The Role Of African Style on Western Fashion


African textile industry dates back to early 500,000 BC when ancient Egyptians began cultivated flax and linen for clothing purposes.

The oldest form form of textile which is the woven fabric is also the most time consuming type of fabric and comes in aso-oke, mudcloth, kuba cloth, kente cloth and country cloth.

history survey


also known as bogolan is traditional hand woven fabric from Mali that is dyed with fermented mud and has sections of black, white and brown.


Is a colorful hand woven fabric of the Ashanti people of Ghana made of sections of black, red, gold, yellow, green and blue. This fabric is worn by dignitaries and on special occasions.


Is a hand woven fabric and traditional wear of the Yoruba people of Nigeria and worn on occasions like funerals, religious rituals and other formal occasions. This cloth is made into various colors like pink, red, yellow, gold, blue, green and so on.



Originates from the Kuba people of the Democratic Republic of Congo.

Barkcloth is made by peeling the bark of trees and beating it till it is soft enough to manipulates into fabric. Another process of making this textile is using other parts of trees like leaves to create fabrics and this is sometimes called thee Kuba cloth.


Country Cloth:

Is a woven fabric made from cotton done in about four inch wide stripes on a simple foot treadle loom in the Liberia. This fabric comes in neutral colors like brown, white, balck and occasionally come in bold colors like green, red and so on.


Tie Dye Cloth:

Is made from woven fabric where patterns are created by tying parts of the fabric and dipping it in dye. This kind of fabric is common among people from Senegal, Burkina Faso, Mali, Liberia, Ivory Coast, Togo, Benin, Ghana and Nigeria.


Adinkra Cloth:

According to Adinkra cloth is made by embroidering together six wide long panels of dyed cotton.  The full size can be 3 yards by 4 yards.  The panels are stamped with symbols carved into calabash.  The natural dye is made from the bark of the “badie” tree, which is heated with iron slag for 3 to 5 days until is thick black goo.  Adinkra patterns are numerous, ranging from crescents to abstracts forms; each of the symbols carries it own significance and represents events of daily life activities.  This cloth also originates from Ghana.

Djerma Cloth and Hausa Cloth:

are made from four to eight inch wide strips. It is most commonly made with manufactured thread. They are similar to each other and which is which may be disputed.  In that they are strip-cloth they are similar to Kente, but woven on a wider loom and not done in silk or rayon.  In my experience Djema uses narrower strips and is the more colorful and intricate of the two.



The term blackness or post black are seen in the 1960s as terms for redefinition of purpose and identity. After the transatlantic slave trade, black people sought re-identification and self purpose.

The Role of The Church In Time of Slavery

Sundays were seen as days hope during the period of slavery. Sunday was a day to give praise to God, dance away your sorrows while dressing your best.

Black people found solace in church this was also a time when beautiful hymns were also written.


Redefinition of Identity of people of African Descent

People of African descent after gaining freedom sought a new way of life. A life of purpose and meaning and so looked for ways to connect back to their routes by identifying with their African culture through wearing cloths that tell their origin, clothes such as the dashiki. Black people also wore their hair in its natural state and found ways to style their natural hair in the most appeasing way which was a direct opposite of during the time of slavery where their masters demanded them to tie their hair.


black-panther-partyBlack Political Radicalism

In the 1950s and 1960s there was black power movement, which was the fight for civil rights by African Americans. A fight to be seen as equal, a fight to ride on the same bus with whites, a fight to eat at same dinners as others, a fight for equal job opportunity, a fight to vote and be voted for, a fight for better living.

During this time ‘the black panther party’ was one of the revolutionary black nationalist and socialist organisation channeling the fight for equity.



Western media has continued time without number to propagate negative stereotypes of Africa as a continent of poverty and constant lack, a place where nothing good is achievable, a place of where dreams go to die and so on. It is appalling how Africans are depicted on old pictures with no clothes, walking aimlessly with cattle in deserts whereas textile in Africa like I said earlier dates back to 500,000BC. Is it not ironic that Dutch textile company Vlisco since inceptions in 1846 seems to be thriving in Africa with its sales offices in Benin, Togo, Congo, Ghana, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast and Niger.

Also, The Vogue Italia All black Issue which is a yearly edition designed just for black models depicts blacks as white girls. These black models all wear straightened hair or hair extensions and with air brushed skin colored to make them a bit lighter than they are doesn’t in any way depict the true African beauty. Instead of dedicating a separate issue to not so African models, why not have them in the original issue Vogue Italia Issues.

Western magazines in general are guilty of this, portraying the African beauty as not good enough to be on the cover of magazines, the world of television also is full of white women with silky long hair being shown to us as the ideal woman. Not enough importance is given to the African or African American woman in the media.

These days we hear about ‘black fashion week’. What is black fashion week if I may ask? Do we hear about white fashion week? No, because the fashion industry has been brainwashed into a serotype of what fashion should be about that is why there are scarcity of black models on the runway. With the exception of legendary models like Naomi Campbell, Tyra Banks, Alek Wek, Iman Abdumajid and the likes, we are yet to have major black supermodels blow us away though there has been a few upcoming supermodels in the industry who are doing well for themselves like Riley Montana, Grace Boi, Jurdan Dunn, Imaan Hamman, Jasmine Tokes, Lais Ribeiro, Grace Mohary, Melody Monrose, Maria Borges and Gigi Hadid.

We need more mainstream black fashion designers in the fashion industry and black models as well.



Stella JeanRihanna.png

Is a Haitian-Italian fashion designer who incorporates African textiles in her western designs. Her designs have been worn by celebrities like Rihanna, Beyonce and the likes.


Yinka Sonibare

Is a London born Nigerian award winning artist that explores colonialismyinka and post colonialism with African textile, making western designs through African platform.



Lisa Folawiyo

LisaIs a London based award winning Nigerian fashion designer that creates female garments with west African wax print called ‘Ankara’. Her designs have appeared on Milan, New York, London and Paris fashion week and she has been featured on The New York Times, Harper’s Bazaar US,, Lucky, Women’s Wear Daily Drapers, ,, Business of Fashion,, and the likes.


Duro Olowu

Nigerian born, London based award winning fashion designer who sometimes work with African print. His designs are worn by celebrities and the first lady Michelle Obama.obama .jpg


Lamine Kouyate,

Malian born Paris based fashion designer for Xuly Bet known for recycled patched together clothing with African fabrics.



 Cultural Appropriation Of African Design

Western designs are created according to the mood of the designer and the occasion for the dress, while African designs on the other hand has a cultural story and connection to every piece. Each African design piece has its own unique story to tell. A story of cultural identity, a story of peace or a story of wartimes and so on.

Each textile color has its own meaning and purpose. In Nigeria for example, red is a color of protection and also a color of accomplishments while red is used for mourning in Ghana and so do other Colours have different meanings and purpose.

Western designers ought not to use African fabrics or designs without giving credence to its origin.

There is a lot of cultural appropriation going on in the world of fast fashion. We have fast fashion labels like H&M, Zara or Forever 21 selling tribal designs made of African textile without acknowle

Vaentino .jpg
Valentino Spring/Summer 2016


dging where these designs or inspiration come from. High-end fashion labels like Valentino, Yves Saint Laurent are also guilty of this.

It is not possible to put on a tribal bag or dress and automatically be African. You either dress African from head to toe and look African or not wear African designs at all. Africa is whole continent and not an accessory you put on at will. There is a story behind every African piece and as such should be respected.



The African fashion industry is on the rise. Yes, I believe it is because unlike the past decade, African designers are now being recognised for their creativity and more people now buy made in Africa clothing.

Notwithstanding, there are a number of challenges that need to be addressed for Africa to be placed on the global fashion market.

Second hand Clothes business need to stop:

the second hand clothing business is a major issue that is killing the African fashion business. Africa is seen as a dumping ground for used clothing at ridiculously low prices and until this is stopped, less people will continue to buy made in Africa clothing.


The Myth

There is this believe in Africa that fashion designing is only meant for the uneducated and people without access to better source of income.

Fashion designing is a beautiful craft and business that should be recognized as such. Only those with the creative mind make it in this business and yes, it is worth every penny to send your child to design school to learn the craft and business of fashion design.


More Credible Fashion Week Platforms

In Nigeria, we have platforms like African Fashion Week Nigeria, Lagos Fashion and Design Week, Nigerian Fashion Week, we need more fashion weeks in other parts of Africa as a platform for improving the fashion design industry in Nigeria.



Lack of Good Machinery and Manpower

On Africa, it is not easy having your own textile producing company because of lack of access to good machinery and high cost of maintenance and as such the companies that have been producing textile over the years are still the ones in business. In the African fashion design world, there is a limited number of people with the right skills and expertise needed to survive this cut throat industry. We need more fashion design schools set in place to impact upon students the skills needed for the industry. A number people migrate to countries like Paris, London, New York to be in design schools and majority of them do not return home with the knowledge acquired at the end of their program.


Love For Foreign brands over local brands

Most people in Africa spend thousands of money on international brands instead of patronising local brands this kills the African fashion industry. We need to buy more made in Africa. We need to appreciate and encourage our own because that is the only way others will appreciate what we have.


Lack of capital

Having access to capital to start a fashion business can be a major challenge. You need enough capital for good machinery and adequate manpower to excel in this industry.



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