Toronto’s First African Fashion Week

Toronto’s first Africa Fashion Week was held  on August 15-18 at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre.

Throughout the 4 day celebration there were various events inclusive of fashion shows, student design competitions, a marketplace, lots of after parties and, the most exciting part for FTA, a dynamic panel hosted by Africa Fashion Guide.

Africa Fashion Guide is a social enterprise that promotes sustainability within Africa’s fashion and textile industry. It’s run by multi talented Jacqueline Shaw and is inclusive of a very informative website, a published book and numerous business and consultancy projects.

The panel, focusing on ethical fashion and it’s role within Africa, consisted of myself (Meaghan Grewal), Local Button’s Ann Pringle, Sasha Hamilton who is a product developer for a major Canadian fashion retailer and has worked with co-ops in Rwanda and Supafrik’s Chinedu Ukabam.

The discussion started out with opinions on the creative potential of producing in Africa. There was no debate on the potential or the capacity of the continent for ingenious and unique textile and techniques but there were numerous stories of experiences about the difficulties in actually producing. The major consensus was the inability to source raw materials locally.  Examples of unused mills to produce finished cotton were cited in Nigeria and Kenya as well as the exportation of premium cotton from various countries where locals only then have access to the downgraded versions.

One main aspect that came out of the hour long discussion was the need for long term thinking. The mainstream fashion industry is in a destructive race to the bottom, jumping from country to country looking for cheaper labour and cheaper raw materials. Eventually there will be no new production hubs to exploit and all that will be left is a trail of formerly employed work forces with empty factories. Africa has the potential, since it can essentially start from a clean (ish) slate, to change the model, utilize and harness it’s natural craft industry and production capacity, to create it’s own model for fashion production and truly revolutionize how sourcing and production has been thought about thus far.

It’s these next few years, with those on the frontier currently producing within the continent that will shape this future and this dialogue commences through panels such as this one and inaugural events as Africa Fashion Week Toronto that will catapult the movement through example and consumer awareness.

By Meaghan Grewal, FTA Board Member