Time for Stockholm's second Africa Fashion Week
The Africa Fashion Week Stockholm is approaching and the demand has been extremely high. Founder Isatou 'Aysha' Jones explains why cultural appropriation is not so bad and what African fashion really is about.
Fall has just officially made its entrance and the landscape is slowly changing colors. The Swedish minimalism has expanded as the Africa Fashion Week Stockholm is approaching, with only a day left to its second year. The demand has been high and founder Ayesha Jones is ecstatic. “It’s about time that people have woken up and see the potential with African fashion. We’ve had so much support from every corner. I really didn’t expect it but I’m happy,” she says.
She usually keeps her expectations low since they seem to cause the contrary effect she says. The reception of the debut fashion show last year was tepid and she was setting it up all alone.
Jones, recently turned 30 and mother of three, states on her Linkedin that she wants to “become a social entrepreneur within sustainable fashion, arts, entertainment and public relations.” She believes that fashion goes beyond the exterior. The Africa Fashion Week in Stockholm can be an carrier opener too. Although PR-manager and herself a designer, she does not see the fashion week as solely marketing. “I really wish that it will benefit African designers, models and artists. That this week can be a platform so that African artists can show themselves out there.”
From the inside
Intersectionalism and inclusion have lately been hot debate topics. Are all groups really represented in the traditionally socialist country? The Swedish political climate seems to realize that 9 per cent of its population come from one of Africa’s 54 countries. And diversity of Africa became highly debated. Africa is not a country. However, says Jones, fashion is the only one time we can refer to Africa as a unity, She does not think that referring to a fashion as African is bad.
“The fashion scene is one of the few aspect where we can talk about Africa as one. People normally refer to Africa as a country but it’s in fact many countries. But when it comes to fashion we can talk about one Africa. It’s African fashion because almost all the fashion styles you see in Africa are the same. The garments are created similarly and the cultural patterns are almost duplications. They are very, very similar. So how I see it, there is one African fashion. It’s Africa as a continent.”
Jones also believes of Africans to be true fashionistas. “All Africans like to dress nicely and look neat. We also have a very good sense of style and taste. And nobody can mix and match colors the way Africans do. So I see African fashion as a unity, yes. “
The diverse “mix-and-matching” has been embraced by high-profiles such as Michelle Obama and Beyoncé Knowles and African design is now a given inspiration in the fashion business. But what happens when brands like Burberry, Louis Vuitton and Dior start to flirt with the continent? Is African fashion yet just another fashion fad? For Jones it is a matter of passion. “If you follow trends, then no, fashion cannot be sustainable. But if you design by passion, you don’t do it for the trend. That makes your piece live through decades. Some trends even come and go. I now wear a lot of clothes that my mum had when she was younger. I think people used to design of passion before. Trend is something newly created by shops whose only objective is to sell more. So they sell us an illusion of fashion.”
For Jones, “sustainable fashion is something that you do with your mind and soul and your body. You do it for the present and the future. It’s something that benefits not only the company, or the person wearing it. It brings some kind of sustainability to the earth we are living in. Perhaps ethical fashion is a better term. That is why I think we need something like the Africa Fashion Week. This can create it.”
African fashion is often associated with vivid and salient printed garments. However, the colorful African printed garment are often produced outside of the continent. According to International Trade Centre data, China has increased its share of African clothing imports from 16 percent in 2001 to 55 percent in 2013. Prominent garment producers such as Vlisco are based in the Netherlands while fashion brand Kisua only receives half of its materials from within Africa. Some criticize the market for being yet another profiteer of Africa but Jones dismisses such views.
“Just because something isn’t made in Africa, it doesn’t mean that it’s not African. Take my kids, they are born in Sweden but are Africans,” she says.
“I’m a fashion designer myself and I make most of my clothes in Sweden but my products are African. Just because the material is made in China or wherever, it doesn’t mean that it’s not African. People need to chill a bit and not focus so much on the past. Let’s enjoy the now and future. Production outside can still break norms.”
Not only production occurs outside. African fashion introduced elsewhere has inevitable led to wearers who are not of African origin. Stockholm has already some shops in hipster areas selling clothes with African prints. A dangerous exploitation of other people’s identities? Cultural appropriation, a term to describe when someone adopts or use elements from a culture that is he or she does not belong to, some say. But not Jones.
“I hate when people complain about cultural appropriation and how they use the term. People need to stop taking themselves so damn seriously. Cultural appropriation can be bad of course, when someone uses a culture to mock it. But if you like another culture and respect it, why can’t you use parts of it? In the end, we all come from the same place, whatever you believe in. We are all one. I have the right to wear something I like if I do it of respect and admiration.
Jones is originally from Banjul, Gambia but came to Sweden with her mother and big sister when she was two years old. She says that she did not see any black people on TV or people wearing African clothes when growing up. “My mum used to force me to wear African clothes but I would have been more proud and happy if other were wearing it as well. It makes me part of society. But my daughter, she loves her African clothes and don’t want to take it off. We need to relax. Fashion is something fun and inclusive!”
Africa Fashion Week Stockholm takes place the 1- 3 October 2015.