The holiday season is upon us – here is JANET + GEORGE’s list of Top 10 African Fashion Designers to Watch 2020 – as Africa continues to reclaim its position around the globe, both economically and socially, in many sectors. One of the sectors the continent has reclaimed is the fashion industry which has proven to be moving faster than any other industry. Fashion designers in Africa, both emerging and established, have proved to the world the potential of African creativity in African fashion design. Aside from using the traditional African print fabrics to create designs, African designers are also incorporating fabrics from across the globe to come up with captivating designs.
African Fashion designers on the continent, determined to push the boundaries further, took African ingenuity to new heights, by creating collections that speak for itself, catching the attention of global influencers, celebrities, and industry leaders. Many African designers are featured in renowned top publications such as Vogue, Forbes magazine, and CNN Style. Slowly but steadily, the world continues to watch the new crop of fashion design talents emerging from Africa. Continue to read on to discover who made the JANET + GEORGE list of Top 10 African Designers To Watch 2020.
1. Imane Ayissi
Imane Ayissi is a fashion designer with an interesting background. Born in Cameroon, he comes from a family of artists and performers. His father was a heavyweight champion boxer, and his mother, Julienne Honorine Eyenga Ayissi, was crowned the first, ‘Miss Cameroon’ after the country gained its independence from French colonial rule in 1960. At a very young age, he was curious about the construction of his mother’s dresses and would deconstruct them to understand the workings of making garments. As his interest in fashion grew, he started creating looks for his mother, and other customers in Cameroon. In 2004, Imane Ayissi moved to Paris to work as a model and dancer; walking for the likes of Dior, Yves Saint Laurent, Lanvin, and Valentino. It was during this time that he decided to launch his eponymous label, creating ready-to-wear cocktail dresses made of Burkina Faso’s national textile fabric, Faso Dan Fani. The brand grew beyond its borders and has shown at Lagos Fashion Week, Dakar Fashion Week and Shanghai Fashion Week. The Imane Ayissi collection consists of Couture and prêt-à-porter – a mix between African heritage and western fashion. After years of hard work, the Cameroonian fashion designer was honoured and invited to present his spring/summer 2020 Haute Couture collection as a guest member of the ‘Chambre syndicale de la Haute Couture’ in Paris (Paris Fashion Week). “I’ve worked very hard to get to this point. It was my third time trying, and it worked! It was a very touching moment,” Ayissi said of the strict rules of the Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode (FHCM). Expect to see more great designs coming from Imane Ayissi in 2020.
2. Thebe Magugu
Thebe Magugu is a South African fashion designer who should be on your radar in 2020. Born and raised in the small town of Kimberley, Northern Cape, South Africa, his passion for fashion led him to Johannesburg to pursue a degree in fashion design, photography, and media. He eventually went on to win the best graduate collection. After his graduation, he interned and worked for several fashion institutions and retailers before establishing his namesake label, Thebe Magugu. The brand focuses on women’s ready-to-wear. As an accomplished designer, Thebe Magugu won the LVMH Prize 2019, and International Fashion Showcase 2019 from the British Fashion Council. He was also acknowledged as a Rising Star in GQ South Africa. British Vogue September issue 15, titled, Forces of Change, saw Sudanese Top Model, Adut Akech, wearing Thebe Magugu’s tartan and Airtech mini dress from his, ‘African Studies’ collection. Without a doubt, 2019 was Thebe Magugu’s year. He is not letting a global pandemic curb his rise to stardom. Keep on the lookout for more amazing things from this South African designer in 2020.
3. Sarah Diouf
Made in Senegal, available to the world, Sarah Diouf is another astonishing African fashion designer that you should know off in 2020. Sarah Diouf is the genius behind fashion label, Tongoro. Before launching her made in Africa fashion label, she dabbed her hand in various entrepreneurial endeavours. She launched Ghubar in 2019, a fashion, arts and culture magazine, promoting diversity and creativity in the African and Arabic culture. This led to notoriety amongst brands. As a consequence, she founded a visual production company – IfrenMediaGroup, which housed all her media activities. She launched her fashion label Tongoro, when she saw a gap in the industry. Tongoro began as a womenswear label and has recently expanded into the menswear industry. “A lot of new designers were positioning themselves as a luxury brand within the African designer fashion market,” says the designer. Sarah Diouf decided to come up with a more accessible and affordable brand to cater to the niche market of Made in Africa fashion. Tongoro is a 100% African fashion brand. All the materials are sourced on the continent and is handmade by local tailors. It is Sarah Diouf’s goal to contribute to the development of retail production in Africa, by opening a production facility in Dakar, Senegal. Her label has been worn by the likes of Beyoncé and Nigerian singer, Burna Boy; her designs were also featured in Beyoncé’s Spirit music video.
4. Sindiso Khumalo
From architecture to fashion design, Sindiso Khumalo, the designer behind the namesake label, has a very rich cross-cultural background. Born in Botswana, she was raised in Durban, South Africa, and went on to live and work in the United Kingdom. Sindiso Khumalo studied architecture at the University of Cape Town before moving to London to work with award-winning Ghanaian British architect, David Adjaye. It was during this time that she decided to make a shift towards fashion design and proceeded to pursue a master’s degree in, ‘Design for Textile Futures’ at Central Saint Martins in London. Since completing her master’s course, Sindiso Khumalo’s design journey has been trending upwards. Focusing on women’s RTW, she was shortlisted in Elle Magazine’s, ‘Rising Star Competition’ in 2012, where she showcased her debut SS13 collection. Her ‘Aretha Dress’ was nominated for, ‘Most Beautiful Object in South Africa’ by online publication, Design Indaba. She was also an LVMH Prize finalist. The designer works with various organisations throughout Africa to develop new textiles for her collections. The Sindiso Khumalo brand is globally recognised and is one of the African designer fashion labels that should be on your watch list for 2020.
5. Dumebi Iyamah
Dumebi Iyamah is the African fashion designer behind Womenswear brand, Andrea Iyamah. Born in Nigeria, the African fashion designer launched the Andrea Iyamah brand at the age of seventeen years. She draws her inspiration from ethnic cultures and colours from the vast and rich cultures across Africa. Her iconic designs consist of striking women’s swimwear made of vibrant colours and cuts mimicking African heritage. The brand also hosts a range of ready-to-wear pieces. Andrea Iyamah is based in Canada, where the brand aims to capture a more diverse clientele. Make sure to keep on the lookout for more from Dumebi Iyamah’s brand. A top 10 African Fashion Designers to Watch 2020 list would not be complete without Andrea Iyamah.
6. Kassim Lassissi
Kassim Lassissi is another designer that should be on your radar in 2020. He is the young designer behind the unisex brand, Allëdjo. Born in France of Beninese parents, he grew up between France, Benin and Togo. After obtaining a degree in Literature and Business Administration, his adventurous and curious nature led him to travel, and explore various cultures of the world. It was during this time that he decided to launch his own brand. Inspired by his travel to Morocco, he created his first collection, and Allëdjo was born. Allëdjo means traveller in Yoruba, a language spoken by the Yoruba people of West Africa, which are mainly located in Nigeria and Benin. The brand was founded in May 2018. His vision behind Allëdjo is to create a brand that is a crossing between fashion and travel. Each collection is inspired by a destination and its culture. Keep on the lookout for more from Kassim Lassissi’s brand Allëdjo and enjoy beautiful loose-fitting silk shirts and bottoms that are perfect for a style-savvy wanderlust.
7. Adebayo Oke-Lawal
The Nigerian designer, Adebayo Oke-Lawal, is the designer behind the fashion label, Orange Culture, founded in 2011. Born with designing skills in his bloodstream, Adebayo Oke-Lawal began designing at the tender age of ten. Prior to starting his fashion label, Orange Culture, the designer was a qualified banker who had no formal fashion and design education. He acquired his designing skills by taking on internships with other designers, where he learned to sew before venturing out on his own. In 2019, the rising star stunned its audience at New York Fashion week with its SS20 collection. Oke-Lawal and his brand Orange culture are growing and is gradually drawing in a more global audience. The brand was featured on the cover of Billboard, the American music charts leader, in May 2020. The cover features Nigerian singer, Davido, wearing an Orange Culture jacket and pants from its SS20 collection. As the year progresses, stay tuned for more dazzling designs from Adebayo Oke-Lawal and Orange Culture.
8. Kenneth Ize
Kenneth Ize is another Nigerian fashion designer, under the namesake label that you should know about. The designer has been receiving raving reviews from industry leaders like Anna Wintour of Vogue magazine, ever since becoming an LVMH Prize nominee in 2019. Kenneth Ize was born in Lagos, Nigeria, and is taking the traditional Nigerian fabric and craft to a whole new level. “We were made to think that everything coming from the West was better, and that machines are more superior to handcrafted items, and we started losing our heritage. We are reviving, reinterpreting and giving new context to artisanal techniques that have given meaning to the West African identity,” says Kenneth Ize. These techniques have not changed since the 15th century. Passionate about preserving the Nigerian heritage, the designer works with a dedicated network of artisans across, Kwara, Kogi, and Lagos making Aso-Oke (a handwoven fabric created by the Yoruba people of West Africa) and Adire (Indigo resist dyed cotton fabric), turning them into his much celebrated collection of trousers, coats and shirts for men and women. A signature of the designer is leaving yarns fringed at the hem of coats and shirts. Next to being nominated for the LVMH Prize in 2019, he also made his way to the BoF500 list. As Kenneth Ize continues to tighten its grip on the African fashion industry, you should expect to see more of him in 2020.
9. Anifa Mvuemba
Anifa Mvuemba is the Congolese designer behind US based Womenswear label, Hanifa. The Congolese fashion designer launched her clothing line in 2012 after dropping out from a fashion course at Morgan State University. Anifa Mvuemba saw a gap in the market for women with African features, a curvy and non-sample sized body type in the industry. She started to design collections that enhance and compliment the curvy African body. After being brought to the spotlight, by RNB singer, Ciara, the brand grew from strength to strength. Anifa Mvuemba and her clothing brand, Hanifa were featured in Forbes and Teen Vogue in 2019. At the height of the Corona virus pandemic in May 2020, the designer came up with an innovative solution to be able to create the biannual show without risking the health of models, staff and fashion show goers. Anifa Mvuemba staged a 3D fashion show over Instagram Live. She made use of a black backdrop to highlight her Pink Label Congo collection. The six looks that the designer created for the Pink Label Congo collection was shown by invisible curvy figures, moving slowly to the beat of Africa. Anybody that matters in fashion is talking about this unique show and are looking to the industry to come up with similar creative solution for the bi-annual shows. Pay close attention to Anifa Mvuemba and her brand Hanifa, as we enter the second half of 2020. JANET + GEORGE’s Top 10 African Fashion Designers to Watch 2020 list would not have been complete without Anifa Mveumba.
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10. Katungulu Mwendwa
Katungulu Mwendwa is the Kenyan designer behind the Nairobi based edgy Afro-futurism African fashion label Katush. At an early age the designer was taught to nurture her creative skills, with her mother being a psychologist, and father an architect. It was during the times that she was exposed to the creative process of her father’s work that she developed a keen interest in patterns, shapes, angles, and volumes. Not knowing what to do after finishing high school, she attended the 2007 Catwalk Kenya competition, and won. With her victory in place, her future as a fashion designer was sealed. She moved to the UK to pursue a degree at the University for the Creative Arts in Rochester, United Kingdom. After graduating, she moved back to Kenya, where her post-apocalyptic fashion label was born. In 2012, she was invited to showcase her designs at Gen Art’s ‘Fresh Faces in Fashion’ show at New York Fashion. Upon arrival, she was made to feel that she didn’t fit the stereotypical role of what African Fashion is. “It was exciting, but extremely nerve-wracking.” I remember some people saying, ‘but your stuff doesn’t really look African…’ They were waiting for something with more colour, with more prints, and I had this post-apocalyptic, nomadic thing going on! And I struggled with that at the beginning. The whole concept of being told I’m not African enough, and I used to wonder what that meant. These days, I’m like, no, that’s not my battle. And now I’m designing what I like to make,” says Katungulu Mwendwa. Emboldened by her experience, the Kenyan designer continues to catch global interest with her brand Katush. Discover more of this made in Kenya brand in the second half of 2020 and beyond.
Top 10 African Fashion Designers to Watch 2020 – JANET + GEORGE
The African fashion industry is moving at a rapid pace. More and more African designers ascending onto the scene with awe-inspiring and sophisticated made in Africa fashion looks. Despite the global pandemic of Corona virus, African designer fashion is here to stay, as proven by the JANET + GEORGE list of Top 10 African Fashion Designers to Watch 2020. With technology and social media at play, designers are finding creative ways to show their craft to a global audience. Gone are the days of African fashion being labelled ethnic fashion. African designers are thirsty to be seen and heard. And we are happy for it. JANET + GEORGE will continue to highlight and feature the best designers the continent has to offer. Follow us so, you don’t miss our next list of Top 10 African Fashion Designers to Watch 2020.