobic Same-Sex Marriage Prohibition Act. Despite the name, the law would go on to criminalize many other aspects of queer existence and not just marriage between people of the same sex. The far-reaching law criminalized queer social spaces, groups that advocate for queer rights, and even individuals advocating and supporting queer rights. The law also went on to prescribe a prison term that could go up to 14 years for those who were found guilty of these crimes in southern Nigeria. However, in Northern and mostly Muslim Nigeria, where Shariah law takes pre-eminence, these crimes could lead to death by stoning. While there isn’t an extensive record of people being found guilty for these crimes in Nigeria, these laws emboldened many homophobic mobs who took the laws into their hands and would beat individuals who they identified as queer and destroy spaces and parties that they suspected were hosted by or for queer people. One of the most infamous instances was a 2018 case where 57 men were arrested at a party in Lagos under the suspicion of being initiated into a gay club. While this particular case garnered significant press coverage as the men were made to go to trial, it is far from being the only case of its kind. It is fairly common for the police to raid suspected queer parties to arrest everyone in sight — often with little to no proof of the suspects being gay.

As a result of the laws and law enforcement bodies in the country, queer nightlife in Nigeria has been forced to go underground. Bars and clubs are left behind for parties in apartments. Recent years have seen a resurgence in the public profile of queer nightlife in Nigeria — partly thanks to a rise of resistance against oppressive systems within Nigeria that have been supported and have originated on social media, more queer people are becoming brave and open about queer nightlife in Nigeria. Secret house parties, discrete raves and clubs are now becoming increasingly popular, especially amongst young queer Nigerians. Creative collectives like hFactor and Pride in Lagos have pushed the narrative even further by organizing pride-specific events and raves in Lagos over the last few years.

Man making out with man

"‘‘I had been to clubs before but this was different. There was a freedom I didn’t feel in other parties."

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

‘‘My first time at a queer party in Nigeria was in 2021. A friend invited me to a hFactor event and It was such an experience,’ Peju, a 23-year-old bisexual man tells OkayAfrica. ‘‘I had been to clubs before but this was different. There was a freedom I didn’t feel in other parties. Guys were grinding on guys, girls were flirting with girls. There wasn’t a need to pretend to be something I’m not.’’

However, attending these events comes with specific risks. Guests often took precautions — attending the parties with friends, letting their friends who weren’t there know where they were at and confirming there were accessible exits at all times. For many of these attendees, they may have never had to use those themselves but they know of people or at least have heard of people who have had to. Tamuno, a 31-year-old gay man, tells me of a near-capture experience when he had gone to a party in Port Harcourt in 2020.

‘‘There was this party that happened weekly. It became kind of popular and more queer people started coming. What we didn’t account for was that neighbors had realized it was full of queer people,’ Tamuno said. ‘‘One day, we were all at the party and they surrounded the house. Some of us managed to escape, others weren’t as lucky. I wasn't lucky.’’ Tamuno recounts that after being taunted and shamed and then stripped to their boxers for a relatively long time, the police then came. ‘‘The police coming to carry us was what saved us because then my brother, who I called, was able to bribe them to let us go. Whenever I think about what would happen if the police hadn’t come, I experience a full body shudder.’’

a group of people taking photos

Organizers have to find ways to limit people who can gain access to these parties.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

To help combat this, organizers of these events prioritize security and the safety of their guests. It is important that attendees feel safe from homophobic attacks from civilians and the armed forces. To achieve this, organizers have learned to deploy multiple guards.

‘‘Everyone’s safety is a priority to me and this means that multiple channels of security are constantly put in place to help safeguard our guests.’’ Kayode Timileyin, one of the organizers of Pride In Lagos tells OkayAfrica. ‘‘The first of which is the fact that all our events are only by a registration and verification process. Also, external security guards are made available. Lastly, we go all out to look for a real safe space.’’

It doesn’t end at just verifying the identities of the guests. Organizers have to find ways to limit people who can gain access to the location. This might mean generating a password only verified guests are given or keeping the exact location — and sometimes even date — a secret and only given to the verified guests. For these organizers, these security measures are put in place, not against potential miscreants or robbers but instead to keep off the police force and homophobes.

woman wearing black smiling

Despite dangers, the queer nightlife scene is bustling and thriving.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

The underground nightlife scene in Lagos is bustling and thriving — despite the laws that criminalize it and the constant danger. This illustrates the spirit of resilience amongst queer Nigerians who choose to reach for any semblance of freedom they can find even if it is on the dance floor for just a night.

‘‘My experience getting arrested traumatized me. It scared me. I was getting beaten, and paraded and I was so scared that they would kill me. But they didn’t so of course, I’ll party again," Tamuno said. ‘‘I still go to these parties and I’ll still keep going. It’s not that I’m scared. It’s just that when I’m on the dance floor surrounded by other queer men, I feel like my true self. I feel happy. I feel content. And that’s what I want out of life. If I die because I am seeking that, that’s fine.’’

a group of friends taking a photo

More queer people are becoming brave and open about queer nightlife in Nigeria.

Photo Credit: Adedamola Odetera

Interview
Photo courtesy of the artist.

Kelvyn Boy On Becoming One of Afrobeats’ Leading Stars

The Ghanaian singer narrates how his latest single "Down Flat" has accelerated the trajectory of his career.

Kelvyn Boy is one of the leading afrobeats hitmakers from Ghana. Since his official debut in 2017 under singer Stonebwoy’s record label imprint Burniton Music Group, the talented singer, songwriter, and performer has consistently dished out hit after hit. From the sentimental midtempo ballad “Na You” to the gritty afropop cut “Mea” to his Mugeez and Darkovibes-assisted smash hit “Momo”, with every new release Kelvyn Boy has established his profile as one of the West African nation’s top afrobeats acts.

Fast forward to January 2022, Kelvyn Boy drops his most recent single “Down Flat," an infectious afrobeats single produced by Nigerian producer KullBoiBeatz, and the song has been immensely successful. “Down Flat” has held the number one spot on Apple Music’s “Top 100: Ghana” playlist, hit number 10 on Billboard’s “Worldwide Digital Song Sales” chart, just a couple of out several other accolades the song has landed in the few short months since its release.

The effect of the song’s success has already kicked in, with the singer in London, United Kingdom as I speak to him, which is one of the early stops of his current world tour. “Down Flat” is currently the biggest song of his career so far, and even Kelvyn Boy himself didn’t see it coming. “Some of the great things that happen are unpredictable and unplanned. I didn’t really see it coming” he explained. “Everyone believes in himself or herself. I have that belief and that feeling already when I’m making every song. If it’s not right, I won't sing it. But I didn’t see it coming as quick as it did, and I didn’t know it would get to this level. I knew it was gonna be big, but honestly it got out of hand.”

Keep reading...Show less
Interview

Interview: Director K Is Making Historic Music Videos For Afrobeats & Beyond

The 28-year-old director behind the "Essence" music video (and many more) tells us about his come-up, inspirations and working with the biggest stars in the game like Wizkid, Burna Boy, Davido, and more.

African music is sprouting into dominance with the upswing of genres such as Amapiano and Afrobeats across dance floors, day parties, festivals, and gatherings across the globe. Among the ranks of directors curating the visual interpretation of African music; Director K, born Qudus Olaiwola, is an oft-tranquil figure that has charted a lane separate from his contemporaries.

Starting off in the perpetually bristling clusters of Surelere, Lagos, Nigeria as a phone repairer at his uncle’s workshop, Director K’s curiosity shoveled him into believing he could shoot videos on his iPhone. “I used to go super crazy on iPhones, I used to make iPhones do stuff that you couldn’t normally do,” he tells OkayAfrica nostalgically.

Raised in the hovels of Shitta, Surulere, and Lagos — home to Afrobeats trailblazer Wizkid—Director K found a neighborhood artist called C.O. Decoast, and tested his hands at music video directing off the lens of his iPhone. “It wasn’t anything big. It was just something in the hood that I shot with a few people."

Now, in the parking lot of a lush apartment in Lekki, Lagos, Director K regales me with stories of his journey while walking me towards a modest swimming pool. The Creative Arts dropout has had his work nominated for Video Of The Year at the Soul Train Awards, and he has won an NACCP Image Award and Best Music Video at Nigeria’s most-prestigious awards show, The Headies.

Keep reading...Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.

Moroccan-Belgian Photographer Mous Lamrabat’s New Exhibition Captures the Necessity Of Peace

We spoke to Moroccan-Belgian photographer Mous Lamrabat about his new exhibition, "Blessing from Mousganistan," and the themes within his work.

Interview: Ajebo Hustlers Are Port Harcourt’s Latest Cherished Export

We talk to the rising duo about breaking into the Nigerian mainstream with hit tracks like "Symbiosis," "Barawo," and "Loyalty," and their upcoming project, Bad Boy Etiquette 101.

Listen: Mádé Kuti Pleas For 'No More Wars' In Latest Single

The Grammy nominated singer-songwriter blends easy listening with a powerful message in his first drop of 2022 so far.

Fireboy DML On Embracing His Inner 'Playboy,' Stepping Outside & Learning to Let Go

On Playboy, Fireboy moves further away from his previous records and embraces the mainstream afrobeats sound hinted in recent hits like "Peru" and "Bandana." We sit down with the Nigerian star to talk about his new album.

popular.

Spotlight: NK Is The Future and Star of His Own Show

We spoke with the 18-year-old visual artist about creating art from his surroundings and empowering his generation.