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African Fashion In The Era Of Inclusivity

From catwalks to advertising campaigns, brands in days past have typically veered towards models of a typical build, age, and ethnicity – but we all know the world is a much richer dish of complexities. Even here in Africa,  fashion tends to shape itself after the western standards and ways of doing things so that leaves us with the same streamlined expectations.

However, recently, the industry has been doing more to champion diversity, and 2018 in particular has seen a much more inclusive approach to the way things are presented. Inclusivity has evolved into more of a norm than a mere mention-

Akech Bior,  a Sudanese Australian model was handpicked by Karl Lagerfeld as his ‘Chanel bride’ of the season- joining the ranks of models selected for the spot in collections past, including Cara Delevingne, Luna Bijl, and Alek Wek to be the second ever model of color to walk down the Chanel Fall 2018/19 runway. Wek was the first model of color to close Chanel’s haute couture show, back in 2004. Eighteen-year-old Akech Bior  also opened Chanel’s Cruise show earlier this year, she admitted her turn at the Couture display was her “proudest achievement.”

Bior for Chanel

Another French heritage house closed its Fall 2018 Couture show with a model of color – in this case Indira Scott for Christian Dior. Even more noteworthy was the model’s locks, an often unrepresented hairstyle on the catwalk! Scott’s dreads were accessorized with wooden beads, the neutral shades playing off the muted, grey-mauve gown. The model later revealed she cried after closing the Dior show, thanking artistic director Maria Grazia Chiuri on Instagram for “believing in her”.

Indira Scott for Dior Fall 2018

Several labels have made an effort in expanding representation in their collections in recent seasons –Versace brought together 54 models made up of a mix of diverse personalities in a campaign that was all about confidence to “Symbolize Inclusivity.  Most notably Tommy Hilfiger and Asos, both of which this year broadened their accessible clothing offerings. Giant e-tailer Asos partnered with BBC reporter Chloe Ball-Hopkins to design a tie-dyed jumpsuit, created especially with wheelchair users in mind (think waterproof, versatile, and with a longer hem at the back). US label Hilfiger also unveiled a disability-friendly line named Tommy Adaptive, which includes a range of pieces crafted with adjustable details and easy-use fastenings. The campaign for the line brought together a diverse range of models, from US Paralympian track star Jeremy Campbell, to motivational speaker Mama Caxx, who has a prosthetic limb.It’s founder Mindy Scheier, describes the organization as “working with the fashion industry to adapt mainstream clothing lines for the differently-abled community.”

Vogue Arabia July/August 2018

For July/August 2018, Vogue Arabia enlisted not one, but two voluptuous models for its front cover – Ashley Graham and Paloma Elsesser. Graham, the tenth highest-paid model in the world, opened up about how her body-positive message might just be her “destiny.” “My mother told me that when I walked into a room, I would greet every single person – even at three years old,” the model said. “It was more of an emotion that I would give people, and it would leave them feeling good about who they are. I think that’s what I’m doing today; letting women know that they are worthy, that they are beautiful, and that they can be happy with who they are in their skin.” – Vogue.com 

The question of inclusivity within fashion and the media  is beginning to get the much needed conversation space in fashion conscious African countries like Nigeria. We should be defining our own norms and evaluating what trends we follow or promote. We have a responsibility to increase the way we portray our different cultures and body sizes in order to provide a more acceptable reflection of our country while holding on to our specific love for style and fashion. The western standard of beauty has had a subtle influence on the size and even height that women and men are expected to strive for and ‘acceptable’ features and skin tones that eventually have adverse societal consequences.

GAFW2017 AboutThatCurvyLife

The tall skinny models that dominate the industry promote a very specific ‘type’ of woman and these ideals have not created much space for self confidence in a society where only a small fraction of the women on the streets actually reflect that image. There are many brands however who have adapted to the environment which they find themselves and instead,  make clothing to measure.  They have begun to play a role in redefining the prevailing images that we see in Nigerian fashion and media and in most shops you can find sizes and cuts that tend to our fuller and curvier figures.

The issue of plus size representation has gained attention in the media globally. In the US there are a growing number of clothing brands that have plus-size ranges and the choice that is available within these ranges is moving in a positive direction. In Nigeria , brands like ‘AboutThatCurvyLife’ that cater to mainly the plus sized womens which make up a larger percentage of the Nigerian society have stepped out of the streets and onto the runways.Likewise South African brands like Ruff Tung.

Ruff Tung

‘The issue, still goes deeper than that. There are constant biases in the media that disregard people that do not fit the stereotypical mould that has been forged and this extends to there being a lack of representation of different cultures, different races and, different sizes. The fashion industry in general still only draws our attention to the tall, high-cheekboned, fair skinned and thin person, from the runway to the magazines .

A more equally representative media should, by now, be the norm but, instead, we are more often than not presented with only enough change to guarantee the illusion of diversity. It has to be authentic so it is not seen as insulting.  It is not only about making people feel included,  there has to be a common sense application  to it,  that what you see on the streets should be reflected in the magazines and on the runIf advertising and media agencies are there to ultimately sell products , then they need not discriminate against alternative sizes,  cultures,  races etc., as they need these more than ever to, as we say in Nigeria,  ” sell market”.




Resources: Vogue.com,  unlabelledmagazine .om , tdsblog .Com