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Common Threads – Contemporary African Fashion

Fabric plays an extremely important role in African history and identity. Cultures have expressed their traditions not only in the look of their garments, but also in the artisanry that has gone into making them. Fortunately, a number of today’s top African design talents are looking to this history to inform their work and they are giving new life to techniques and skills that could otherwise face extinction. In Nigeria, Emmanuel Okoro of Emmy Kasbit focusses on re-imagining akwete, a loom-woven cloth made by Igbo women in eastern Nigeria. “There are over 100 traditional motifs and it’s said that each one came to its maker from the spirits in their dreams,” says Okoro. Johannesburg-based designer Thebe Magugu is embracing the latest technology to create experiential fabrications from ancient inspirations. The 2019 LVMH Award winner is passionate about investing his directional yet elegant womenswear with cultural value. For example, his clothing labels are fitted with microchips. “If any smart phone taps them, it opens a webpage that showcases the story of the collection as well as photographs of everyone involved in the making of the garment, from the fabric weavers in Cape Town to the tailors in Joburg.