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Photo graphic by Alanna Bass.

How Fashion Historian Teleica Kirkland Is Transforming What We Know About Clothing From the African Diaspora

The founder of the Costume Institute of the African Diaspora is preserving Black history in a field where it's been erased.

From the effortlessly stylish aunties who rock matching wax-print top and bottoms like they're going out of style (they never will), to the urban youth who create just about every streetwear trend—clothing is a central part of cultural expression for people of African descent. While our penchant for style is something many of us recognize within our own community, the academic world has virtually ignored the contributions of Africans to the history of global style. For the average fashion historian, their scope of research begins and ends in the West.

Given that clothing tells the story of how people live, work and identify themselves—excluding Africa and its diaspora from the discussion undermines its cultural influence and threatens the push for more robust historical documentation of African people. If the rise of haute couture marked a period of newfound creativity and wealth in France, isn't it also worth understanding, for instance, how fashion changed in various African countries both before and after the liberation movements of the 1960s?

This is where Teleica Kirkland's work comes in. In 2011, Kirkland, a professor at the London College of Fashion, founded the UK-based Costume Institute of the African Diaspora (CIAD), a "growing resource hub" for knowledge sharing around African clothing and dress.

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