How do you define African luxury?
Adiat Disu, founder of Adiree, a global luxury consultancy, helped shed some light on this question with three businesswomen in the fashion industry at the start of New York Fashion Week. Fanta Kamara, Korto Momolu, and Maryanne Mathias provided their wide-ranging expertise on the Luxury Africa Conference panel during the New York Fashion Week Africa.
Disu created New York Fashion Week Africa, a spin-off of her Africa Fashion Week event, which she holds during the official New York Fashion Week; she realized that there were so many African designers congregated in New York with no place to showcase their designs.
Kamara is a former model and founder of Marazetti, and Momolu fashion designer and Project Runway Season 5 finalist. Mathias, one half of the Osei-duro fashion design pair, all had interesting opinions to share on the matter of African luxury and the business of growing the African fashion industry.
Kamara stressed that it’s taking quite long for the world to see an organized fashion system in Africa due to cash flow, as everything in Africa is heavily cash intensive. Kamara said that those with an interest to launch fashion businesses on the continent have overlooked the importance of having a financial partner based within Africa.
Photo Credit: Karen Weber
“Africa is a cash intensive economy,” she said. [That’s why] financial partnerships are key.”
Mathias shared her take on the topic of African fashion production by saying that it’s important for people to understand the prominence people in Africa place on sustainability and ethical practices. She said that this is the very reason why manufacturing in Africa is so labor intensive and expensive.
Mathias said that when she first launched Osei Duro in Ghana, West Africa, she had to spend five years focusing on quality control, something anyone wanting to manufacture clothing in Africa must focus on because technical skills amongst seamstresses in Africa is lacking.
“Technical knowledge for sewing is not up to par in Africa,” she said. “[We need to encourage this education in order to see the African fashion system flourish.]”
According to Momolu, the people who were actually purchasing African fashion were people you probably wouldn’t expect, and Kamara agreed by saying that the people who were most drawn to her clothing brand were Asians.
Kamara said that a large number of Asians purchase clothes from The Bob Johnson Hotel in Liberia, which carries her fashion line Marazetti.
Momolu said that she wasn’t shocked because she’s experienced the same thing–non-Africans who are highly interested in her brand, which is readily accessible on the Internet.
“People are leveraging the power of the Internet,” Momolu said. “ Now anyone around the world can have access to my clothes.”
Disu wrapped up the panel by asking everyone’s final take on the accessibility of African luxury. Kamara said that rather than making things terribly expensive and almost untouchable like French and American luxury products, the African fashion industry encourages replication, because the African fashion market sits in an open society.
“Exclusivity must be archived,” she said. “It’s about influencing, it’s about making an impact.”
The evening concluded with a fashion showcase featuring the best of New York African fashion from fashion designers Onyii & Co, Sarfo of Styles, Osei-duro, Asikere Afana, House of Mucha, Sakia Lek, Yefikir and Dahli Republic of Couture.
Photo Credit: Karen Weber