African and Arabian history and heritage have been intertwined for centuries, but it has rarely been as colourful and as stylish as it is today.
UAE Africa Networking Group
The UAE Africa Networking Group in co-operation with Africa Culture and Business Community recognised this when they celebrated and recognised 12 Inspiring Entrepreneurial Women at Kiza Restaurant in DIFC in April. These 12 women made their mark in design, publishing, business, and education and come from as far afield as Ghana, Kenya, Algeria, Nigeria, Sudan, USA, UAE and Eritrea.
The networking event continued with a Fashion, Technology and Art exhibition at Fogo de Chao Brazillian Steakhouse in DIFC. The day was filled with the colours and sounds of Africa combined with Arabian hospitality – spoken poetry, live painting, music, market stalls and great food all contributed to the success of this vibrant event.
As the African expat community in the UAE grows, as the global market becomes more accessible through online shopping, and as the world awakens more and more to the creative forces in the African continent, African inspired fashion’s global impact and presence are growing exponentially.
Fashion Foresight, a fashion consultancy, community, strategists and trend forecasters for the new and upcoming fashion creatives in the UAE, under the leadership of Badrriya Henry, put together the fashion show. Here’s a look at a few of the designers and labels on show.
African Fashion and Textiles
Ashante Designs was founded by two women in love with the creative soul of Africa. Algerian born Anissa Boulahya grew up wearing wax print in Niger, Western Africa before moving to Europe for study and work. Camille Bernard, a born and bred Parisian has a flair for design and a love of travel. As best friends and business partners Anissa and Camille left Paris for Dubai. Here they started Ashante Designs, a concept that combines the colours of Africa with the contemporary style of Dubai, to create a range of clothes, accessories and décor items for the discerned consumer.
Their first lines included women’s, men’s, and children’s fashion, accessories, bags and décor items using their signature wax print fabrics in sleek and modern designs. Recently they pivoted their range to focus on African inspired corporate gifts and branded products. Their wax print designs can now be found on laptop bags and phone cases, wallets and travel kits, notebooks and lunchboxes, and much more.
“Ntombi means ‘young woman’ in Zulu and Ndebele and alludes to the idea that you are as young as you feel,” says Zimbabwean-born designer Ndo Magu. Ntombi Couture is a high-end ready-to-wear clothing brand inspired by the vibrant colours and diverse cultures of the African continent. The aesthetic of the brand is a combination of bold prints and classic cuts.
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Akousa Fox’s creativity transcends fashion and spills over into education, creative writing and the spoken word. Born and raised in the UK, living in New York and from Jamaican descent, Akousa worked as a fashion merchandiser and educator before moving to the UAE.
Immersed in the international community and taking inspiration from the Arab, African and Asian women around her, Akousa experienced a reawakening of her creative spirit. She started writing love poetry and designing her own clothes.
Her striking designs grabbed the attention of other women and she was soon designing for others and making her dream of creating fashion and not just working in the industry a reality. “It was when I started dreaming about new designs instead of poetry that I knew the time was right.”
Akousa’s trademark is the striking use of Adinkra symbols in her designs. “I favour those depicting unity, God’s omnipresence and our godly nature. That is what I’ve found here in my international sisterhood in the UAE.”
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Efro & Co
Designer and fashion educator, Dina Yassin explores neighbourhoods, textile districts and local markets across Africa to find ethically made, high-quality textiles and eye-catching designs to use in her line of fashionable clothing. Sudanese-born to Eritrean parents, Dina believes in supporting and promoting skilled craftsmen and designers in local East African communities.
East Africa, home to millions of ethnically and linguistically diverse people and cultures, has a historical connection to the Arab and Asian trade routes dating back to the stone age. With their headquarters in the UAE, Efro & Co aims to continue on this trade route through the beautiful continent of Africa via the Middle East to the rest of the globe.
Just Savanna was created with the spirit of freedom, ethnicity and confidence. “The heart and spirit of our brand are rooted in the traditions and handcrafts of Africa, which we endeavour to present in a contemporary way.” Eliane Sarr, Senegalese designer behind the brand explains.
Eliane designs limited collections, focusing on the fabric and the story behind it. In her current line, she focuses on Ikat and Pagne fabrics, handwoven in her native West Africa. Their contemporary designs reflect the ethnicity of the materials and the femininity of the wearer.