Ethical fashion is rapidly transforming the socially conscious yet unfashionable repute to a thriving niche market that’s capturing the attention of mainstream fashion.
At the center of fashion’s ethical demand lies Africa. The continent has become the go-to destination for emerging ethical designers because of its highly skilled artisans, raw materials and rich culture. No longer having to choose between morality and style, ethical designers are pushing the boundaries within sustainability and fair trade to launch collections that give consumers beautifully constructed, one-of-a-kind garments.
This year, New York Fashion Week is playing host to South African ethical fashion brand 466/64, a clothing line that is said to give percentages of its revenue to humanitarian projects within the rainbow nation. 466/64 is amidst a slew of ethical lines hitting the runway across the globe, and unlike some of its ethical counterparts, the brand is African-owned and made—a refreshing yet critical element to ethical fashion.
Ethical designers who hail from Africa have strong ties to their countries. This connection ensures that ethical and African inspired fashion doesn’t fall victim to trend. African-inspired designs are indeed trendy and prevalent—as seen by Michael Kors, Burberry and Donna Karan—yet African designers themselves remain obscure on the fashion scene.
With ethical fashion, African designers can breakthrough fashion barriers while providing a distinct cultural lens to African inspired clothes and economic opportunities for artisans who are the source of that inspiration.
“It is time to take advantage of this global attention on Africa's culture,” says Ivorian, and ethical fashion designer Loza Maleombho. “African culture becoming mainstream offers durable development opportunities and showcases our wealthy culture on a global scale.”
Since launching her ready to wear line, Loza Maleombho NYC, in May 2009, Loza Maleombho has managed to generate economic independence and empowerment to artisan women living in the Ivory Coast. Her New York based fashion line is produced in the Ivory Coast through fair trade practices in which she provides Ivorian women freelance paid jobs, hands-on training and clean working conditions.
Maleombho has thrived in liberating Ivorian women and their families while producing exquisitely detailed, modern and culturally saturated collections.
“When an African woman is provided with a steady job, she re-invests in her children’s education and levitates the quality of life in her community,” says Maleombho. “I have seen these women work with hope in their eyes and a smile on their face because I presume they think someone finally cares.”
More designers are continuously creating alternate solutions to alleviate economic and social burdens in Africa while showcasing their talents. Laurence Chauvin Bathuad is another ethical designer pushing the limits with her modern yet cultural menswear line, Laurence Airline. Like Maleombho, Bathuad helps generate employment in her Ivorian hometown.
Christine Mhando, founder of Chichia London aids her country Tanzania by incorporating ethical collections funding child education alongside the use of naturally sourced materials.
Sustainable materials are key components for ethical labels Modahnik and Jose Hendo. Modahnik founder Kahindo Matenee uses sustainable materials sourced throughout Africa while Jose Hendo designer Josephine Kyomuhendo, looks to her country of Uganda to make fashion forward clothing out of raw material.
Stay tuned to EBONY.com for New York Fashion Week for a closer look at these African designers, and the stylish impact they’re making on the continent, and the world of sustainable, and environment-friendly fashion.