In 2020, African designers broke new ground to reach astonishing new heights of ingenuity and creativity. Some of the world's top publications like Vogue and Forbes did in-depth features on African designers. The diversity charge led to a global push for recognition of a wider range of cultural contributions and African fashion made an unprecedented leap into the spotlight. With Africa becoming such a powerful force in the global fashion industry, here are 10 of the best African designers to look out for.
Images: Christie Brown
Watching her grandmother, Christie Brown, who the label is named after, craft exquisite African outfits whilst working as a seamstress, inspired founder Aisha Obuobi to create her own fashion line. From a young age, Aisha experimented with African textiles, creating outfits for her dolls in Ghana. In 2008, Christie Brown was born.
Known for her impeccable attention to detail and structured African print outfits, Christie Brown’s collections incorporate every aspect of the contemporary African woman. Her garments range from ready-to-wear pieces to bespoke gowns, often with a focus on waist clinching fits. Though her aesthetic is predominately luxury and high fashion, her collections are versatile and wearable, making them suitable for all. View her latest collection here.
2. Imane Ayissi
Images: Imane Ayissi
Growing up within a family of artists, Imane Ayissi had dreams of becoming a professional dancer, joining the National Ballet of Cameroon. His mother had an interest in fashion and so he decided to become a stylist. He spent years dressing some of the greatest dancers and choreographers in the world as well as creating his line of dresses. Following this, Imane moved into the world of modelling, working with big brands like YSL and Dior. It was this shift that inspired him to focus on creating his African outfits for Women. His ability to construct clothes out of such varied textures and dimensions are what makes Imane’s pieces so unique.
Much like his dual culture, African and French, many of his pieces appear paradoxical, combining unlikely colours and fabrics with avant-garde silhouettes. Imane draws much of his influence from dance, notably the shapes and movements of his fabrics when worn. Each collection is comprised of traditional materials and textiles from abandoned heritages that are natural, organic and have the least environmental impact. View his latest African fashion collection here.
Combining her Nigerian-Indian heritage and London’s garage music scene, founder Priya Ahluwalia created Ahluwalia. Despite being relatively new, the brand is already making big waves within the fashion world. Priya attended The University of Westminster to study an MA in menswear and won the prestigious H&M Design Award. In 2020, she was included in the Forbes 30 under 30 on the European Arts and Culture List and won the LVMH Prize, alongside seven other emerging brands. Ahluwalia is also recognised as one of Matches Fashion’s Innovators and has received support from Gucci.
Drawing influence from African and Indian textiles, Ahluwalia fuses modern shapes with traditional prints. Her innovative, sustainable approach to designing ensures that all garments are created out of deadstock fabrics, giving a new life to used textiles and eliminating unnecessary waste. Each collection nods to nostalgia, whether it be through swirling 70s patterns or vintage athleisure silhouettes. Above all, Ahluwalia is quirky, cool and an exploration of what it means to be mixed race. View the latest SS21 collection here.
Images: Orange Culture
Since its birth back in 2011, Orange Culture has gone from strength to strength. Founder Adebayo Oke-Lawal began creating garments at the age of 10, but it was his time working with designers that really spurred him to start his own line. Adebayo insists that his collections are a ‘movement’ rather than just items to be worn and he explores the marriage between Nigerian colours, textiles, prints and modern silhouettes.
Orange Culture gives an urban twist to modern African outfits, whilst keeping a strong sense of tradition throughout every piece. Adebayo appears to draw influence from markedly different sources throughout each collection. At times, it is challenging to know his intrinsic style as he experiments so frequently, often in a nonconventional manner. Sustainability is integral to the brand and all the materials used are ethically-sourced and manufactured in Lagos. Today, Orange Culture is the first Nigerian brand to be stocked in Selfridges and has accumulated various accolades, including the prestigious LVMH prize. View his latest African fashion collection here.
Though the South African brand was founded back in 2012, Maxhousa has started making its way around the industry more recently. With an impressive line up of awards under his belt, including the Vogue Italia Scouting for Africa Award, founder Laduma Ngxokolo is one of the South Africa’s most highly regarded knitwear designers. His heavy use of traditional Xhosa beadwork and premium South African materials, mohair and wool, produces one of a kind eye-catching pieces for both men and women.
Maxhousa's vibrant use of colours and shapes are synonymous with his traditional Xhosa influences and despite their sometimes whimsical appearance, the contemporary edge to his pieces gives them wearability. In his women’s SS2020 collection he experimented with combining hem lengths on single garments giving many of his dresses and skirts free-flowing silhouettes. You will often see fine beading work with incredible attention to detail housed in geometric knitted shapes. View the SS21 collection here.
6. Thebe Magugu
The South African designer with the Midas touch, Thebe Magugu led by example through 2019. He was awarded the LVMH Prize and earned the mantle of GQ SA's Rising Star of 2019. His mission to spread the beauty of Africa's fashion industry is already proving an emphatic success. Known for fierce feminine designs, Magugu should definitely be on your radar for 2021. Supermodel Adut Kech showcased his pieces for the September 2019 issue of British Vogue. He also released a capsule collection on 24 Sèvres. All in all, 2019 was the year Thebe Magugu became a star, and he's just getting started. View his latest collection here.
7. Kenneth Ize
Kenneth Ize has carved himself a solid position at the forefront of the aso-oke world. He was a finalist for the coveted LVMH Prize for 2019, and was mentioned personally by the chief editor of American Vogue, Anna Wintour. Hailing from Nigeria, this is an African designer making huge strides into the global fashion industry. Notably, he made his way onto the BoF500 list in 2019, and you can rest assured that Ize has only just begun his journey. African 2 piece outfits with vivid prints and colours are his signature style and we expect to see big things from him in 2021 as he tightens his grip on fashion stardom. View his latest African fashion collection here.
Sika'afounder John Tchoudi is a fashion designer showing enormous promise. Just two years into an African fashion journey, the Sika'a mission to produce elegant and inventive handmade garments is flourishing. Hailing from West Cameroon, the focus is on producing wonderful high-end garments from sustainable fabrics. Sika'a is ahead of the curve for an industry that needs to shift towards more responsible practices. The passion and diversity at the core of the Sika'a ethos is a superb recipe for success. And a look over the outstanding portfolio is simply inspiring. Be ready to see more of the name Sika'a in 2021. View the latest Sika'a collection.
9. Duro Olowu
Duro Oluwo is as known in the art world as the fashion one. He evokes the same stylistic muse as his discerning clientele. He is a master of mixed-media dressing. He uses a range of fabrics and patterns to conjure unique ensembles that thrill and surprise liberally. You will find that evening silhouettes are his go-to in the main, but his designs often stray into more unique assemblages. Primarily targeting female garments, Oluwo has drawn inspiration from people and places from his eclectic lifestyle. His collections for 2021 are looking to be as groundbreaking as we've come to expect. View the latest African fashion collection here.
Aaks is the African fashion brand from designer Akosua Afriyie-Kumi of Ghana. Having studied in London, Afriyie-Kumi founded Aaks with a commitment to creating handcrafted, ethical handbags. She uses traditional African techniques and employs local raffia weavers. Her support for the African community and fashion industry is unparalleled. Every handbag from Aaks is beautiful and eclectic, wonderfully encapsulating the spirit of Africa. We have immense respect for the work of this brand, and we can't wait to see what's in store for the year ahead. Explore the latest African Fashion collection here.
The African take on fashion is gaining momentum in this highly competitive industry. It is a tremendous pleasure to be part of this growing trend, and we would love to see which African brands are your go-to for contemporary style.
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