Fashion Africa: A visual overview of contemporary African fashion


Author: Jacqueline Shaw
Price: Hardback £45; paperback £38.96
Publisher: AFG Publishing

Review by Joy Francis

Jacqueline Shaw’s visual ode to African fashion isn’t for the faint-hearted. Like a hot market day in hectic Accra, Ghana, the 297-page tome grabs the eyes with bold colours and an almost encyclopaedic approach to the nuts of bolts of making and sustaining fashion on the African continent.

Billed as a resource for people such as fashion designers, educationalists, manufacturers and fashion retailers, the book could also be described as an African fashion manifesto. And there is a vast information gap to fill. Despite the presence of African styles, design and influences on the catwalks, very little attention is paid to African countries as fashion hubs, style generators or future trend setters.

Fashion Africa introduces you to eclectic designers (Mia Nisbet), businesses (Afro-Chique), design labels (Akabi Design) and informs you of the challenges facing the African textiles industry, including the lack of skilled technicians. Shaw believes that the £21 billion UK fashion industry is missing a trick by not seeing African as a major sourcing region.

The Q&A format for the interviews gives it a magazine feel, in an old skool vein, à la ID and The Face. The many pictures and illustrations of jewellery, dramatic hair adornments and cutting edge fashion share space with reportage photography from shoe and textile factories and cotton fields with workers focused on meeting consumer demand.

Slightly over-designed and visually busy, Fashion Africa tries to cover all bases. The content sequence doesn’t always flow as you move from an interview with a designer to interesting eco-facts and charts to a fashion spread. The signposting doesn’t change throughout which makes it sometimes feel like you are on a fast moving train with no idea how to get off. It could easily have been divided into a three book odyssey looking at different aspects of the African fashion industry.

There is also the danger of it falling out of date in a fast moving industry with a burgeoning entrepreneurial African fashion scene that is, at last, making its way into British consciousness. But when you realise that the book was born out of Shaw’s MA in ethical fashion and was self published, the approach and wide coverage makes sense.

Fashion Africa, along with New African Fashion by Helen Jennings, fills a void left by mainstream fashion magazines and books that neglect Africa-based fashion talent. Its passion, economic points of reference and the wide range of talent featured takes the book beyond being a coffee table distraction to a characterful quirky read that you will want to revisit.

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