Redefining African fashion at London Fashion Week

24 Feb

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Written by Eliza Anyangwe
Photography by Gem Hall Photography
In association with

On 19th February, the Ubuntu International Project brought an African aesthetic to London Fashion Week.

For a continent so often defined by negative stereotypes, and its contribution to any art form (not least fashion) trivialised, if at all acknowledged, what Errol Hendrickse and Theo Omambala, the team behind Ubuntu, achieved was to create a space for African creativity at the heart of arguably the most creative show on the fashion calendar.

If the philosophy at the heart of the show, as stated by Hendrickse, is to create “a design aesthetic that has depth and meaning,” then these collections achieved that. And from all the raised phones, cameras and iPads clicking away incessantly, from the necks contorting to get a better glimpse of the garments and the excited whispers as each look came down the catwalk, there was no shortage of inspiration for many.

The show got off to a good start with Clinton Lotter‘s collection of dogtooth shift dresses, fitted jackets, pencil skirts and finger gloves in black and forest greens.  But soon I was more bemused than blown away; jewellery by Frankli Wild was by turn both fascinating, yet somewhat reminiscent of a crafts project.

For me, the stand out collection was by Jose Hendo, for the Ugandan designer’s innovative use of fabric – including barkcloth – the complex tailoring and the drama of each creation. I was also pleased to see a little playfulness from the designers behind Ayo van Elmar who stuck lit incense sticks into the kufi hats the models wore. With a nod to Katherine Hamnett’s use of the catwalk to raise awareness for political, economic and social issues, Jacqueline Shaw clad her models in t-shirts with slogans such as: “African grown and sewn,” highlighting the need for investment in Africa’s textile supply chain.

This was not a show laden with fashion that pushed technical and creative boundaries, but what Ubuntu at London Fashion Week was, was an opening for African designers onto the world. Conversely, it also offered a new lens through which Africa can be looked at.

The Ubuntu team are not intrepidly dipping their toe into fashion waters somewhere on the periphery of where the trend-makers are. They are boldly thrusting themselves and African designers into the mainstream fashion spotlight and are daring to challenge and redefine what the African aesthetic is at the same time.


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