West African Designers Explore Virtual Worlds

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Leading names in West African luxury fashion discuss the potential of digital fashion shows and marketing.

Back in May, Congolese designer Anifa Mvuemba, founder of fashion label  Hanifa, staged a mold-breaking virtual fashion show over Instagram Live using beautifully conceived 3D renderings instead of models. The show was an unprecedented global hit, both on social media and in the mainstream press — arguably one of the fashion moments of lockdown.

Mvuemba’s achievement highlighted the potential of technology to transform the digital fashion show into a spellbinding spectacle. It also shone the spotlight on innovation in the West African fashion world, where designers are eager to reinvent their marketing strategies in the time of lockdown.

Besides Hanifa, other West African labels such as David Tlale, Christie Brown, and Allëdjo Studios have launched collections in recent weeks through virtual shows or via lookbooks on social platforms. Kassim Lassissi, a Beninese designer for the brand Allëdjo, even found a live DJ to host his launch on Instagram. The virtual experience, it seems, has been truly embraced by African luxury fashion.

Vogue Business asked movers and shakers across the West African fashion scene to share their views.

The designers

Anifa Mvuemba: Hanifa has 285k Instagram followers, with tens of thousands of them tuning in for the brand’s virtual catwalk, showcasing her Pink Label Congo collection, staged on 22 May. Although she’s based in Baltimore, in the US, Anifa Mvuemba draws her design inspiration from her home country of Congo. The self-taught designer first conceived the idea of a 3D show five years ago.

“I feel as though African designers will be innovative with the resources they have access to for creating a fashion show,” she says. “In my case, I previously learned 3D technology prior to Covid-19 and was able to amplify that experience in the form of a fashion show much later. The future of fashion shows for African designers is limitless. We just need the access and knowledge to bring our ideas to life.”

Aisha Ayensu Obuobi: She’s the creative director of  Christie Brown, one of Ghana’s best-known luxury fashion brands. Aisha Obuobi first fell in love with fashion watching her seamstress grandmother at work. Christie Brown, named after her grandmother, was founded back in 2008, staging its first runway show in Accra, Ghana. Responding to lockdown, the company came up with a digital “see now, buy now” show for Spring/Summer 2020, which drew more than 29,000 viewers on Instagram. “Little did we know that there was a whole pandemic on the horizon,” Obuobi recalls. “But it forced us all to

reinvent ourselves in our ways of doing things.”

Ghanaian 3D visualizer Percy Nii Okine says virtual shows present a good alternative to physical events. 

© Fiifi Abban, Percy Okine

The 3D creatives

Percy Nii Okine: He’s a Ghanaian 3D visualizer, working with a variety of brands as well as emerging fashion designers. “West African designers are gradually warming up to virtual possibilities with regards to fashion and are willing to imbibe new ideas to push African fashion on a global scale,” he says. “Post-COVID-19, virtual shows won’t become the new convention but [will represent] a good alternative to the physical fashion show.”

Baboa Menson: The founder of BalmLabs is a CLO3D specialist from Ghana who focuses on conceptual design and photoreal visualization of concepts for fashion designers. “I think it’s a bit early to tell, but I believe virtual shows will create many more jobs and opportunities in the industry,” she says. “I’ve started to see a rise in designers wanting to incorporate 3D technology into their process. It’s mainly a result of the pandemic. It is

exciting to see how significant it’s going to be.”

Travis Obeng-Casper: An emerging designer and CLO3D artist, Obeng-Casper has worked for designer labels such as Tongoro and Christie Brown and highlights the sustainable benefits of digital design. “Covid-19 has helped start the conversation, I think,” he observes. “African fashion is embracing digital design to increase efficiency and decrease waste, especially while working remotely: 3D sampling allows brands to experience creative freedom during the process and makes the selling process efficient through the utilization of realistic imagery.”

Emerging designer and CLO3D artist Travis Obeng-Casper. 

© Travis Obeng Casper, Fiifi Abban

The show producers

Omoyemi Akerele: The founder and executive director of  Style House Files, the fashion business development agency that produces  Lagos Fashion Week, expect the October event to be a hybrid of digital and physical experience. “I have always been intrigued by the innovative and expressive use of digital models like Kim Zulu and Noonoouri, and the possibilities that exist as we embrace technology even further to build more efficiency, right from the design experience to retail,” she says. “It’s also been super exciting to see designers like Hanifa and Christie Brown adopt technology/digital experiences for their fashion presentations this season. At Lagos Fashion Week, we can’t wait to incorporate elements of digital technology for October.”

Claudia Lumor: The executive producer of Glitz Africa Fashion Week Ghana is optimistic about the potential of technology. “Innovation and creativity are with us, and virtual shows are now away [forward] when we go back to our normal lives. But there is nothing like a physical fashion show. I believe virtual shows and physical shows will work for hand in hand.”

Nuel Bans: The founder of  Style Lounge Weekend, a platform that connects emerging young designers and contemporary brands with local buyers and influencers, says the consumer needs to be converted. “Virtual fashion shows could be a great thing if only brands will educate their customers to embrace this new normal. [There’s a] cost-effectiveness to digital production. I believe virtual shows in Ghana can be of positive benefit to the industry if the ideas are executed perfectly.”

Baboa Menson, the founder of BalmLabs, is a CLO3D specialist from Ghana.

© Baboa Menson, Fiifi Abban

The retailers

Reni Folawiyo: The founder of Alára, a concept store in Lagos (designed by superstar architect Sir David Adjaye), seeks to redefine luxury fashion for Nigerians, stocking Western labels such as Stella McCartney and Dries Van Noten and African brands such as Maki Oh, Lanre Da Silva Ajayi, Kenneth Ize and Christie Brown. She’s upbeat about virtual fashion shows and presentations.

West African designers explore virtual worlds

Indeed, she believes that digital communication is a practical solution for African fashion. “Because of the widely flung distances and expense of travel for African designers and the industry in general, a lot of the interactions in

fashion on our continent have been done digitally. We have bought collections we haven’t physically seen on many occasions. Our African designers are not new to this and they do it well. If we can keep delivery times shorter and shorter, then for us this can be a great success.”

Viola Labi: The high-profile luxury retail strategist believes that technology is an essential tool for the future. She opened the first Versace Collection boutique in Accra, Ghana, and is also the founder of consultancy Woven Worldwide. ‘’We must develop a strong supply chain across the continent to turn it into a viable competitor on a global scale. International luxury brands in Ghana, such as Versace Collection, have the capital to invest in software and can truly provide futuristic experiences to interact with clients.”

Key takeaway: The African fashion world is keen to explore virtual fashion shows, for both practical and creative purposes — and a new generation of designers is leading the way.

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 For Vogue Business | All Rights Reserved


#West African designers explore virtual worlds

#West African designers explore virtual worlds

#West African designers explore virtual worlds

#West African designers explore virtual worlds

#West African designers explore virtual worlds

#West African designers explore virtual worlds




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