This decade has brought on an explosive increase in global attention on African fashion. While the more prominent fashion industries of the west deal with their current tumultuous state brought on by too many conflicting ideas and the unsustainable accelerated speed they are operating at, many have turned their eyes to more developing industries including those across Africa. This means more than ever the continent’s fashion designers, fashion weeks, photographers, magazines and bloggers are garnering the attention of publications and their readers from across the globe.
The advantage is that this brings an unprecedented amount of exposure for those spotlighted and African fashion as a whole but the inexcusable downfall is that there rarely seems to be an article - mainly by a foreign publication - which accurately reports on African fashion.
Reading the coverage is unsettling to those who actually know the true state of any or all of the various fashion industries across the continent. At times this coverage verges on propaganda.
On one hand, African fashion is romanticized. They make it seem as if all of Africa’s fashion industries are just seamlessly churning out whichever “afro-centric” trend they are pedalling that season with ease and finesse.
On the other hand, African fashion is denigrated. They unfairly criticize from an unrealistic perspective making it seem as if there has not been as much progress and development across the continent’s industries as there actually has.
African fashion is nowhere near accurately defined by any of their depictions but rather we are somewhere in the middle.
Furthermore, we are far more diverse than what international publications are covering. We have innovative creatives in every possible category and they are in more than just 3 countries. By repeatedly only reporting on the same handful of brands, companies or individuals from a couple of select countries, international publications miss out on so much of the bigger picture of what fashion in Africa truly is and therefore continue to misrepresent the continent’s fashion industries.
Inaccurate reporting on African fashion in any way has further reaching effects.
Continuously portraying everything as damned de-motivates fashion professionals by planting the seed of a negative mindset that says the only way for them to succeed in their chosen field is if they leave Africa. This means fashion industries across the continent will lose even more skilled labour. Already many of this skilled workforce would rather take their chances overseas than stay to do their part in growing their local industry.
Continuously portraying everything as perfect halts innovation and development. The “powers that be” of the industries then get comfortable in thinking they don’t need to do more. This leads to an entire industry getting stuck in a rut of mediocrity. Since recently there has been a surge in the amount of positive coverage of the continent’s fashion (because Africa is what’s “in” right now), some of the industries are stagnant.
In order for foreign publications to report on African fashion accurately they need to start working with journalists, photographers, etc. who are actually living and working in Africa instead of someone who decided to come loiter around for a few months or used to live here over 5 years ago. Feature and collaborate with African fashion professionals – both established and aspiring - who know what is really going on in the continent’s fashion industries in various sectors in order to better illustrate which stages they are each on at this very moment in time.
Everyone choosing to report on any aspect of any fashion industry in Africa needs to make it their business to get it right or else do not bother. Africa cannot, should not and will not continue to allow the constant misrepresentation.
Writing: Tshego 'Red' Mosiane
Image: Hilary Faye