Ethical African Fashion

You know when something is on your mind and then you see it on TV?

That’s how I felt when I saw this report from the BBC Business team on fake fabrics threatening the African fabric industry.

I buy a lot of African print clothes. I love buying things from all over the continent and I’m pleased that they all have the clothes made ethnically in the respective countries, using fabric sourced on the continent. But after visiting Africa on the Square this year for Black History Month, the African celebration in Trafalgar Square, I was struck by how many businesses there were selling African print clothes. There was no discussion of ethical fabrics or processes. Since I know some of the brands that were there, I know some of the sellers definitely are ethical, but it was not advertised because it was not seen as a pressing issue.

I think it’s a discussion we need to start prioritising. In February I heard an insightful talk on this subject by Lorene Rhoomes of Akhu designs at the Women Fashion Power exhibition at the Design Museum. She explained in painstaking detail the history of African print fabrics, both on the continent (with a focus on West Africa) and outside (the Dutch and Indonesian connection). She also highlighted the problem of Chinese mass-produced fabrics stealing traditional designs and then undercuting craftsmen in the market place.

 

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