African Fashion’s Rise: White Mainstream Publications Celebrate while Black Mainstream Publications Wonder What’s the Fuss?

It’s interesting and oddly daunting how it seems so called mainstream magazines like Vogue, Vanity Fair and a few others within the past couple of years have dedicated entire spreads and issues to Africa in general and particularly the growing African fashion market scene, yet so called African-American focused magazines have been pretty much left scooped on the one major fashion story of this decade that they should be at the forefront of. It reminds me of the Alek Wek era when she couldn’t buy a Black magazine cover until after so called “Mainstream” put her on…As Chinua Achebe said “The only thing we have learnt from experience is that we learn nothing from experience…” .

It’s seems the whole battle for Black inclusiveness in the fashion industry only applies to the White mainstream fashion world and not to what some outside of America see as the Black Mainstream fashion world. Black America celebrates wildly whenever one of its own gets the cover of a White mainstream magazine , yet we often forget the bigger celebration of ourselves by ourselves globally. It seems like African-Americans are missing the boat on African expansion and the plethora of opportunities for exploration, collaboration and what seems to be clear to economists, investors and the White mainstream fashion world as the future and new frontier of industry on many levels. Africa is making history in its rebranding as a continent to contend with on the world stage on many levels and it seems like the Black mainstream press in America are far removed from that history. Why settle for a backseat in Europe and America when you can have a front seat in Africa?

Vogue Italia just sponsored its first fashion week in Africa – Ghana specifically, while Mercedes Benz fashion week has expanded its brand into South Africa . With Lagos, Nigeria slowly becoming Africa’s fashion capital with a plethora of high profile fashion weeks that have brought in international fashion writers along with major retailers such as, London’s famous Selfridges- opening its doors to create a pop up shop specifically to promote African designers from Lagos.

The slender silhouettes and wax print patterns in strong colors from Jewel by Lisa will be one of several brands on sale next month in a pop-up boutique inside the London store Selfridges. Love-to-shop Nigerians figure at No.5 among the store’s big-spending Chinese, Middle Eastern and Russian clients…Judd Crane, Selfridges’ director of women’s wear, says: “We are delighted to launch this special showcase featuring some of the best fashion from Nigeria. We have been taking note of the development of the fashion scene over there for a the past couple of years and been thinking of bringing them to London for a while. It felt right this year to demonstrate the power and originality from Africa. “The designers from Lagos offer our customers the opportunity to discover new ways to experience luxury fashion,” he adds. “The impressive craftsmanship and the use of fabric, pattern, color and embellishments will surprise.” READ MORE

When I watch the coveted front rows of these past African fashion week shows and see the likes of major fashion writers like Susy Menkes while editors from mainstream Black American publications are clearly absent – all I could think of is- is it a budget issue that flying to Africa is too costly for them or is it just lack of interest and the fact that we are always the last ones to treasure our own treasures- hence how history has gone down time and time again leaving us “DumbFoundDead” in how we always end up losing it all, then having to beg for inclusion, affirmation and validation of our worth.

Who is really defining Blackness when there is a majority Black world out there from Africa to the Caribbean, to Latin America and even Europe that is not being served in anyway by global Black fashion publications in having any real visions of expansion in the manner that their White counterparts like Vogue, Glamour etc. have done in expanding their titles into Europe and even Asia, while Black publications are wondering how to recycle the same old covers and readers who have grown past and away from them. It seems Pan-Africanism is dead today in its true past value of unity,empowerment and self sufficiency through commerce because it has been hijacked by Black militants trying to convince Africans that their unity is somehow solely based in having Whites as a common enemy in still fighting battles of the past with most Africans not having none of that nonsense because at the end of the day they are in a battle for their future and when they look around at who is coming into Africa to give a hand up and to form partnerships in allowing them to be self sufficient it isn’t Black militants nor is it African-Americans in general.

I am constantly told by Black Americans that it’s just that they don’t know where to look and how to go about finding these opportunities in exploration & collaborations toward ventures of commerce with the African continent, but all I can say is if the European and Asian can find his/her way to Africa then surely Africa’s direct descendants can do so as well in this day and age when the world is at your fingertips with a power button and a click away if you truly seek it. As the saying goes “If you Want to hide something from a N***** put it in a book“.

In this day and age books are becoming obsolete and technology is the new power, yet we still choose to not utilize it to our full potential and greatness. I know many Black American millitant types who think Africans are not militant enough because we don’t protest enough about stuff.  Every time the Oscars or fashion week comes along with very few Black models or every time some silly White editor decides to do a blackface spread again to get a rise and more press than they would have gotten for their spread without it- Black America falls right in line calling for protests and boycotts with the usual suspects re-debating the debate on talk shows and in print, while Africans just choose to spend their time pushing for their future through their work which combats the contrary in being the exception to the rule; hence why you see this comeback cycle of African models on global runways,print and advertising campaigns along with African designers being coveted globally once again by the mainstream.

In my opinion Africans have learned to choose our battles because we’ve had far too many to fight on a daily basis. We have been slowly and silently building toward having mainstream come to us just by being our authentic African selves, without this need for a “we and them” mentality because Africa is the beginning and the future and no amount of racism in the world can change that or stop us from moving forward because it has become an irrelevant subject matter to keep hashing out in our psyche and daily life. It exists, we deal with it as it comes, and we move on to our greatness. Black America is constantly pushing for White validation and acceptance with a “we and them” attitude without ever wanting to even admit to that very fact-which has not proven to work well in all these decades, so why not come with a different approach?

How do you justify the pages of Ebony or Essence being filled with European designers with most of their editors not being able to name even 5 African designers, while African designers are being celebrated in the pages of Vogue Italia and Vanity Fair in full issues and spreads? It seems extremely hypocritical to call others out on lack of inclusion in the bigger scope of the majority when you are lacking inclusion in the smaller scope of the minority, while still debating if Black America should  even be attached to Africa. Thank goodness for the brilliant blogs like Bella Naija , AfriPop, African Style Daily and magazines like New African Woman, FashizBlack and others in and out of the continent of Africa who have taken it upon themselves to be the Black faces giving African designers a voice and point of view. It is not just continental Africa’s time to shine but global Africa’s time to shine. I am calling out Essence, Ebony, Jet, Vibe and the rest to do better if you are still even relevant or want to remain relevant to the majority of the people whom you are supposed to be here to serve. 2012 has been the great Awakening for all things African particularly fashion, and 2013 will be the great Reclaiming of all things African particularly fashion by Africans who are proudly African, yet globally relevant. There’s a whole big world of Super Fly Blackness out there …Embrace It and Embrace The Future …Africa Is the Future!

“When one thinks of African art and fashion, tourist trinkets invariably come to mind, images of beaded bracelets sold outside safari lodges. The view is unfair, of course, but common. Slowly, however, this misplaced caricature is changing as a growing number of fashion designers and industry experts are looking to Africa as the next major hub for the production—and eventually the consumption—of luxury fashion products. Yet as the fashion industry takes notice of the continent, some fear that high hopes will soon give way to exploitation and sweatshops as has occurred in countries such as China and Bangladesh…“Africans are big spenders across the world, but they cannot spend their money at home,” said Franca Sozzani, editor-in-chief of Italian Vogue. “We need to help them.” Yet she cautioned that: “Africa is a continent, not a country, and must not be considered as one market.READ MORE 

Valentino’s ateliers in the Eternal City could not be in greater contrast to groups of Kenyan women in an improvised workroom, creating traditional embroidery patterns inherited from Masai ancestors or the intricate crochet work handed down the female tribal chain. But these African women have been organized to create luxury products from designers such as Stella McCartney and Vivienne Westwood…So the gulf between rural, native craft and sophisticated high fashion is narrowing, as consumers look deeper into the meaning of luxury in the 21st century…The promise of Africa is that it can become both a consumer and a provider of luxury…READ MORE

In the future as the world of Africa & the West mate more & more into the totality of world culture, the creative strength of the African personality, which is evident in tribal sculpture, will contribute far more profoundly to human fulfillment than can yet be imagined….I am not African because I was born in Africa, but because Africa was born in me…” Dr. Kwame Nkrumah- 1966

Was 1976 the last time Ebony thought to look at Africa’s global impact let alone to dedicate an issue to it?