Category Archives: Culture

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3 African Fashion Lines Making Their Mark Online

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Sanaa Aku dress, zivaa.com

I fell in love with local prints and custom-made designs on my first trip to Ghana nearly ten years ago.  How was it that I had made it nineteen years on earth without realizing that I could purchase and co-design beautiful and vibrant clothing made to fit me like a glove? And on the cheap!??  I hadn’t been living.  Suffice to say, I was instantly hooked, so much so that the luggage full of clothes from home was quickly and inexpensively replaced with a Cape Coast-made wardrobe.

But my excitement fizzled each time I returned to the US and couldn’t enjoy the same shopping experience.  I was relegated to department store sample size garments with limited styles and fit options.  Further, I didn’t know any local Ghanaian seamstresses who could hook up all the fabric I had purchased and brought back with me.  I was stuck, and began the practice of waiting until my next trip to rock the hottest designs.

Luckily, you don’t have to do that!  The last couple of years have birthed online shopping options for custom-made African-inspired clothing.  And even better news: it’s pretty affordable.

Here are 3 African women’s fashion lines to support:

At D’iyanu (dee-ya-new), you can purchase everything from maxi skirts, to headwraps, to high-waisted shorts.   Addie Olutola launched the company in 2014 to give buyers a Nigerian-inspired line that blends western and African culture.

 

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Chic high-waist African print skirt maxi, $64.99

 

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Babydoll African print dress, $54.99.

The Zuvaa line is a bit more extensive, and offers accessories and outfits by occasion and fabric.  The icing on the cake is that founder Kelechi, who identifies as African American by way of Nigeria, custom designs shoes.  Yes, honey. SHOES.  Zuvaa also debuted in 2014.

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Zuvaa creator Kelechi.

 

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Model Agatha displays her styled by Zuvaa look.

For those of you with a slightly larger budget (of just a budget that is bigger than mine!), Kisua offers a high-end collection designed by a pan-African cast of designers.  We’re talking Kenya, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ghana, and Nigeria, just to name a few of the nations represented.  Samuel Mensah launched Kisua in 2013 to give talented designers the obvious shine they deserve in the international market.

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Cotton pencil dress, $145.

 

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Nairobi blue jumpsuit, $150.

I love so many things about these fashion lines!  I love the entreprenuerial hustle that the creators have demonstrated launching their own lines instead of waiting for a mainstream company to take note.  I love that the the lines illustrate the syncretization of local and Western cultures– which has been a staple in African societies for centuries–to the world.  I respect the diversity of styles and prices that the lines present:  It’s cool as hell that I can’t afford (or maybe won’t cuz I’m cheap) some of the looks on Kisua.  Black fashion doesn’t have to be synonymous with inexpensive, in quality or price.  I love that!  And these lines represent some looks I would wear in a hearbeat, while others are not for me at all.  I love that the collections have the freedom to even have hits and misses.  I find this all refreshingly inspiring.

What do you think?  Would you rock these?

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Let’s Talk About the Queens of Africa Dolls

Earlier this week, HuffPost Brazil featured an article on the Queens of Africa dolls that are outselling Barbie in Nigeria.  This is major news, not just for the Nigerian economy–which is one of Africa’s largest– or for the toy franchise that is Mattel (ya’ll better watch your back!).  This is groundbreaking for global beauty standards.  Families of all races can now purchase and play with a line of dolls whose beauty–from their hair to their dress (which is on point!)–is inspired by the Yorubu, Igbo, and Hausa women of Nigeria.  And Black children can see themselves represented in the toys they adore. 

Upon looking at the dolls, though, you’ll notice some striking similarities with Barbie.  For one, the Queens appear to wear the same dress size and possess the superhuman (and unrealistic) slimness of Barbie.  Second, you might give a side-eye to the skin tones of the dolls: most look like the White Barbie we’re used to dipped in shades of tawny, terra-cotta, and golds.  Their eyes are also a range of hazels, grays, and greens.  While all skin tones, eye colors, and body types deserve to be celebrated and represented, I couldn’t help but conclude that despite their clothes and hair, these dolls don’t look like any of the Nigerian women I’ve known throughout my life.

Entrepreneur and Queens of Africa creator, Taofick Okoya, admits that the dolls’ shape is something he hopes to alter in the future, once the brand is better established.  Until then, we’re going to have to take one for the team and celebrate this signigicant step for Black beauty and culture.  The doll isn’t perfect, but now my niece can have an addition to the possibilities of Black womanhood in her arsenal.  And ain’t nothin wrong with that.

What do you think of the Queens?  Will you buy one?

 

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Film Watch: These New Diasporan Films Just Might Be Everything

We’re in the midst of a truth-telling and potentially reconciling moment for people of the African Diaspora.  These two films are taking the indie film world by storm and getting a lot of buzz in the process.  Try to watch them in your city, if you can!

Deeper Than Black tackles how second-generation Ghanaian-Americans, or American-born Ghanaians, straddle their African and African American identities.  Film-maker Sean Addo takes on the questions of identity, place, and cultural belonging in this first-person documentary short.

In the trailer and on Addo’s website, he comments on the ebbs and flows of being accepted and rejected by his Black American and Ghanaian communities.  The short offers glimpses into the heart-wrenching challenges of second-generation African immigrants who possess dual identities, cultures, and languages.  I anticipate that Deeper Than Black will prompt a lot of people to examine the roles they’ve played in culturally accepting or questioning themselves and Diasporans with dual identities.

Bound: Africans vs. African Americans focuses on the tensions and fractures between both groups stemming from Atlantic slavery and colonialism and persisting to today.   Kenyan director Peres Owino uses interviews and her own unique style of story-telling to prompt Africans and African Americans to share their feelings about each other, their similiariteis and differences, and what kind of relationships are possible.   Throughout the film she asks difficult questions such as, “Do Africans owe African Americans an apology for slavery?”  Yeah, she holds no punches.

In a Seattle Medium interview late last year, Owino described her impetus to explore the often-frought relationship between African Americans and Africans.  She stated:

I live in La Dera, Inglewood area, and I’ve lived there for like four years.  And I didn’t know my neighbors, and I didn’t want to know my neighbors.  I’m living here in a Black community and I’m alienating myself.  Why?  When I was in Kenya all I wanted to do was to connect with African Americans, but here I am now, in the midst, and I’m like, ‘What is this thing?’ And then you sit and you start to look at everyone’s face.  When I look at young Black boys, 15, 16, 17 years old–cuz I have brothers who are 16 and 17 years old– I see my brothers.  I literally see my brothers.   And that just continued to do this thing…like, ‘No, you have to go in here.  You have to go in here.’  And I went in and realized that it wasn’t even me who had to go back in.  It was a call that’s coming from way back, that’s saying, ‘I need you to go in here for me.’

I had to take a deep breath after that.  And I bet many people will too after they watch Bound.  If you’ve watched either Bound or Deeper than Black, or are thinking about watching them, please share your thoughts and reactions in the comments section!

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