Out of East Africa…

May 28, 2009 § 1 Comment

Max Osterweis of Suno is far from the first designer to re-interpret African fabrics and introduce them to a new audience. Kanga is an East African fabric (mostly specific to Kenya and Tanzania and their islands). It is also called Leso in Kenya. It is perfect for high temperatures – which of course makes it perfect for the summer – because of its lightweight airy nature and the fact that like most African fabrics it is 100% cotton. I am happy to see that while Suno is designed in New York – they are made in Kenya. His designs appear to have made fashion news all over. I like his designs.

 a glimpse at Suno's lookbook

a glimpse at Suno's lookbook

I always have a bitter sweet relationship with such breakthroughs because it makes one wonder if an African designer would be as well embraced if they had in fact made these designs – of course this can be a subjective matter. Many new designers searching for fresh ideas – in the case of Africa, especially European designers – simply take an already existing African print and fabric and apply western design. I have seen designs (not from Suno) that have resembled exactly African dress (the style, fabric, and print all being local to someplace) thereby not applying much creativity but otherwise sold under a label that was not African and somehow managed to sell really well. I often wonder what the legalities of that are especially because a lot of rules do not apply in Europe that do in the US. Also, the way I see it, Europe still has a lot of dealings with Africa that are quite frankly, exploitative.

But, its a globalizing world and there are of course issues of ‘entry into the market’, ‘marketing’, ‘PR’, ‘establishment brands’ to contend with and so on that requires resources, knowledge, and a certain amount of “in” and these have to count too. Also, its just business (??). I worry about these things as being yet another resource that Africans might not well benefit from. African creativity has served many artists (all the way From Picasso and before) well over the years and without much acknowledgment. But, I am happy to see that, this is changing (also thanks to the internet besides social movements) and at least it is often clear where the inspiration and products are from.


§ One Response to Out of East Africa…

  • Success says:

    It’s interesting that you mention that European and Caucasian designers are incoprporating African prints in their designs. I am working on a story about that. Diane von Furstenberg for example, uses a lot of African prints. I find it a little unsettling though that such designers rarely acknowledge the African inspiration in their clothing lines.

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