African women have been part of the global book of style for ages but do not often get mentioned as source of inspiration. That is the first thing that comes up in my mind after seeing Stella McCartney’s SS18 collection. For some a frustration, for other an opportunity. I personally think It could have been much more inspiring if there was a stronger storytelling and it was not taken out of its context, using white models only. Every customer loves to be surprised and invited to discover new realities? So why didn’t Stella take us on a tour to West-Africa?
There are two point of views here as I have also read a lot of people, from African descent saying that there is nothing wrong with it, since the prints are Dutch – from Vlisco. Maybe there is not, but the frustration here is not just the print but the combination of the prints and the silhouettes. Something we are all used to see our elders wear to do errands or when at home. Or just go to a market in West-Africa and it is the look of the day. So who are the bearers of this style story?
Secondly there is another pain here in the diaspora, a lot of the first and second generation of African women had to get rid of this way of dress in order to be taken more seriously in a western society. So when a western designer pulls out the style and puts it on white models that all of a sudden makes it high fashion, it can sort of feel offensive. I think that is easy math.
Personally, I am not really offended as a Congolese person, I guess it is because there is so much more that I do refer to as ‘my culture’ and I would love to share with others. I am more saddened that a group of women who are so influential looking at style, never get the ode they deserve. Which is something that keeps being repeated looking at how trends move within pop-culture globally. But who is there to blame?
As brand-owner I am truly excited about the future of LIBAYA, which is my online women’s wear brand, launched as an ode to a Congolese style story inspired by African women.
Looking at the industry it takes me back to the importance of having people from divers cultures within decision-making creative teams who can directly point out the opportunities of telling stories. There is more and more lack of innovation, while authentic storytelling are major opportunities in this new digital age. At the end of the day it is just a missed opportunity for the fashion industry globally – which is driving us apart instead of connecting us.
A debate like this not only shows the need for new fashion marketing and communication formulas, but also the need of more divers teams behind the scenes. While the world is changing and a digital age is helping us cross borders, connect through rich imagery and storytelling, thus new ways to learn from eachtoher – a lot of brands are still stuck in one reality. Stella McCartney could have connected her customers to a new reality, but did not know how to take us on a tour to explore and discover an authentic way of pride and elegancy one can only find in different parts of Africa.