Tag Archives: fashion

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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Women Fashion Power

WOMEN-FASHION-POWER-Graphic-300-x-400I had the pleasure of finally visiting the Women, Fashion, Power exhibition at the Design Museum last night.

It ticked all of my boxes.

The evening talk, after the museum officially closed, was preceded by a private view of the exhibition of itself, that charts changing fashion and social status  for women. It looks at mass movements that affected ordinary women and those who occupied positions of power, from the early twentieth century until today. There were profiles of powerful women in positions of leadership from Ancient Egypt to China, but overall it primarily had a European/US focus. It was staggering to see how at times women have subverted the world of men, either by co-opting men’s dress or reclaiming their sexuality. There was a great section on the suffragettes and women leaders from different spheres of life from politics to business to human rights. Corsets, bikinis, beach pajamas (I want one!)…it’s all there.

It really made me reflect on my own style and preferences.

Then came a fascinating talk by Lauren Rhoomes of Akhu designs on the politics, spirituality and history of African textiles. Her focus was primarily on West Africa, but it was an engaging and informative talk, followed by a great head wrap workshop. Now I know how to do the great head wrap styles that I see around London.

Rhoomes also brought along some beautiful textiles from Nigeria that have been handed down through the generations of her family. She expounded on the weaving and printing techniques in Ghana and Nigeria in particular, and also made a powerful statement on the fair trade aspect to the textile trade, especially with the influx of cheap textiles from China.

I would give the whole experience five stars out of five if I had to rate it. The exhibition is a must-see, and I was privileged to hear Rhoomes speak with such authority and pride on African textiles, fashion, symbolism and craftmanship.

 

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Real Beautiful

Capture“It is real, it is honest, it is gorgeous” is how Marie Claire described the unretouched photos of Cindy Crawford that leaked last week. They weren’t supposed to be seen, but I have to tip my hat to Marie Claire’s communications team for classy handling of the affair.

They’re right, though.

At 48, she looks amazing. And real. Apart from a lucky few, most women have rounded tums and dimply thighs. We bear the scars of life: childbirth, bumps and scrapes, age.

One of the best things about being over 30 is settling into myself. I wish I had done it sooner. More than anything now, I just want to be strong and flexible so that my body can go the distance into old age. Our bodies are phenomenal, from the tips of our fingers to the organs inside – so much happens automatically that we take for granted.

So much time is wasted in an adversarial relationship with its quirks or in pursuit of an ideal, when your body is uniquely yours.

Real.

Honest.

(and quite possibly) Gorgeous.

 

 

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Time Lapse Hair styles

I’m a bit late to this party, but I loved the video of 100 years of Black hairstyles – especially the 1940s and 1990s styles, which I love for vintage nostalgia and (in the case of the 90s obvs) the lived experience!

Here it is side by side with the White version – it appears they were Part I and II of a series. Love it!

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All Glamour

Two coffee table books that I simply must have and which push all my beauty, glamour and fashion buttons:

tumblr_static_rocket88_vintageblackglamour_coverFashionAfrica_online_marketing_17july-wpcf_240x350Vintage Black Glamour, by the creator of the blog of the same name.

And Fashion Africa by Jacaranda Books.

 

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Yes, Ladies

In a mad dash to catch up with November’s blog post challenge (like the National Novel Writing Month – NaNoWriMo but a blog post a day) I’m going to start posting some things that I adore that I haven’t blogged about yet.

So: The Redbook Sports Illustrated Plus-size Model Campaign. Yes, Ladies!

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Skin Lighteners

I wrote about skin lighteners for the What I See Project.

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Intriguing Resistance

NaomiCampbellFor an industry that changes with the seasons, some adjustments take a little longer to bed down. We’ve now completed the Fashion Weeks for New York, London and Paris. Before it all began, the Diversity Coalition, a campaign for greater diversity on the runway launched last year and spearheaded by veteran model booker Bethann Hardison, and supported by former supermodels Iman and Naomi Campbell, published its statistics on the use of black models in 2013’s runway shows.

Letters to the heads of each of the four fashion weeks analysed the numbers from 2013 and noted “a marked improvement”, but pointed out that “ there are design houses serviced by casting directors and stylists who are latent, as they seem comfortable with stereotypical images.”

In London in 2013, JW Anderson and Preen made the biggest improvements, using four black models each in 2013 compared to one before then. Temperley London used two black models, whereas before they had none, whereas Moschino Cheap and Chic had no black models at all, no change from previous years.

The numbers for this year aren’t in yet, but the Sunday Times reported that black models were still struggling to get cast in fashion shows despite the British Fashion Council writing to fashion houses urging them to diversify their shows to reflect the diversity of London.

Or just, you know, real life. I agree that it’s ridiculous to have all-white fashion shows in London, but surely it’s ridiculous anywhere. The world is diverse and fashion is a global business. This may be high fashion, but these images influence high street fashion and powerfully shape what we consider to be beautiful.  This is true for body image as well as skin colour – and the excuses that are often given for rejecting black models are “aesthetic”: one casting agent told the Sunday Times that designers would often say that black models were “too extreme” and “their features don’t fit”.

It does feel like we’re having a “Black” moment in the media and entertainment industries. The convergence of the Bafta Awards and London Fashion Week this year underscored this, with Lupita Nyong’o the undisputed red carpet darling, celebrated for her acting talent in 12 Years a Slave, as well as for her distinctive, gorgeous fashion sense. She stands out for many reasons; not least because she represents an image of black womanhood that’s not often celebrated –a dark-skinned woman with natural hair. She also joins five other Black actors on the cover of Vanity Fair’s Hollywood issue, widely touted as their most diverse yet in a year when Black actors are storming the awards ceremonies.

But is this a season or are we turning a corner? Time will tell if these actors continue to get offered Oscar-worthy roles, in particular roles that aren’t limited by history or biography to only be played by Black actors. Hopefully, in time we won’t need to keep tabs on the number of Black models on the catwalk or actors on the red carpet.

On receiving a Diversity Award from the Director’s Guild of America last month, Shonda Rhimes, creator of Scandal and Grey’s Anatomy, and who does colour blind casting for her shows, recently spoke about  being “a little pissed off because there still needs to be an award. Like, there’s such a lack of people hiring women and minorities that when someone does it on a regular basis, they are given an award.”

“It’s not because of a lack of talent. It’s because of a lack of access. People hire who they know. If it’s been a white boys club for 70 years, that’s a lot of white boys hiring one another… Different voices make for different visions. Different visions make for something original. Original is what the public is starving for.”

We need more diverse stories and storytellers to reflect the world we live in.  What Shonda says about the gatekeepers of media holds true for fashion too.

A year on from the launch of the campaign, race is firmly on the agenda and black models are not afraid to speak up.  Heavyweights like Iman and Naomi Campbell have broken the silence and impressively, younger models still at the stage of building their careers have joined in;  Jourdan Dunn has been particularly outspoken.

Sustained change is going to take time, but Diversity Coalition is in it for the long haul: “We look for consistency and not because of advocacy or a season lending to darker skin…Diversifying is not difficult.  The resistance to do so is intriguing.”

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Nude

Nude.

Natural.

Flesh-tone.

Or, in other words, pink. When the fashion world says “Natural” or “Nude”, it has always had whiteness as its default. Tights are my primary bugbear. Winter gets boring pretty quickly when you’re stuck with opaque black tights every day. But I was happy to find that Marks and Spencer does a range of tights for all skin shades. (I’m nutmeg, which is rather charming)

Another big trend that hasn’t gone away is the “leg-lengthening” nude heel. Now, I once got a pair of £10 bronze-brown shoes from Office in a sale which matched me perfectly but unfortunately they’re on their way out. I was despairing of finding a replacement until I happened to read about Louboutin’s new nude range. He’s done five different types of shoes in a range of colours to suit different skin types – a democratic nude heel, if you will. It shouldn’t be remarkable in 2013, but it is. The industry has a way to go, but where the high-end goes, the high street will follow, so this is a step in the right direction that could have a fairly big ripple effect.

Louboutin colour-match nude shoes.

However, at prices of £400 upwards I guess I’m still at square one (!)

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CNN showcases African Fashion

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African fashion is the gift that keeps on giving. There are new designers popping up all over the continent. What’s exciting is  to see that African fashion isn’t limited by designers using African prints. After all, we can see that at Burberry and other European fashion houses now. Instead there is a burgeoning industry pushing at the edges of style – and as long as an African designs it, it joins the diverse body of art that is African fashion. The only thing that I haven’t seen yet is a range of silhouettes, but that’s not a situation limited to African fashion. I know that this is partly about the market place, the international standard of what is desirable and beautiful. And yet – wouldn’t that be a great mould for African designers to break? CNN did a great showcase of some new and established names in African fashion. It’s by no means exhaustive, but certainly introduced me to some gorgeous new designs. In particular, Shakara Couture – a 1950s-influenced brand – combining some of my favourite elements: dramatic elegance, nipped-in waists, full skirts. And my love of Ghanaian fashion continues: Kaela Kay has so many pieces I want, but they’re all sold out, unfortunately. Watch this space.

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