100 Days of African Fashion: From the Mouth of ”The Babe” with Diana Opoti
One of the most celebrated women in African Fashion is about to set the scene on fire once again. After the success of her 100 days of African Fashion Campaign last year, Diana Opoti not only received astounding reviews globally, but was named one of the most powerful and influential women in African fashion. A campaign that started off to promote awareness of African fashion brands internationally has now turned into an annual event that encompasses designers from Africa’s 54 countries. An Executive Producer for the acclaimed Designing Africa, Diana is in her own right a celebrated television producer. She has in the past been responsible for treasured outcomes for some of the best shows on the African MultiChoice’s digital satellite TV service DSTV. Recently, The Africa Channel caught up with Diana to ”pick her brains” on the upcoming 100 Days of African Fashion.
PSN: What are you focusing on this second year of 100 days of African Fashion?
DO: For the second run of the campaign (2015) 100 Days of African Fashion wants to show what contemporary African fashion looks like. We want to discover new emerging African labels across the continent and globally. This year, in addition to images as “worn by Diana Opoti,” we would like to share brief brand stories as well as inspiration of collections. I am very keen to challenge what people consider African fashion beyond wax print. I want followers to notice “design” beyond textiles used, as well as realize the crucial role we as a continent will play in making these fashion businesses sustainable through purchasing the fashion.
PSN: There have been many discussions regarding how the African print is over saturated. How can African fashion designers make the print more appealing to global consumers?
DO: African wax print will forever be the reference for what the local consumer sees as “African.” African print, as it’s often referred to, is constantly evolving, with various manufacturers bringing more refined and contemporary prints and colours based on global trends. The challenge beyond the prints is textiles. The traditional wax prints on cotton textile is not considered luxurious and is fast losing popularity, especially across younger audiences and those who are looking for luxury African fashion. In my opinion, the new conversations will be new textiles and contemporary prints.
Having said that, there are designers from the continent who create/design their own prints, which have seen global appeal. Look at Laduma of Maxhosa, whose prints are specially reinterpreted from traditional Xhosa beadwork, or how Lanre Da Silva Ajayi or Jewel by Lisa, Ituen Basi or Deola Sagoe, Tiffany Amber, Nkwo, Maki Oh, Lalesso and so many others are constantly recreating new prints or challenging our perception of traditional techniques in modern, fresh interpretations on finer, more luxurious textiles.
PSN: Recently there has been a lot of talk on how mainstream fashion has been inspired by Africa. Are there things that African fashion can learn from mainstream fashion?
DO: Most valuable lesson will be how African brands can commercialize their lines and make them more accessible and affordable. Marketing also plays a big role in this visibility – African brands don’t really advertise in the large scale international brands do, so even when they have amazing collections, this information doesn’t quite reach consumers outside certain small circles.
PSN: What is your take on designers like Stella Jean getting more popularity in using African print and less highlight on African designers?
DO: It starts with the popularity of Vlisco, the Dutch wax brand originating in Netherlands but popularly associated with Africa. This is really a lesson in marketing more than it is on fairness. We need to rethink our publicity and digital campaigns to reach wider audiences. Strategic partnerships with more recognized global brands could also make African brands stand out more.
PSN: What are your expectations in terms of products this year?
DO: We hope to showcase current collections from contemporary and sophisticated brands, whether affordable or premium/luxury, but with distribution networks to allow accessibility to consumers, whether on e-commerce platforms or physical stores.
PSN: What do you aim to achieve by the end of this year’s 100 days?
DO: 100 Days of African Fashion is a digital campaign that serves a twofold purpose. On the one hand, the campaign celebrates African brands, exposing them to a global audience and highlighting the amazing variety of aesthetics and, in some instances, cultural stories referenced in collections. Secondly, the campaign is sensitive, as it openly analyses whether there is a genuine curiosity or market for African fashion and collects from follower feedback the real challenges facing the African fashion industry, including retail distribution, accessibility and price points.
PSN: What is your vision of the African fashion industry in five years?
DO: The last five years have been incredible for exposure of designers in the continent and in the diaspora. Beyond amazing look-books and showcasing in amazing international niche events crafted for the continent, we need to commercialize fashion, make it more accessible at a larger scale for it to have real impact on consumers. We must also take steps to lift trade barriers that make it impossible to sell across the continent. Fashion Weeks are brilliant, for the industry and global awareness; the consumers needs clothes in stores they can actually purchase.
PSN: Good African designers versus good designers: What is your take?
DO: It’s all a matter of marketing, right? I have seen such amazing look-books, but even I haven’t had access to purchase. We have amazing designers with global recognition, so why aren’t these brands properly accessible? Even as fashion media, we hardly try to bring new names to the fore. We have celebrated almost the same brands the last five years; what will it take for new designers to break into the market and how to ensure that they survive? A great fashion house for me is one that can balance between creativity and new design and accessibility to consumers.
Away from the visuals of designer clothes, there is a deeper foundation to the campaign. On reflection, the initiative is really about the consumer and introducing them to ”clothes for real people.’. Diana makes the products accessible and takes away the pretentious glamour that fashion weeks present on their ”engineered catwalks.” Platforms like 100 Days of Fashion allow the consumer to be an active participant and also be able to make personal choices about who they are buying their clothes from and who is making them. After the recent Fashion Revolution campaign and its implications, there is no better time to have 100 Days of African Fashion, as it is a representation of how the fashion industry should really function. Thank you, Diana!
From the 1st of July check out #100DaysOfAfrica on Twitter and Instagram.