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Prêt-À-Poundo: Nana Ocran On Milan Design Week's 'Afrofuture'

This is an interview with international writer Nana Ocran who is also a consultant for Afrofuture.


*Nana Ocran (photographed by David Mills)

London/Ghana's Nana Ocran is a multi-talented person with such a lengthy list of capabilities that we're forced to shorten it to three functions — international writer, editor and consultant. Ocran's strength resides in her culture — her special gift, though, is not so much what she knows but how she shares her knowledge with conscious and beautiful write-ups. Ocran is currently working for the Time Out Group in London wehre she edited Time Out’s series of guides to Lagos and Abuja for five years. She's also written for the Arts Council England, INIVABBC, The Guardian UK, the London Evening Standard, the Greater London Authority (GLA), Arise Magazine and Sony PlayStation. She's a regular contributor to Arik Air’s Wings Magazine and has also written a book on London’s Parks and Gardens (Metro Publications). We had a chat with Nana Ocran about her involvement with the recently profiled Afrofuture event at Milan Design Week.

For those who might not know, what's Afrofuture?

A four-day design event for Milan Design Week that’s underpinned with African innovation,inspiration and real, imagined or experimental ideas.

What's your role in the organization and the event itself?

I joined a small and dynamic team as an advisor, consultant and part-programmer. The curator is Beatrice Galilee whose design thinking has shaped a unique programme of events. I’m excited about having brought together a panel of speakers (architects, artists, technologists, curators) from Lagos, Nairobi, Cape Town, Accra, and Dakar to share their thoughts on design in their cities. A panel like this speaks of the nuances within the continent in terms the creative energy that exist throughout the continent. It also shows how much influence African ideas have on the globe and sits as part of the four days of events that feature a lot of international voices from Africa and beyond.

Why Afrofuture? Do you think that you are bringing something new or have a chance to make an impact?

The newness and impact, I’m hoping, is to kick-start more conversations about African innovation and solution-focused design, which doesn’t get talked about nearly as much as fashion or lifestyle products and interiors. Those things are great but there are some newer stories that fuse technology, mobile telephony, art and experimental design. Africans are dabbling in all of these elements and influencing or working with like-minded people throughout the globe.

What are your expectations?

I try to suspend my expectations with live events like this. But I’m hoping that Afrofuture sparks a lot of new thought and conversations, as well as adding another cultural dimension, with an experimental twist, to such a well-established international design festival.

We went through your website Words sewn by an African thread, we loved the poetry involved in this sentence, could you tell us more about it?

Thank you for that. The site’s actually a shop window for commissioned work that I’ve written, although of late it’s been needing some tender loving care in the form of more posts. I’ve promised myself to take the time to remedy that in the very near future. ‘Words sewn by an African thread’ came to me as one of a few options and it just seemed to fit. I like the light touch of the statement. It sits well with the fact that I am of Ghanaian heritage, research and write about African pop cultural stories, but my African-ness is like a cultural thread that permanently runs through my London-influenced sensibility.

We can see how dedicated you are to African art and identity. Since this is Prêt-À-Poundo, we also have to ask: what does fashion mean to you?

Thank you for inviting me in to conversation. I have to say I think that fashion and style is quite a personal thing for me and very much linked to phases I go through. I somehow seem to either go casual for years or more dressy. Rarely a fusion of the two, I’ve been in a casual phase for ages. I think it might be time to unlock the dressy up vintage cupboard – but with something of a twist.

What do you think of African fashion? And its evolution?

I think it depends on which part of the planet you view it from. I’m aware of a longer-lasting explosion of interest in African fashion – particularly outside the continent. The amount of kick-ass designers who are fusing, splicing and deconstructing what they or others may see as traditional African looks, colours and aesthetics is amazing. I also love the fact that you have fashion thinkers like Jackie Shaw, whose African Fashion guide site is a wonderful vehicle for her eco-entrepreneurship.

Today, we have the emergence of many African fashion weeks in many countries — this evolution is the proof of the existence of African fashion. Should African designers be present in “regular” fashion weeks, is there any discrimination?

Both platforms are fine. Talent is talent and if there are opportunities to showcase evolving creativity on various stages then it’s great for exposure, growth and inspiration. I think there’ also something valuable about being able to sidestep your comfort zone as a designer.

What are your hopes for African design?

I have big hopes for African design. To be a successful designer anywhere is seriously hard work in terms of resources, sales, recognition etc. It would be great to see a wider range of designers going on to become dons and doyennes of their industry and having future international generations saying things like, I learnt my fashion design craft at the House of so and so in Zimbabwe, Accra, Ethiopia … or wherever.

How does it feel to be featured in Pret-A-Poundo?

Feels great! I tend not to get approached by fashionistas because that’s not a world where people would place me, so I’m a little bit chuffed to be up there with the rest of the Prêt-À-Pounders.

What are your upcoming projects?

Afrofuture’s just on the horizon. I’m also trying to hit more writing deadlines and then I’ll turn to updating my patiently waiting-in-the-wings website as well as nurturing content for another online portal.

Describe Nana Ocran in one word.

Chatterbox.

A word about Okayafrica. Okayafrica is …

…an inspiring breath of fresh African air.

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