Wednesday 1st of February 2023

Nairobi, Kenya

United States Of America Consulate Honours 20 Nigerian Fashion Designers

The United States Consul-General, Claire Pierangelo, played the perfect host when the Public Affairs Section of the Consulate General in Lagos organized a reception in honor of 20 emerging and mid-career Nigerian fashion designers who recently participated in the US State Department’s International Visitors Leadership Programme (IVLP). Funke Olaode captures the exciting moment

The atmosphere inside the expansive compound of the United States Consul-General’s residence situated in the highbrow area of Ikoyi, Lagos on Tuesday, September 28, 2021, was colorful and relaxing. From the colorful display by the 20 emerging and mid-career fashion designers, who participated in the International Visitors Leadership Programme, organized by the Consulate, it was evident that the evening was not an ordinary one. It was one marked with outstanding creativity and awards of excellence.

After intense three-week training, the participants were hosted to a beautiful reception by Pierangelo. In attendance were leading Nigerian fashion designers, creative industry leaders, and investors. Among the dignitaries were Deputy Chief of Mission, US Embassy, Kathleen FitzGiboon, Nigerian pioneer in fashion designing, Shade Thomas-Fahm, Senator Florence Ita-Giwa, and billionaire businesswoman, Mrs. Folorunsho Alakija.

IVLP, a three-week program with participants drawn from different parts of Nigeria is a collaboration between Nigeria and the United States. This year’s IVLP project titled, ‘Promoting Economic Growth and Trade in the Fashion Industry’, was unique for the opportunity it availed the participants to connect with their US counterparts and enriched their knowledge of entrepreneurship, business development, and innovation in the US fashion industry.

Pierangelo, while thanking her guests for honoring the invitation, highlighted the US government’s commitment to promoting economic growth and trade in the fashion industry, by empowering local fashion designers to not only thrive in Nigeria’s fashion industry but also to prepare for the global fashion marketplace.

According to the diplomat, this year’s program was done virtually but the process has trained thousands of participants over the years.
“This year’s participants were awesome. I am pleased with their creativity, energy, and enthusiasm. I know that they have learned the skills that will help their business grow. I know we have amazing designers who are set to rule the fashion industry. The United States created this program to strengthen economic growth in Nigeria, being the heartbeat of Africa. And with Nigerian artistes winning Grammy Awards, it shows that indeed the country is beating the heart of Africa even in entertainment.”

Speaking further, she said the purpose of the program is to help connect all the creativity of Nigerian designers to their American counterparts, not only to expose them but to use the opportunity and what they have learned during the program to grow their business. “The feedback we got was impressive; their energy and enthusiasm was amazing and I hope they will keep the tempo going,” she added.

Praising the Consulate for giving her the opportunity of a lifetime, one of the participants, Abiola Adeola of Treasure Stitches said she got to know about the program through the First Lady of Ekiti State, Mrs. Bisi Fayemi who nominated her. “The experience was good because we were exposed to the business side of fashion on how we can showcase and market our products to the international community. How we can attract investors. I am based in Ekiti and I am able to showcase our indigenous fabrics (aso-oke) which are woven locally in Ekiti State. Before now, aso-oke was occasional wear that was restricted to either funerals or weddings. To keep it trendy and make it everyday wear, I mix it with Ankara. The three-week training was an amazing experience because it boosted my confidence and opened my eyes to the international world.”

Corroborating Adeola, Peter Emealih of Rockdart, a Youtuber who teaches people for free and equally promotes African fabrics online said through IVLP his effort has paid off. I was recommended for the program. I do everything fabrics but with a mixture of African prints. Basically, the training helped me want to serve humanity in the fashion industry more.

“My takeaway was that I was exposed to other people and what they were doing. This broadened my horizon and knowledge and having access to the American market is awesome. On the economy side, we went to AGOA where they helped us to know the value of what we are doing as our wears can be readily available for export which in turn will increase the GDP.”

Bolupe Adebiyi, Founder of Cotton Loops who has been in the business for 15 years and has visited America several times said IVLP was a life changer as it has given her access to the international market. “The training, the strategy on how to market, and leveraging on the opportunity was superb. I use locally made materials such as hemp fabrics, batik, cotton mostly organic, tie and dye, and recently recycled denim for my designs. For me, my goal is to be number one and this program has shown me that it is possible.”

Speaking on behalf of other participants, President, lVLP Alumni Association (AA) Adetoun Tade expressed her gratitude to the American Consulate for the life-changing experience. Adetoun said IVLP is an expression of diversity: climate, fashion, creativity, and so on. “For us, the expectation goes beyond three weeks of training. It means when you enjoy such benefits you must give back. Again, the expectation is to bring African fashion to the global stage in a compelling way. And we are set to rule the fashion industry globally,” she concluded.

Content courtesy of This Day Live 

Hollywood’s Afrofuturism Role of African Heritage Fashion in Film 

She is Hollywood’s queen of Afrofuturist costumes: For 40 years, designer Ruth E. Carter has been developing fashion for major motion pictures, including “Black Panther.”

It is the most commercially successful Afrofuturistic US work to date: the Marvel blockbuster Black Panther was nominated for an Oscar in seven categories in 2019, ultimately winning three of the awards including for best picture and best costume design.

The Oscar-winning designer of the film’s groundbreaking costumes was Ruth E. Carter.

Carter, who was born on April 10, 1960, in Springfield, Massachusetts, had originally planned to pursue a completely different career path: She wanted to become an actress.

But it was when she started helping out in the costume department of her student theater group at Hampton University that she found a new calling. So after graduating from university, she trained as a costume designer at the Santa Fe Opera in New Mexico, subsequently moving to Los Angeles.

For more than 40 years now, Ruth E. Carter has been designing costumes for independent films and Hollywood blockbusters alike, working with Stephen Spielberg, Denzel Washington, and Samuel L. Jackson, among many others.

Using fashion to communicate African heritage

The outfits of the Black Panther protagonists are currently on show at the SCAD FASH Museum Fashion + Film in Atlanta, which runs until September 2021.

The 61-year-old Carter says she purposefully designs Afrofuturist costumes to convey messages on Black identities. For her, Afrofuturism means “to unite technology with imagination and self-expression to advance a philosophy for Black Americans, Africans, and Indigenous People that allows them to believe and create entirely without the barriers of slavery and colonialism.”

This approach to Afrofuturism is still relatively young and somewhat utopian, explains Natalie Zacek, a lecturer in US history and culture at the University of Manchester.

With Afrofuturism existing for over 25 years now, there are many different definitions of what image of African identities it is designed to convey: “Afrofuturism is often about imagining a world where the transatlantic slave trade has never taken place, without the European colonization of the African continent. What would have become of African cultures and societies then, artists wonder?” Zacek explains.

Afrofuturism between Hollywood and Nollywood

These visions of African identities, however, often differ between artists from the United States and those on the African continent: For decades, African authors have been writing science fiction stories, most of which are classically set in outer space or in a futuristic city. In recent years, the theme of the climate crisis has also been added into that fold.

But American and British storytellers often still focus on the past: “For artists in the US and the UK, the experience of the slave trade is always in the foreground of the diaspora experience,” Natalie Zacek told DW. The continent of Africa, she says, as a place of ancestors, is an almost mythically charged place from the past for many People of Color who live in the West. This is different, she says, for African artists, who live in Ghana or Nigeria, for example.

While African filmmakers are confidently venturing into genres like science fiction, they can often only dream of having the kinds of budgets that Hollywood productions do.

“The only film funding an African filmmaker can get usually comes from Europe, and European producers usually choose the kind of material that they think will do well at film festivals. That is content that deals with supposedly African issues like AIDS, genocide, the climate crisis and famine,” author and filmmaker Dilman Dila wrote in the international science fiction and fantasy magazine Mithila Review in 2017.

At that time, his science fiction film Her Broken Shadow hit the silver screens of Africa but was aesthetically more reminiscent of Blade Runner than of Black Panther.

Changing perceptions through art and design

In contrast to the films produced by African directors such as Dilman Dila or Jean-Pierre Bekolo, Black Panther grew into a global success, proving to Hollywood that a film in which hardly any white actors appear can make it big at the box office.

Carter was among the artists who contributed to the global success of the blockbuster. Throughout her career as a costume designer, she has primarily focused on the African-American experience, as the Atlanta exhibition makes clear, featuring 60 designs of her costumes over the decades.

Film director Stephen Spielberg hired her to design costumes for American slaves and slaveholders in the 19th century, for his blockbuster movie Amistad.

Spike Lee had her dress as an African-American action hero, and in Selma, she designed the look of civil rights icon Martin Luther King.

For Black Panther, Carter says she set out to introduce a radical change of perspective to the American public: “I think people will be able to contextualize and appreciate African art very differently now. That’s what we’ve done: We’ve appreciated it, we’ve reimagined it, we’ve evolved it and taken it to a different place.”

Content courtesy of Dw & Nairobi fashion hub 

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