Made In Africa: Taking Back Our Culture-Where The Fruit Meets Its Roots!

It seems that Africa in general & African designers in particular are finally realizing that culture vultureism has gotten out of control, to a point where we have blindly lost our culture by having it be defined & redefined from those outside of the culture. There is not just a thin line, but a big difference between paying homage & being influenced by a culture & raping a culture for economic gain with little to none of that economic gain getting put in the hands of those who are the creators & keepers of that culture. How do we convince others that Africa is the beginning & the future & that out of Africa came global culture, if we as Africans continue not to preserve our roots by throwing it away in exchange for simply regurgitating its fruits?

We’ve basically been exporting our culture…the west has taken/borrowed a lot from Africa; whereas Africans have just sat down & let their own culture be taken away from them, but now it’s a renaissance- we are claiming back what is ours & we’re adding value to what is ours to make it globally acceptable & globally appealing!” Deola Sagoe- Global Fashion Designer from Nigeria

There has been much talk with thriving global interest pushing the “Made In Africa” brand! Call it new found continentalism in a global economic crises or call it the China effect, it seems every nation & the African continent as a whole is pushing to be their own producer of products consumed by & for the people of their nation- particularly fashion, which for most people represents their sense of self expression & identity. Africans in the homeland & living abroad are uniting in the mindset that the “Made in Africa” label & its branding has the ability to thrive in a new global economy  looking to emerging markets for growth opportunities, whereas Africa is the future! There is an ever-growing battle for Africans on the continent to keep from being buried under cheap counterfeit goods made in China, which has left many artisans, designers and manufacturers of products made in Africa with little to no ability to compete for their daily wages. This basic need for survival has given momentum for the creation of a “Made in Africa” label that will be branded & recognized globally by its quality because of Africa’s abundant natural resources, authenticity, quality of creativity in design, people capital and continent building potential.

Given a fresh start, no one would build a global brand for today’s modern world. They would sideline the one billion rich, ageing niche market that is Western Europe and the USA. Instead, they would design a brand for 85% of the world’s population, who inhabit developing markets..They would design a brand whose functional delivery met those consumer needs, and whose emotional benefit spoke to their hopes. And, do you know what, they might have a winner on their hands.” READ MORE

There seems to be a new appreciation & soul rejuvenation in Africans living abroad & feeling nostalgic about their roots while realizing that they have been sold & assimilated to a western world which is now selling & asking them to assimilate back to the basic teachings & ways of their roots. Whether it is selling you fast & processed food as aspiration to the coveted western style living, then turning around years later to tell you that getting your daily nourishment from the family farm -fresh with no waste- was actually the proper way to healthy & now wealthy western living; or telling you that your less than $1 “Ghana Must Go”  bag is a symbol of third world peasantry,market women & men or something to carry your dry fish in when going abroad, just to turn around years later to stamp it with Louis Vuitton & sell it back to you as haute couture from  the runways of Paris as a symbol of haute elite living at prices that are more than the average market woman’s monthly or annual wage.

Louis Vuitton’s 2006 collection shown in Paris showcased the infamously ubiquitous “Ghana must go” bags, making way for 2010 Spring collections from western designers such as Marc Jacobs, Ralph Lauren, Catherine Malandrino, Lanvin, Gucci, Dries Von Norten, Dian Von Furstenberg, Roberto Cavalli, Dior and even a western designer implanted in Africa, Suno by Max Osterweis to take a bite of their own piece of the African pie by utilizing & making great profits from African style & influence. Africa must take its bags & go back to Africa to elevate the “Made in Africa” brand beyond just a global influencer, but rather a global manufacturer: conceived, enriched & made in Africa. Africa needs partnerships with those who we influence not just words of praise. Wouldn’t it have been fantastic if Louis Vuitton manufactured those bags in Africa or even sponsored an art or fashion exhibit to tell the historical story behind the “Ghana Must Go” bag that they replicated? If sharing is caring then we must have that sharing be mutually beneficial & respectful to a culture that has always been on the receiving end of exploitation without compensation or recognition. If fashion, art, film, music and agriculture from other continents can create thriving economies locally & globally then why not Africa with its abundant natural resources & entrepreneurial people capital?

Vivienne Westwood is not a flighty designer, disconnected from the world that has chosen to partner with The International Trade Center’s Ethical Fashion to gain financially from putting poor Kenyan women to work. In fact she is an incredibly aware, cause conscious individual; that has historically used her position to create positive change within the world.The women creating her bags are learning valuable skills that will be passed on to the next generation of Kenyan women; bringing their communities together as people are given a chance at sustainable financial independence.As it states on Vivienne Westwood’s website, “THIS IS NOT CHARITY, THIS IS WORK.” She believes that charitable handouts can leave people dependent rather than empowered. So from the beginning she has been clear that her partnership is truly about establishing a strong foundation that will lead to self reliance in the future…” READ MORE

If you want to address poverty you have to bring work-it’s value creation. We’re not here to make charity t-shirts , we are here to make a product & why not come here? There’s a skill base that is being developed. We’re doing good. They are capable of doing great things. It’s quite incredible to think we might save the world thru fashion” #MadeInAfrica

I have always said that one day I’m going to style my hair in a rebellious afro and wear a clothe made of wax print but I have never done so. I can’t. I grew up surrounded by an elite who thought that pagnes and wax print are the reflection of a backward African society that failed to embrace the modernity of the Western world.I was brainwashed to think that putting on a pagne meant wearing poverty, misery and a lack of education..” READ MORE

With global fashion’s return to intricate & voluminous sleeves, black & white prints & the ever popular bow, I dug out this design from Ghana that I had custom made in 2000 by a local sewer- which years later ended up as stuffing for my pillow because my life in the western fashion world saw it as outrageous,too afrocentric or just plain weird when I wore it just a few years ago, but now it’s seen as all the rage, fashion forward and worthy of haute prices!

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African wax prints are generally known to have patterns that tell stories of relevance to the wearer. These include proverbs, poems and traditional African fables. The colours also hold significance as they can represent social standing, age, tribal orientation and marital status. The term ‘African print’ was generally used by the European textile firms in Africa to identify fabrics that were machine-printed and had wax resins and dyes on both sides of the cloth to achieve batik effect. The history of African prints dates back to when batik wax-resist textiles were first imported into Africa from Indonesia in the 1800s, through West African soldiers that served in Indonesia from early 1800s to just beyond the mid 1800s. These batik wax-resist fabrics were also brought into Africa by European traders, mainly the Dutch.” READ MORE

If there’s anything common, prevalent & ubiquitous in the continent of Africa- from large city hubs to small villages, it would be beauty salons & sewers/tailors. Artisans, craftsmen,designers & beauticians with formal training not coming out of any accredited degree institution, but rather by way of hands on training culturally past down from generation to generation, family to family, madame to future madame, where the apprentice is not a television show for entertainment, but rather an everyday right of passage in honed & natural born skill that is a part of the life cycle of African survival!

It seems Africa’s fashion culture is being adopted all over the world without the telling of the history it came from. From braids, to head wraps, to jewelry, to African prints-African culture is ubiquitous on the streets with European & American celebrities making it the soup du jour, while African celebrities look to western styles to form their fashion image. Every fashion magazine is showcasing celebrities wearing turbans & head wraps without the knowledge of history or differentiation between the two. Even Miss Cleopatra herself, Elizabeth Taylor will be wearing a $3 million diamond encrusted turban for her wedding. The lack of education among culture vultures ends up watering down one’s culture when it is not protected.  Americans differentiate between a cap & different types of hats, but when it comes to consuming global culture they seem to not care to find out the differences. The head wrap of a Nigerian woman is very different from the headdress of an Angolan woman & neither of them would call their head wraps or headdresses a turban. There are not only different names & styles of head wraps in Africa, but also different techniques to achieving each style. All over Africa women & men wear head wraps/headdresses & turbans to specify occasion, rank, caste & class-all of which is lost in the European & American bastardization in consumerism of culture without historical knowledge, education & attribution.

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I would never forget my disgust & annoyance with seeing the Kente cloth, Ghana’s highly praised traditional cloth of royalty that is worn on special occasions, being bastardized as western undergarments, backpacks, wallets etc. with most of the fabric being fakes from China instead of the highly coveted specialized handmade looms from Ghanaian artisans, who have this tradition past down to them as a badge of honor in self sufficiency through cultural preservation from generation to generation.

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In the western world of fashion & branding there is an understanding that in order to attain the sought after branding power you must indulge in product placement in films, TV & on celebrities & tastemakers, which can often lead to overnight brand building through global awareness & demand that is geared toward attaining lucrative results at retail. There is a thriving film, music & sports industry throughout many parts of Africa which has created local & global celebrities, who can instantly create global awareness & demand for the “Made in Africa” brand, yet many African celebrities & tastemakers often choose to showcase their idea of wealth & status through western fashion, much of which often comes into Africa from the East through China- for those whose pockets do not match up with their delusions and aspirations of wealth & status.

In early 2009, Kofi Amoo- Gottfried, a nephew of former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, was asked by a global advertising agency to set up its new operation in his homeland of Ghana. “Fifteen months after Kofi started to set up shop, we already have higher revenue in Ghana than in South Africa,” said Richard Pinder, chief operating officer of Publicis Worldwide, a unit of Publicis Groupe SA, which wants to increase its business on the continent. The reason: Advertising growth in Africa is soaring, driven by telecom companies, financial services firms and makers of consumer products. Ad executives believe Africa is the next big market opportunity..READ MORE

One of Africa’s most famous actresses, Genevieve Nnaji was featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show this year asmongst the most famous people in the world, reffered to as the Julia Roberts of Africa. Imagine the power of the “Made in Africa” label adorned by AkonSade, Thandie Newton, Seal, Djimon Hounsou,  Idris Elba, Genevieve Nnaji, Jackie Appiah, Omotola Jolade Ekeinde,Yvonne Nelson, Nadia Buri, Van Vicker, Chidi Mokeme, Jim lyke Esomugha and Majid Michel or any of the few actors who seem to appear in all of African made films. Imagine African supermodels like Alek Wek, Iman, Oluchi & Liya Kebede who are at the top of their industry, demanding or suggesting that their fashion shoots make an effort to include African designers. Imagine the power, global recognition & demand for the “Made in Africa” label adorned by the plethora of international African sports players & taste makers, or better yet our internationally known Diasporan counterparts like Halle Berry, Oprah Winfrey, Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Will Smith,  Jay Z, Noami Campbell, Estelle, Rihanna or wait for it -wait for it –Michelle Obama -who Ghanaian designers missed out on the forethought of the greatest opportunity for global recognition & demand if they would have presented the first family with custom made designs to wear during their visit to Ghana, instead of President Mills’s embarrassing presentation of a t-shirt with President Obama’s face on it. Imagine any of these superstars, heads of states & their wives/husbands & global influencers of African decent proudly rocking “Made in Africa” in all its richness & glory to national & international events: the Oscars, the AMAs, the Grammys, the Kora Awards, the MAMA Awards, the MOBO Awards, the CFDA Awards or even to the NAACP Image Awards, showing our full cultural & historical creativity from head to toe, pigment to cloth, unabashed African Originals-MADE IN AFRICA!

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From fashion design to publication, to film , to art , to technology & all points in between Africans are ready to reap the profits that have long eluded them on their continent, while making others extremely wealthy in marketing &re-branding Africa from the viewpoint of Africanswho take pride in telling their own story. In the near future, I envision a new Africa that is deeply rooted in the type of Pan-Africanism where Diasporan Africans know just as much about African designers as they know about European ones, where global African celebrities  of the Diaspora will never have to think about having a tabloid “who wore it best” moment because they will be stepping out on the red carpet with designs “Made in Africa“- the true inventors of haute couture because everything has always been custom made by hand. I envision a new Africa where  Africans & Diasporans understand that wearing a Gucci, Marc Jacobs orGwen StefaniAfrican print dress is not the same as supporting the growth of the African Fashion industry by wearing a piece by an African designer, who you can call out by name on the record carpet when you are asked  the  usual question-“Who are you wearing?” I envision a new Africa where  Africans & Diasporans understand that there is a difference between supporting a magazine like Arise that is staffed & created outside of Africa in representation of the African aesthetic as opposed to supporting Ovation orCanoe Magazine which are staffed, fully conceived & Made in Africa in efforts to define the African identity & aesthetics by building  & branding Africa.

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As always, Burberry Porsum S/S 12 was one of the highlights of London Fashion Week. Knotted, draped and wrapped; skirts and dresses in African fabric and African inspired fabric, were juxtaposed with classic “Burberry brit chic” military jackets and structured cargo coats. Even some outerwear was done in the classic styles to add dimension to their less patterned counterparts. The new look was executed famously.Though Christopher Bailey did a phenomenal job using African fabric to create his designs, was his use of the fabric any better than the African designs of Christie Brown, Pistis or Korto Momulu shown above? …It’s hard to say. But what cant be refuted is that HIS skirt, or dress, or jacket; has a much higher chance of being sold in Barney’s, Bloomingdales, and Sak’s than his African peers. Herein lies my major issue. There is not an equal chance given to African designers when they are working with their native fabrics, yet when non-Africans make the decision to incorporate it into their collections; that is when the fashion industry responds unabashedly…Even ushering in a whole season of “Tribal” to get consumers to respond. This to me just doesn’t seem rightREAD MORE

As Africans & Diasporans, we have to get back to building on the foundation of the type of Pan-Africanism that was set up in the 60’s bringing about a much needed wind of change that paved the road to unprecedented freedom for global Africans in building wealth, embracing & understanding our common history & struggle, & bringing about unity from Africa to her Diaspora. I envision a new Africa deeply rooted in the type of Pan-Africanism where Africa & her Diaspora truly get to know one another again through our shared history so that a young Willow Smithwill know from jump street that her much talked about punk mohawk hairstyle really originated from a Nigerian Afrobeat songstress by the name of Wunmi ,who was whipping her hair into a global frenzy of attention with a special blend of pop/funk/rock/afrobeat waiting for the world to cross over to her side way before Willow was even a seed.

I envision a new Africa deeply rooted in the type of Pan-Africanism where when we sing & wear t-shirts that say “Mama say, mama saw,mama ma ku saw” we not only know the actual real words, but also understand that it came from the wonderful voice of Cameroonian music legend Manu Dibango before it came from the late great Michael Jackson. I envision a new Africa that is built in the unity of Africans & Diasporans who see their future  & common survival as a people in the building & success of Africa!

Africans have always made due with the little or abundance that we have. We have always been resourceful people where out of one palm tree, we create wine for celebration, oil for cooking, foundation for building homes and furniture to decorate the home. Africans are the original MacGyvers. How else can you explain a young boy with little education creating a windmill to light up his small village by studying how to images he got from a local library. How else do you explain the rise of a multimillion dollarfilm industry created thru one camera productions, make shift lightning & often not even a 1/4 of the budgets which many Hollywood films set aside for craft services alone. How else do you explain the creation of a thriving music industry through makeshift music studios along with live instrumental roots street music that has cut across & influenced the sounds of continents, while living through centuries of wars, genocides, colonizations, enslavement, battles for the basic life necessity like water, endless corruption & failed dependant economies, yet continuing to survive & even thrive in many areas with hopeful elated smiles thankful for their daily bread with prayer & hope for a better tomorrow?

It seems the African way is to struggle & hustle for our daily bread with our dreams dormant in the forefront of our hope for a better tomorrow bringing opportunity to fulfill those dreams- from the streets of New York, to Lagos, to Accra, to Dakar, to Amsterdam, to London, to Paris, to Milan & to Guangzhou.

I am thankful for my daily bread with prayer & hope that this decade will truly be Africa’s decade for a better tomorrow come to fruition. Africa is ready to take its place as a global leader with the new resurgence of global economies looking for their better tomorrow thru Africa’s resources along with Africa’s new resurgence & heavy influence in global fashion, art & music & a new fervor for a global green movement bringing to the forefront a continent whose agriculture & way of life has always been historically & naturally organic by nature & nurture. With booming industries in organic cotton, gold, oil & other natural resources, all eyes are on Africa, the place where mother nature’s nourishment is nurtured in abundance for her masses in the natural form she intended it to be, the place where digital technology has given Africans a competitive edge through the ability & speed to reach global masses from cities & small villages alike, giving way to the much anticipated better tomorrow with “Made in Africa” leading the cause of a global movement that is returning to humanity’s historically rooted global beginnings to shape its future!
Africans must claim back their credit from the culture of vultureism that continues to dismiss our contribution as originators. In order for our culture to thrive & last through the test of time & generations, we must claim it, own it & protect it!

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24 Comments

  • Global Fusion

    November 3, 2010 at 12:30 pm

    Thanks Amber. We like MJ but this is not a fan site. This post was meant to educate those who love MJ & other designers who may not not the real history behind some of their African influenced/inspired pieces/collections. I hope you at least learned something you on ur visit to our site.

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  • Jana

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  • Joy

    January 29, 2016 at 1:00 am

    Such a good read. African designers are evolving at such great speed and setting new trends.

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