UCLA’s Fowler Museum has recently taken steps to highlight the richness of African art, culture, dance, and particularly, the beautifully intricate nature of African print fashion. In a robust exhibition complete with African print cloth, textiles, and a step-by-step, picturesque breakdown of African dance, the African artist community and new generation of African couturiers gathered on the famed campus to celebrate the African fashion in all of its royal glory.
In an exclusive event organized by Koshie Mills of K3PR, the Sentinel explored African print fashion in greater detail, namely African designers’ contribution to mainstream fashion and its integration into American culture.
Mills said that organizing the event was important to ensure African culture and design represented in its purest form. “I immediately jumped on board because I believe in that. I’m from Ghana, West Africa, and I think that it is very important to bridge the gap between the continent and America,” Mills said.
“Anytime that anyone is doing anything about Africa, I want to make sure that it’s authentic, the voice is real, it’s coming from a community engaged space, and so I put myself in that position where I want to make sure that we’re represented well,” Mills continued.
In terms of the platform for African designers, designer Nzinga Blake says that she wants to ensure that even the designers working out of shacks in Sierra Leone receive just as much recognition as those who are well known in the international fashion world.
“I want to be able to create a platform for a lot of the designers that don’t have the resources or the wherewithal to promote their fashions globally,” Blake said.
“It’s time for us to really elevate these designers. They’re not tailors, they’re actual real designers with amazing talents and gifts, and if you see high end retailers and designers like Burberry looking to African fashion and actually starting to incorporate it in their own lines, that says something, so now it’s time for African designers to actually get recognized,” Blake added.
When asked about the importance of bridging the gap between Black and African cultures and maintaining the African diaspora here in the United States, event producer, Miss Dunnie O. said that for her it’s a matter of taking advantage of each opportunity to represent her African roots.
“I’m first generation, both of my parents are from Nigeria, so for me, anytime I have an opportunity to represent my culture to show what we’re all about I’m always ready for it,” she said.
Actress Sibongile Mlambo also provided her thoughts on connecting with African culture. “I think it’s really important just to feel comfortable and to share because I feel like I am an ambassador of Zimbabwe, and anyone who meets me, they are meeting a part of Zimbabwe,” Mlambo said.
For Blake, she says it wasn’t always “cool” to be African, but with the help of celebrities like Beyoncé using African dance and print fashion to bridge the gap, it’s become more “luxurious” to embrace African heritage.
“I’ve got a give a shout to Beyoncé, who is also giving a lot of attention, and a lot of opportunity to African designers, and they’re making it mainstream and cool and apart of pop culture,” she said.
Overall, Koshie Mills says that “Africa is a wonderful continent rich in so many different things including culture” and that we can all find a piece of ourselves in its rich history. The African Print Fashion Now: A Story of Taste, Globalization and Style exhibition is expected to occur through July of 2017 at UCLA’s Fowler Museum.