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AFWL Gruly Pan-African.

Summary: Africa Fashion Week London, a celebration of African design, talent and diverse ethnic influences that contribute to fashion in Britain, is on a roller-coaster ride. Combining runway and fashion shows and exhibitions in three days of perfectly paced, illuminating expos, Africa Fashion Week London is the biggest African fashion event in the UK. The event has hosted the creations of over 200 African and African-inspired designers from across the African continent and its diaspora.

Since debuting in 2011, the inspirational Africa Fashion Week London (AFWL) has gone from strength to strength; championing new and emerging designers who are inspired by the rich culture of Africa and incorporate this heritage into contemporary design. With eye-catching runway shows and vibrant exhibitions, this event brings together fashionistas and industry professionals from around the world to Europe's largest and most important African fashion event.

As NAW went to press, the 2014 AFWL extravaganza was scheduled at the prestigious and world-renowned events venue - London Olympia, which was expected to be transformed into an fashion-festival of African and Africaninspired delights.

To headline the runway shows, the AFWL organisers had bagged some of Africa's top fashion designer talent, such as Senegal's Adama Paris, Nigeria's Ade Bakare and bridal wear expert Yemi Osunkoya of Kosibah. This show was also expected to see the return of ubertalented Ella and Gabby fashion label, and Adebayo Jones and South Africa's fashion-art designer Steve Mandy.

"AFWL provides opportunities for established or upcoming African inspired designers and it is all about supporting African fashion and design talent, as well creating economic growth within the fashion industry in Africa and its diaspora," says Ronke Ademiluyi, founder and CEO of Africa Fashion Week, whose passion for fashion knows no limits.

Born in London and educated in Nigeria and the UK, Ronke - a law graduate - is increasingly becoming a respected fashion business entrepreneur in her homeland. It was during her university years that she noted she had a bent for fashion. She was always complimented by her peers for her fashionable dress sense and she soon started giving fashion advice to other students. Her love for fashion grew from there.

"By the time I was graduating from Law School, I already had a strong following of fashion admirers and I had become a fashion consultant of sorts during my university days," she says. She returned to Nigeria in the early 1990s and soon set up Rukkies - a chain of high street fashion boutiques with branches in the fashion centres of Lagos, such as Opebi-Ikeja, Bode Thomas-Surulere and Idumota-Lagos Island. Her boutiques catered for women and girls of all ages, taking care of their apparel needs from shoes and handbags to formal and party dresses of all varieties. She also represented bigname UK brands in Nigeria, such as Fever Collections. But she started to think about expanding her passion.

"In 2010, my passion for promoting fashion business led me to host the Boutique Fashion Show, the first ever event of its kind. We held it at the exclusive Colonades Hotel Ikoyi, Lagos. It was an exhibition which enabled boutiques to showcase their fashion collections, as well as their unique beauty and fashion services, to an assortment of guests," she says.

Encouraged by the success of that event and having noted the paucity of fashion events that promoted African fashion at a broader level in London where she partly grew up, Ronke decided to launch the first ever Africa Fashion Week London in 2011, also as a way to bridge the perceived gaps between African fashion and global fashion trends in London and other fashion capitals of the world. She also saw an urgent need to support young and emerging African inspired designers in the UK and globally and the first staging of AFWL recorded an excellent performance for a pioneering event.

As the show returned for its fourth year, AFWL has indeed become a landmark event on the world fashion calendar. Over 35,000 visitors have attended AFWL events and over 200 emerging designers have showcased their work to a global audience. Last May, in response to requests from many of the Nigerian designers who have showcased at AFWL in the past three years, Ronke successfully hosted the first edition of Africa Fashion Week Nigeria, bringing the event to home soil, to a laudable and warm reception. The event featured over 40 designers and exhibitors, most of whom are young and emerging names in the fashion industry.

Ronke Ademiluyi also runs the Association of African Designers in the diaspora, a charity that recognises the needs and challenges of new fashion designers and seeks ways of solving them through fundraising and special projects.

A lot of emerging designers from across Africa and its diaspora were also expected in London for the 7-9 August shows, including the refreshingly, nonconformist fashionable designing duo from Botswana, Tsholofelo Dikobe & Gaone Mothibi of GaTsh Fros. Tsholo, who is gracing the NewAfricanWoman South African Cover in this edition is also the 2014 AFWL Brand Ambassador.

She says of AFWL: "This is a prestigious, esteemed platform and one of the biggest fashion shows for Africans, Africa and the diaspora, more so in the UK. I am humbled and honoured to be part of this year's show, and in doing so I am representing my country - Botswana. It is a great feeling.

On her designs which she and her co-founder Gaone will showcase at AFWL 2014, she says: "GaTsh Fros provide our country, Botswana, with a platform that encourages a more proactive role and conduit for the public in all fields of fashion and culture. We have created a collection with the aim of positioning and highlighting an aspect of a Botswana fashion staple, using an important part of Botswana culture, the mogagolwane(Botswana blanket).

"The megagolwane is an integral part of everyday Tswana tradition and are gifted to a person at important stages of their Tswana life, for example the birth of a person, marriage, initiation and even death. The aim of the collection is to promote cultural dialogue, sustain able ethical products that have meaning and encourage an important part of the culture used in ceremonial events."

She adds: "Through platforms such as AFWL, I am hoping to raise awareness of the financial, marketing, brand positioning, manufacturing challenges facing African fashion multipliers and designers by providing a platform that will bring out their best in creative innovation and commercial success."

Another rising fashion enthusiast on board this year's show is no other than the emerging African fashion icon Diana Opoti - who is currently single-handedly leading the 100 Days of African Fashion campaign - in which for each day she wears and highlights one African designer on social media platforms, an idea that has garnered massive support.

Diana, who is also known for her television show "DesigningAfricawith DianaOpoti"(on DSTV) is this year's AFWL Patron.

She says: "The 100 Days of African Fashion is a fashion campaign I designed to help shift perceptions about African fashion among consumers. In this period, starting June 23rd to September 26th 2014 I will wear African fashion brands to promote the work of designers. In this period, I would like to show that there isn't a single definition of African fashion, neither is it a passing trend, and that as consumers we should take pride in wearing local fashion.

"This campaign is just the beginning of a series of conversations to challenge the private sector and governments to pay more attention to local development of the fashion industry. I'd like to address issues of distribution, and high taxation on cross border importation on apparel making it less attractive for designers to sell at competitive prices," she tells NewAfricanWoman.

She adds: "It is such an honour to be selected as the Patron for this year's event. This platform is incredible for making fashion accessible to consumers through its fashion fair and exhibition spaces.

"The Africa Fashion Week London is an important platform to connect designers in the diaspora and from the African continent to expose their brands to buyers and consumers alike. The event has also been a great launching pad for many emerging designers and models alike.

"I see no pride in amazing glamorous fashion showcases that are not accessible to local consumers, or in the fact that over 70% of apparel available to local consumers is second-hand merchandise or Asian imports. With all the talent we see in fashion weeks, why should the world think us commercially significant only when discussing 'cheap hubs' for production or ethical fashion?

"Countries in Africa can thrive from the textile and apparel industries, but for this to happen, governments need to invest in fashion businesses as well as the education, continuous training and exposure of designers, and for them to build fashion as an independent, profitable industry." n




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Publication:New African Woman
Geographic Code:60AFR
Date:Jul 22, 2014
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