8 African Fashion Designers Driving Social Change That the World Needs to Know

African fashion, just like African music and art, is currently having a moment on the global stage — and we are here for it. International celebrities like Naomi Campbell, Zendaya, Tracee Ellis Ross, Angela Bassett, and Beyoncé — with Queen B having been pictured wearing some African designers in the visual movie of her award-winning album, Black Is King — have helped put some of the continent’s designers in the spotlight.

Not only do these designers deserve props for their stunning garments, but they’re changemakers in their own right too, helping to boost Africa’s developing economy, standing up for equity and climate action, and setting a new standard for African talent, making sure the world knows what Africa is really made of. 

It helps a lot that just like its people, Africa’s fashion is audacious and revolutionary. For instance, designers like Nigeria’s Adebayo Oke-Lawal and Fola Francis are using their designs to push boundaries and challenge the stereotypes of gender on the continent. Congolese designer Anifa Mvuemba, meanwhile, is credited as being the first person to curate a 3D virtual fashion show for her label, Hanifa, which went viral in 2021.

The fashion industry is the fourth largest industry in the world and according to Statista, the global revenue of the apparel industry was $1.5 trillion in 2021. What this means is that the success of the African fashion industry can have a huge impact on the continent’s economy. With the continent having the highest rate of poverty in the world, investing in the fashion industry and other sectors can help transform the lives of people living in poverty

A thriving fashion industry in Africa means more employment opportunities, investments in development, and global recognition not only for fashion designers, but also for the local tailors, artisans, and entrepreneurs they use. Many fashion brands in Africa are now also creating programmes to provide resources, contribute to societal growth, and empower people who want to work in the industry.

With the success of the African fashion industry worldwide and the potential economic growth that could come from it, this is a great time to find out more about, support, and invest in the African fashion industry. So here are eight globally recognized African fashion brands that are also helping take action on some of the world’s biggest challenges that you have to know, follow, and support. 

1. Orange Culture

Orange Culture was founded in 2011 by Adebayo Oke-Lawal, a Nigerian fashion designer. His beginnings are those of a true millennial, as Oke-Lawal has been designing since he was 11 and taught himself with the help of YouTube, and is now one of the most prestigious designers in Africa. 

Orange Culture is more popularly known for their menswear, which has been worn by African celebrities like Global Citizen advocate Davido, Rita Dominic, and Ice Prince, and was the first Nigerian brand to stock their clothing at iconic UK department store, Selfridges. 

Through their program, The Orange Mentorship, they provide mentorship and resources to young fashion entrepreneurs all over the continent to also build their fashion empire.

2. Hanifa 

Anifa Mvuemba is a Congolese designer best known for the viral 3D fashion show that combined two of her passions, fashion and technology, in an epic showcase of her brand Hanifa during the height of the pandemic in 2021. 

Mvuemba founded Anifa 10 years ago and the brand has since become known for its captivating ready-to-wear designs for women of various sizes. Her debut show was in the National Portrait Gallery on Nov. 16, 2021 in Washington, US, with over 20,000 people streaming the show on YouTube. 

She’s also the founder of The Hanifa Dream, an initiative that empowers women-owned organizations that “elevate fashion through passion, purpose, and social impact.” 

3. Thebe Magugu 

Thebe Magugu is the luxury self-titled label of Thebe Magugu, a South African fashion designer, who founded his label in 2016. 

Through fashion, Magugu tells the stories of his heritage and culture while bringing important issues into the limelight. In his past collections, he has made commentary on sexism in South Africa, South Africa’s apartheid past, and femicide — with South Africa’s President Cyril Ramaphosa describing gender-based violence as “the second pandemic we are confronting” in November 2020.

In 2018, Magugu won the LVMH prize, which is a prestigious award given to young fashion designers by reputable designers in the industry, and has since been featured in Paper, Another Mag, Vogue, and other international publications. Magugu primarily designs ready-to-wear clothing for women.

4. Imane Ayissi 

Imane Ayissi is a model, dancer, and fashion designer born to Cameroonian parents in 1969. Before starting his fashion business, Ayissi was a sought-after model who walked for popular luxury labels like Dior, Givenchy, Valentino, YSL, and Lanvin. 

Drawing inspiration from cultures all over the African continent, Ayissi creates haute couture luxury ready-to-wear pieces. Ayissi is also an advocate for environmentally-friendly fashion and often uses natural and organic materials that make the least impact to the environment.

5. Christie Brown

Christie Brown was founded in March 2008 by Aisha Ayensu, a Ghanaian fashion designer and creative director. 

The luxury brand, which is named after Ayensu’s grandmother, makes innovative and unique women’s ready-to-wear apparel and accessories. When designing for Christie Brown, Ayensu reimagines traditional clothing and modernises it for today’s audience. 

6. Ahluwalia

Priye Ahluwalia, founder of Ahluwalia, was born in London to a Nigerian father and an Indian mother. Drawing inspiration from both her Nigerian and Indian heritage, she designs award-winning ready-to-wear menswear. 

In 2020, Ahluwalia was one of the recipients of the prestigious LMVH prize and the following year won the Queen Elizabeth II Award for British Design. Ahluwalia’s label is also focused on being environmentally-friendly and she uses vintage and dead-stock (discontinued and vintage items that are no longer in stock) clothing for a lot of her designs.

7. Loza Maléombho

Loza Maléombho is an Brazil-born Ivorian fashion designer who has been designing since she was 13. 

After interning in world-renowned fashion labels in New York City, she decided to establish her own label in 2009. Maléombho now creates clothing and accessories that combine traditional African aesthetics with modern contemporary fashion. 

She also works with local artisans from Ivory Coast, including shoemakers and weavers, to incorporate their trade in her collections.

8. Tongoro

Founded in 2016 by Sarah Diof, a woman of Senegalese, Central African, and Congolese heritage, Tongoro is a ready-to-wear womenswear brand that produces playful and unique apparel. Headquartered in Dakar, Senegal, Tongoro sources their materials from artisans across Africa, and Diof makes sure to work with local tailors as a way of fostering the economic development of artisans on the continent. 

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