There has always been a strong, intertwining relationship between fashion and music. Take Madonna for instance, her music popularity and her fashion choices forever changed fashion.
She had girls all over the United States (and other parts of the world) wearing leggings, boots and headbands in the ‘80s. African music is no different. Since the rise of Afrobeats music in the last few years, the fashion scene not only in Africa, but the U.K. has been heavily influenced.
Before I go any further, let me introduce myself. My name is Esther and I am the creator of Akello Studio; a U.K based fashion label which is heavily focused on creating products using African prints. I wanted to create a label celebrating the fusion of my culture and heritage (born in Uganda) and British upbringing, collating all the fragmented experiences and influences that comes with being a first generation, from an immigrant family in the U.K. All the above influenced my exploration of creativity and interest in ancient African art and textile traditions and why I wanted to create something that was a manifestation of my own interpretation of this. In the U.K, there are not that many options of African textiles to work with besides African prints but I am always delighted at the diversity I see with prints, from streetwear to occasion wear and tailoring. I remember being surprised to see African print styles in Zara and Topshop a few summers ago but this shows that mainstream fashion has been paying attention to the trends and styles are coming through on an urban/street level.
So where has this demand and popularity of prints come from? African wax prints were once reserved for weddings and other traditional functions. However, these days we see dashikis and Ankara in T-shirts on the streets. I believe this is due to the dominance of Afrobeats in the mainstream airwaves in the UK. Music by artists like Fuse ODG, Tiwa Savage and Wizkid, has brought Africa to a wider audience in a different way. Because of it, we now see more positive portrayals of Africa in art and more importantly music.
Music has always influenced fashion trends, so I believe that seeing the culture being celebrated and digested in different ways has contributed to people being more accepting of African cultures. This has caused Africans in the UK to feel more comfortable showcasing their identity through fashion, which in turn causes African prints to have a more mainstream appeal.
As Africans in the diaspora, our ability to now express ourselves through the dialogue of culture and art makes us feel empowered and this can only further expand our music and fashion industries.
Esther Oluka (Akello Studio) and Elorm Yankah (Style Summit Africa)
Afrobeats: For those who may not know, this is a genre of music which started in the 1970’s and consists of a blend contemporary and traditional West African musical styles. It was pioneered by Fela Kuti.