10 African Brands Paving the Way in Beauty and Style
In the last decade, African fashion brands have commandeered increasing global attention with vivid colours, bold prints, regal aesthetics, and timeless designs. This is largely due to African designers participating in global events such as New York Fashion Week, London Fashion Week, and Africa Fashion Week New York.
Also gaining recognition are beauty brands from the continent and its related diaspora. These African brands have managed to stay relevant while competing with multinationals like L’Oreal and Nivea, which command large market shares. In no particular order, we present to you 10 brands making major strides and paving the way for others to follow.
Born in Lagos to a Nigerian father and Jamaican mother, Duro Olowu spent his childhood travelling between Nigeria and Europe. From an early age, his enthusiasm for fashion was inspired by the unusual mix of fabrics, textures, and draping techniques of the clothing worn by the women around him. Like his father before him, Olowu studied law in England before returning to Nigeria, where he practised for a few years. On his return to London, Olowu pursued his true vocation, a career in fashion, starting his eponymous label at the end of 2004. His first collection was an instant hit with fashion editors and buyers worldwide and an international sell out at its worldwide stockists at the time, including Barneys in New York, Harrods in London, and Maria Luisa in Paris. Olowu is mostly known for his love of bright colours, highly finished cuts, and vintage prints. It’s no wonder that his designs attract powerful women, including the former first lady of the United States, Michelle Obama.
Born on May 18, 1962, beauty products entrepreneur Lisa Price is the founder of Carol’s Daughter, one of the first African American-owned beauty product lines. As a child, Price was always obsessed with fragrances. Imitating her favourite artist, Prince, she created a fragrance bar, mixing different scents to make her own fragrances. Over the years, she ventured into other items, like body creams and hair care products. By 1990, Price had begun making creams and lotions based on natural ingredients in her kitchen. Encouraged by family members and friends, she began Carol’s Daughter from her home in 1993. Her customers soon multiplied, even including celebrity clientele like Jada Pinkett Smith, Will Smith, Halle Berry, Chaka Khan, and Oprah Winfrey.
Adebayo Oke-Lawal is the creative director of androgynous fashion label Orange Culture. He holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s degree in business and international management from Newcastle Business School, England. Lawal built his portfolio while he was a member of the creative collective of stylists called BUBAAI but left the group in 2011 to establish Orange Culture. Today, Orange Culture is recognised as one of the most innovative, daring brands on the African continent. In 2015, Oke-Lawal displayed his work at the International Fashion Showcase organised by the British Council and the British Fashion Council during London Fashion Week. He also showcased his work at Men’s Designer Showrooms at London Fashion Week in June 2016. The next year, the brand showed for the first time at London Fashion Week under Fashion Scout, one of the UK’s largest fashion showcases throughout London Fashion Week, Paris Fashion Week, and Kiev Fashion Days.
Abai Schulze moved to Texas when she was 11. After her senior thesis on Ethiopia’s potential for exporting textile, she returned to her home country in 2014 at 25 and created ZAAF, a brand for handcrafted luxury leather handbags and accessories produced by indigenous artisans. The brand’s passion to showcase the rich cultural heritage of its homeland is evident in each collection. “Zaaf” means “tree” in Amharic, and the brand draws on timeless Ethiopian roots and cultural resources throughout its designs. Offering a range of fashion accessories for women and men, including handbags, weekend and travel accessories, scarves, and leather jackets, ZAAF embraces contemporary African luxury with each piece.
Mozambican designer Taibo Bacar‘s self-named brand is known for its fusion of high fashion and ready-to-wear, and has won many international awards. In 2011, Taibo Bacar became the first African brand to be showcased at Milan Fashion Week. Bacar was born to a seamstress in 1985. Having grown up around sewing machines, fabrics, and design sketches, he decided to follow his passion for fashion and traveled to Spain for classes in design and pattern making. He also undertook internships in South Africa in 2009 and in Rome in 2012. Today, Bacar’s designs are a combination of beautiful African fabric with fresh and stylish silhouettes that embrace his rich cultural heritage.
The Afro Hair and Skin Co.
The Afro Hair & Skin Co. is an independent Afro beauty and wellness brand founded by Ibi Meier-Oruitemeka in 2016. The brand creates a holistic line of hair and skin products using organic, fresh, and locally-sourced ingredients that are great for the skin and hair. Their goal is to provide black women with ethical, health-conscious, and all-natural beauty products specifically designed for all forms of Afro-textured hair and for skin rich in melanin. Since its launch, the brand has been listed by Vogue as one of the best skin care ranges for and by people of colour.
Having launched her career in 1989, Nigerian fashion designer and entrepreneur Deola Sagoe earned a master’s degree in finance and management and has studied at both the University of Lagos and University of Miami. Her signature designs, attitude, and elegance draw inspiration from fabrics with a traditional Nigerian touch and Western aesthetics. Sagoe’s unique approach of designing lively and colourful African prints has earned her a global following, including notable personalities such as Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith. Aside from earning recognition from Hollywood celebrities, she has also showcased her couture collection at Cape Town Fashion Week, New York Fashion Week, and other fashion events around the world.
Loin Cloth & Ashes
Loin Cloth & Ashes is an African-based fashion brand for women who want modern, functional, and relevant design from a neo-African point of view. Tanzanian-born South African designer Anisa Mpungwe explores new classics in attractive prints on wardrobe essentials, creating timeless pieces. The brand aims to merge traditional methods and new techniques to form exaggerated shapes for more modest pieces, much like today’s cross-pollinated cultures. Mpungwe’s career started at the age of 19, when she worked for various fashion houses, magazines, and apparel factories in Africa, America, and the United Kingdom. Her brand has been involved in fashion weeks in South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Italy, Sweden, and New York. Her flagship store opened in 2012. That same year, she got a nod from international singer Solange Knowles, who graced the cover of Elle South Africa magazine wearing Mpungwe’s designs. She has also earned praise from stars like Anele Mdoda, Bridget Masinga, Lira, Simphiwe Dana, Amel Larrieux, Sheron Smith, and Yukimi Nagano.
Malée [pronounced as Mah-lay] is a range of healthy, premium skincare products created in South Africa and made with 100 per cent natural active ingredients. The brand was created in 2010, and the products are packed with vitamins and agents that boost the skin’s moisture as well as counter the ageing process. As they’re made with natural ingredients, the products are good both for the environment and for the skin. Besides the attractive packaging, and how well they work, Malée’s products smell so amazing you want to keep getting more.
Raised between Ivory Coast and France, Laurence Chauvin-Buthaud launched her label in 2010. Since that time, she has established a new space for contemporary African fashion across the globe. A men’s wear label, Laurenceairline avoids the traditional clichés often associated with African-inspired fashion and instead re-imagines the continent’s cultural inheritance in a way that is distinctly modern and international. The entire line is also made in accordance with ethical manufacturing practices in a workshop in Ivory Coast, which Buthaud founded herself, along with a training programme for local employees.
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