September 21, 2023

Their works have graced international runways, fashion shows, and they have also collaborated with renowned brands and celebrities. But they are doing things quite differently, too.

By Sybil Fekurumoh, Ijeoma Anastasia Ntada, and Joy Chukwujindu

Gone are the days when African designs and apparel were scrutinised under the light of an inferiority complex. Today, the world has come to embrace African fashion, just as it has acknowledged the richness and diversity of its art, music, and entertainment media. African designers now stand proudly on par with their western counterparts, receiving accolades and awards on both local and international stages.

At the heart of this movement, Afrocritik celebrates exceptionally-skilled, emerging and talented African designers who fearlessly showcase their craft. These designers have found their unique voice. They are crafting fashion that is not only a reflection of their African culture and heritage but also an expression of their individuality. Their works have graced international runways, fashion shows, and they have also collaborated with renowned brands and celebrities. But they are doing things quite differently, too.

As the world grows increasingly aware of the impact of climate change and the fashion industry’s role in it, these visionary designers have adopted sustainability as their guiding principle. They have embraced eco-friendly practices, creating outfits with minimal environmental footprint and involving local artisans in their production process. Here, Afrocritik presents 15 rising African designers who are elevating their artistry to global heights. This curation highlights designers who have come into the limelight within the past five years.

Adeju Thompson

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Nigerian designer, Adeju Thompson, is the founder and creative director of Lagos Space Programme. Founded in 2018, Lagos Space Programme is a gender-neutral line, tipping the scale of conventional fashion in Lagos, Nigeria. Thompson’s choice of brand name was inspired by his fascination for futurism and space travel, and his interest in archival textiles and culture. Lagos Space Programme explores queer symbolisms and minimalism from an African point of view. Thompson aims to deconstruct the seemingly narrowed lens that African fashion is viewed, and highlight alternate African narratives. He infuses his Yoruba culture and heritage with Western elements.

Under Lagos Space Programme, Thompson created his first collection, called Awo-Workwear in 2018, which drew influence from the workwear of the Babalawo (a traditional priest). His latest “Cloth as a Queer Archive” collection was presented at the Paris Fashion Week., and it included the Nike-collaborated 2022/2023 Nigerian Super Eagles football team’s new Home jersey. The jersey was inspired by Thompson’s post-Adire research. Thompson recently clinched the esteemed International Woolmark Prize of 2023.

Abigail Ajobi

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Nigerian designer, Abigail Ajobi, is the founder and creative director of the eponymous street wear brand, Abigail Ajobi, which launched in 2020. She graduated from the London College of Fashion in 2019, having previously studied at Central Saint Martins University, London. The Abigail Ajobi luxury label uses its print-based designs to promote social awareness. Ajobi believes in sustainability, and as such, only limited quantities of apparel from dead stock fabrics are made. Ajobi also avoids placement prints and makes unique individual outfits. The brand also makes ‘convertible’ outfits that can be worn in multiple ways.

Ajobi’s collection has appeared at the Lagos Fashion Week and London Fashion Week. The brand also ensures that part of its profit from each collection is donated to a charity related to the specific issue raised in each theme. Abigail Ajobi has been awarded UAL’s Enterprise award for her contribution to sustainability and community empowerment.

Feben

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Ethiopian-born and London-based designer, Feben, gained popularity for her inventiveness with shape and print in 2020, when she completed her master’s degree in Fashion as an Isabella Blow scholar at Central Saint Martins University, London. Feben embraces the nomadic nature of her heritage while delving into a surrealistic exploration of the visual narratives of Black life worldwide. In 2020, she made print T-shirts of her design dolls to raise funds for the mental health charity, Black Minds Matter. The designer has dressed celebrities including Jorja Smith, Michaela Coel, Erykah Badu, and Janelle Monáe. Feben also created costumes for Beyoncé’s “Brown Skin Girl” as an ode to the beauty of Black women. Feben is also one of the new designers joining the 2023 British Fashion Council’s NEWGEN scheme for designers.

Aristide Loua

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Aristide Loua is an Ivorian fashion designer and founder of the Kente Gentlemen brand. Loua’s multicultural upbringing inspires his style, having been born in Côte D’Ivoire, and lived in India and the US. After traversing the world, Loua decided to return to Côte D’Ivoire and started his brand in 2017. Loua is true to sustainable fashion, working directly with local artisans and craftsmen to create vibrant designs locally and ethically.

Through Kente Gentlemen, Loua creates an authentic aesthetic that is cultural, bold, and colourful. Kente Gentlemen’s Autumn Winter 22-23 “The Birth of Cool” collection, for instance, was an ode to the cultural, and musical achievements of Africans and the African Diaspora in the post-colonial era, from the 70s up to the 80s. His designs have appeared in magazines and fashion shows such as Paris Fashion Week and Portugal Fashion Week and have been worn by celebrities such as American singer, Lucky Daye. Loua recently won the “Designer Africa Fashion Up” prize, presented by Balenciaga; Galeries Lafayette Paris Haussmann, and HEC Paris at the 2023 edition of Africa Fashion Up.

Travis Obeng-Casper

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Ghanaian designer, Travis Obeng-Casper is the founder and creative director of the brand Ajabeng. Ajabeng is a contemporary unisex brand he founded in 2018 while still in fashion school. Obeng-Casper’s creations are an intersection of minimalism and contemporary African art and culture. His offerings include suit-style tailoring, oversized button-downs, and wide-leg trousers, drawing inspiration from traditional African women’s wear, Accra’s street wear scene, and the bold geometry of art deco architecture.

Ajabeng made its international runway debut at Arise Fashion Week 2020. The brand was shortlisted in the top eight at the event’s 30 Under 30 competition. Since then, Ajabeng has collaborated with top African creatives such as stylist, Daniel Obasi, and photographer, Stephen Tayo.

(Read also: From Tems to Trevor Noah: African Stars Slay in Style at the 2023 MET Gala)

Thebe Magugu

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Thebetsile Magugu is the founder of the eponymous South African fashion brand, Thebe Magugu. Magugu’s fascination with fashion led him to study at the London International School of Fashion in Johannesburg in 2016. He would go on to launch his debut spring/summer collection, titled “Geology,” the following year. The collection gained some traction, and it was also featured in Vogue Italia.

Magugu rose to prominence when he emerged the winner of the 2019 LVMH Young Fashion Designer Prize. Since then, he has clinched more awards and launched even more outstanding collections, including “Africa Studies,” “Gender Studies,” and “Alchemy.” One way that Magugu stands out is his unique ability to tell African stories through fashion. His latest heritage, “Mother and Child” outfits, which draw influence from South African tribes, are a testament to this.

Thando Ntuli

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Thando Ntuli is the founder of the Munkus brand, which launched in 2019. Munkus is a trans-seasonal fashion brand that melds contemporary fashion with South African 80s and 90s fashion. Ntuli’s intrigue in fashion started in her childhood when she found pleasure in coveting the clothings of her family members and making them into hers. Even though this habit was met with mild disapproval, it helped Ntuli harness her creativity.

As Ntuli shared in an interview with Glamour SA, Munkus is inspired by the women in her family. “MUNKUS draws inspiration from a generational line of women in my life who wore many hats to give me the life I have today. Their influence is reflected in my collections, which aim to create a space for women to express themselves and be their best versions while embarking on their life journeys.” Ntuli’s growth in the fashion industry has since gained global recognition, with a couple of awards to her name. In 2022, she was a finalist at the Mr. Price New Talent Search Competition. She also won the SA Fashion Week New Talent 2022 and Design Indaba Emerging Creatives Class of 2022. Ntuli’s AW 2023 collection titled “Umama Wami” (Mother) explored the strength and resilience of motherhood. Again, Ntuli stunned and left a subtle reminder that there’s more where that came from.

Lafalaise Dion

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For many, cowries are nothing but cultural/fashion items. But Lafalaise Dion, the eponymous brand of the Ivorian Dion Dewand Marcia Lafalaise redefines the narrative. Dion’s interest in fashion started in her childhood. She’d watch the Témate dancers as they moved gracefully and with glee. Their regal head gears were always adorned with cowries. Dion would grow to pursue her interests in fashion with cowries as her major medium. In 2018, she crafted her very first cowrie head dress which she wore gallantly to the popular Châle Wote Festival in Accra. That head dress was symbolic, becoming the first of many, and the start of the Lafalaise Dion brand which has now become widely known across the globe.

Dion has put out incredible fashion pieces since 2018. One of the most first famous of her pieces is the Lagbaja Mask, which Beyoncé wore in her “Spirit” video in 2019. This brought her a great deal of international recognition, and collaborations. Dion has collaborated with brands and celebrities, such as Jean-Baptiste Mondina, Summer Walker, and Novi Brown. In 2021, the V&A museum in London added two pieces from Dion’s “Mami Watta” collections. Dion has shown the world that there is indeed beauty in the shells from tiny mollusks called cowries, and we’re all pumped up to see all the magic she continues to create.

(Read also: Lafalaise Dion Is “Cowrying” Through Fashion and Spirituality)

Fikile Sokhulu

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Fikile Sokhulu is another South African fashion brand rising steadily to prominence by putting up incredible pieces. Fikile Sokhulu is the eponymous brand of Fikile Zamagcino Sokhulu. Sokhulu graduated from Durban University of Technology where she obtained a National Diploma in Fashion Design. Following her graduation, she would go on to present her brand in South Africa’s Fashion Week New Talent Show. Sokhulu’s designs appeals to the young girl on her journey to self, while also appreciating the ever-evolving woman with her unique identity. Her designs greatly express femininity and a deep connection to nature. They are a blend of stylish and ageless fashion. One can see this in the frills, ruffles, and cinched waists ever present in Sokhuku’s designs.

Sokhulu’s latest Autumn/Winter collection, which was displayed at South Africa Fashion week, again gave adulation to the Black woman. The gold sparkles on most of the pieces showed this. She told Biz Community that the inspiration behind the collection is, “A woman as rare as a black diamond.” Sokhulu aspires to elevate her brand to the class of designers like Thebe Magugu, Rich Mnisi, and Lukhanyo Mdingi. Given Sokhulu’s hard work since the inception of her brand, we look forward to seeing her grow in leaps and bounds.

Priya Ahluwalia

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Priya Ahluwalia is Nigerian-Indian, and the brainchild of the brand, Ahluwalia, which launched in 2018. The Ahluwalia brand is unique in many ways. Ahluwalia is inspired by her Nigerian heritage, thanks to her Nigerian father; her Indian heritage, courtesy of her mother, and her London roots where she is based. She describes her brand as an intersection between near and far, past and present. Ahluwalia, then a small brand, was greatly inspired by her trip to Lagos. The brand has now grown to enviable heights.

Ahluwalia repurposes vintage materials and creates the most stylish pieces with them. She’s also an aficionado of sustainable fashion/climate crisis and she takes these factors into consideration in her pieces. She has won several awards since she launched her brand, some of which include the Leader of Change Award, which she has won for the third time in a row.  She was also honoured for her work in sustainability by Edward Enninful OBE at the Vogue “Forces for Change” Dinner in 2022. In March 2020, Ahluwalia was named in the Forbes 30 under 30 European Arts and Culture list.

(Read also: Forbes 30 Under-30: True Cases of Young Achievers, or Simply “Brother Bernards?”)

David Kusi Boye-Doe

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At the center of Ghanaian designer, David Kusi Boye-Doe’s ethos is prioritising sustainability and constantly seeking new ways to practice ethical fashion. Boye-Doe repurposes Western second-hand denim into eclectic designs. “They don’t want the garbage so we don’t want the garbage as well,” says Boye-Doe, founder of the Afro-luxurious brand, Boyedoe. While completing design school in 2019, David had a remarkable performance as the ‘Most Outstanding Student’ and has since had his designs worn by several African celebrities.  With his semi-eponymous label, Boye-Doe creates Afro-luxurious designs that are inspired by his African heritage and native folklore.

The Ghanaian fashion designer mixes buoyant colours with blustering patterns to create artsy designs that keep attracting international clientele. For this, he was featured on ARISE 30 under 30 as one of the thirty fashion designers who have gained notoriety in the global fashion industry in 2020.

Omafume Niemegha

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Nigerian Omafume Niemegha, a trained chemical engineer, decided to plump for fashion design when she launched her luxury fashion brand, Pepper Row, in 2018. With Pepper Row, she creates deep-coloured, perky, and artsy designs with sophistication at their essence. Deeply influenced by her artist father, and Nigeria’s rich culture, Omafume’s maximalist designs are a gamut of flares, ruffles, and unconventional cuts that are intricately crafted by local artisans. Omafume’s Pepper Row was among the fashion brands that graced the runway at the Lagos Fashion Week 2022.

Omafume has sparked up discussions on environmental issues in the fashion industry, and in Pepper Row’s 2020 “Afrofuturism” collection, recycled waste was used to imprint patterns on materials.  Despite the challenges in outsourcing skilled craftsmen to sew her sculpted fashion pieces, Omafume has been able to override the challenges by teaching the local artisans.

Elyon Adede

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With her brand, Elexiay, Nigerian Elyon Adede designs timeless handcrafted knitwear for African women, and redefines the age-long misconception that crocheting is for older women. She uses playful fringes, asymmetric cuts, and nubby hand-knit designs to flatter the female silhouette without losing the touch of elegance and keeping up with the latest trends. Vocal about placing women at the forefront of her creative process and empowering Nigerian women, Adede has a team of all-female crocheters who bring her designs to life.

Adede’s “no-machine policy” is at the core of her brand. She carefully hand-weaves each strand of yarn to create wearable knitwear. She also champions ethical and slow fashion to create her pieces. Adede’s innovative and luxurious knitwear has gained cross-border clientele and collaborations. In 2021 and 2022, she collaborated with New York fashion designer, Jonathan Simkhai, for an exclusive knitwear collection.

Abdel el Tayeb

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Staring at the 2022 November issue of Vogue Arabia’s cover, one is easily drawn to the gutsy outfit designed by the Sudanese-French designer, Abdel el Tayeb, as beautifully donned by the iconic English model, Naomi Campbell. Inspired by the Toub, (Sudanese women’s traditional attire), Tayeb ventured to study textile design at the French school, Oliver de Serres, and fashion design at the Belgian fashion institute, La Cambre Modes. Tayeb’s fashion brand, El Tayeb Nation, showcases a range of innovative designs to raise conversations around cultural identity, especially for people with diverse heritage. With his renowned collection, “My Nation Bears Your Name,” Tayeb’s designs featured disproportionate top hats, a flag cape, and boisterous prints. His remarkable talent has garnered recognition, winning the 2021 Franca Sozzani debut talent award, courtesy of Fashion Trust Arabia Prize, as well as the 254 Forest Prize.

Juliet Olanipekun

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Nigerian fashion designer, Princess Juliet Olanipekun creates original designs with her signature pleated sheer fabrics. Growing up within a royal family in Nigeria, Olanipekun’s style was predominantly influenced by her mother’s elegant fashion choices. Awarded Style Influencer of the Year (Africa) by Glitz Style, she is considered a style icon known for mix-matching and layering bold pieces. Juliet rarely plays within the corridors of the fashion rulebook, and in 2020, she founded a fashion brand, LFJ, that reflected her bright and futuristic personal style. In 2021, she partnered with the French cognac brand, Martell, to showcase her Orient of Africa capsule collection which projects the authenticity of the modern woman.

 

 

Sybil Fekurumoh is a senior writer for Afrocritik. Connect with her on Twitter and Instagram at @toqueensaber.

Ijeoma Anastasia Ntada writes and reads poetry, fiction and nonfiction. She has a couple of poems published in the Love Anthology, The Ducor Review, Visual Verse, Praxis Review and other places. Ijeoma is also a photography enthusiast. She takes beautiful photographs and makes them art. When Ijeoma isn’t studying to become a Laboratory Scientist, you’ll find her talking about Afro Hair, femininity, and embracing all of her girlhood.

Joy Chukwujindu is an art and entertainment lawyer. She is also an environmentalist with a keen interest in history, art and sustainable development. When she is not lawyering, she’s designing spaces and planning events. You can connect with her on Instagram @joyjindu and Twitter @joy_jinduu. Email: joy.jindu@afrocritik.com

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