Let’s Be Real

This August the UK’s capital embraced African fashion and culture. In the space of two weeks it hosted African Summer Festival and the African Fashion Week London (AFWL).

First up was the African Summer Festival held in Covent Garden featuring live entertainment, fashion shows, exhibitions and stalls. It was held on a lovely bright day and there was a wonderful atmosphere with the crowds dancing along to Fuse ODG alongside a host of other artists.

The following week was AFWL. A celebration of established and aspiring designers showcasing their African inspired designs to an international audience for the 5th year running. The event received widespread media coverage and was well attended by bloggers who excitedly covered the latest collections on the catwalk.

Copyright © Africa Fashion Week London

New Africa

It is encouraging to see the level of excitement, optimism and enthusiasm for all things African. It really felt as though the spirit of TINA (This Is New Africa) was coming alive on the catwalks. However when discussing both events with friends there was one issue that we all noticed and commented on: where were all the clothes for plus size women? Perhaps naïvely I expected to see some curvy ladies gracing the catwalk in Covent Garden, but instead the models had the slender physiques that you would find at a European Fashion show.

Copyright © Africa Fashion Week London

There’s no doubt that the models were beautiful and elegant, but I would have thought that at the very least the stalls selling African fashion at both events would cater for fuller figured women. Yet at the stalls that I visited there didn’t seem to be anything in my size, 16. My daughter — who is a size 12 — had no problem finding clothes. It’s possible that the larger sized items had sold out before we arrived, but I left feeling a bit disappointed that there was nothing for me.

The following week, a friend who is beautiful and curvaceous, attended AFWL and had a similar experience. She said that she left the event feeling fat and overweight because none of the stalls she visited catered for her size. Other people I’ve spoken to made the same comments.

Copyright © Africa Fashion Week London

Breaking Old Stereotypes

Body shape has long been a contentious issue within the fashion industry. Waif-like girls still feature regularly on catwalks, but recently there has been a move against using models that are noticeably underweight with brands such as Dove creating campaigns celebrating ‘real’ women. There was an angry backlash to the outdoor adverts that asked women whether they were ‘Beach Body Ready’. In mainstream fashion it seems being ‘real’ is better than being ‘perfect’.

Flexin’ My Complexion

This move towards a more inclusive image of beauty has led to the emergence of the hashtag #FlexinMyComplexion being used on Twitter by darker skinned women to celebrate their skin tones. The Sudanese model Nykhor Paul added to this movement when she took to Instagram to rant against makeup artists who didn’t come prepared with colours to match her beautiful “blue black” complexion.

As a professional makeup artist I know that some brands such as Bobbi Brown, Fashion Fair and MAC do produce darker shades. However there is a wide spread acknowledgement that more needs to be done to cater for all skin tones.

Coming Out Of The Shadows

Let’s be honest, I am — like many women of colour — naturally more curvaceous, but that doesn’t mean we are any less beautiful. We should all take pride in the fact that African designs are being embraced on the catwalks. It would be great to see different body shapes represented, and be able to buy cutting edge haute couture fashion in larger sizes too.

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