White Customers, Black Fabrics – The New York Times


The current outpouring of help for Black-owned companies has introduced consideration to trend labels that work with African prints. The labels, a lot of them based by West African designers residing within the United States and Britain, are turning the normal patterns of West African cloth into modern American silhouettes.

“May was our biggest month ever, and June is going to be bigger than May,” stated Addie Elabor, the founder and designer of D’iyanu, an African print label launched in 2014.

Nicolette Orji, also called Nikki Billie Jean, the founding father of the All Things Ankara weblog and a designer herself, was equally upbeat. “Anyone who is selling anything online right now is feeling that support, and it’s amazing — though kind of overdue.”

While the most important marketplace for most of those designers is Black folks born and raised in America, success this yr has additionally introduced new consumers.

The distinction between buyers and designers is an important one for many in the industry.

“I would like to see African print everywhere,” said Yetunde Olukoya, a Nigerian-born designer who moved to the United States with her husband when she was 26. “As long as it’s made in Africa, and puts value back into the people who actually made this fashion popular, then I would love to see it worn all over the world.”

Other designers see their African heritage as a point of departure from which they can bring something new to the global fashion scene.

Vlisco, a Dutch fabric company established in the Netherlands in 1846, designed and produced cloth sold all over West Africa. Today it continues to design many of the most popular fabrics sold in the region, though the cloth itself is named and given its particular cultural significance by local women.

Even dashiki tops, as popularized in the United States in the late 1960s, were styled from Vlisco’s Angelina print, which in turn was taken from a longstanding West African tunic design.

For centuries, patterns have been a way to communicate without saying a word, and it can be jarring for some to see these designs worn without regard to their original messages. (Some of the cloth used now for shorts, halter dresses and jumpsuits holds specific meaning in Nigeria or Ghana, where it may signal that one is pregnant, newly married or mourning a relative.) But others say there is no way to stop cultural innovation.

“There is a time to say you want to wear something because you look really good in it, and you like it,” said Paulette Young, the director of the Young Robertson Gallery in New York, which specializes in the visual arts of Africa. “And that’s OK, too.” Ms. Young wrote her dissertation on the Dutch origins of African wax fabrics.

Scot Brown, an associate professor at U.C.L.A. and a historian of African-American social movements and popular culture, is not worried about whether ankara print will lose its significance for the African-American community if it goes mainstream. Though he loves his D’iyanu blazers, he sees the innovative use of this print for Western business clothes as another sign that African fashion will constantly evolve and adapt to changing conditions.

“When something goes mainstream, there is always some new underground thing happening,” Mr. Brown said, adding that expressions of Black pride will simply evolve and take up new forms. “African style is such a vast, almost infinite body of creativity that you don’t ever have to worry about running out of creative gas.”



Source link Nytimes.com

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