Ralph Lauren, Marc Jacobs, Tommy Hilfiger—some of the many male designers who create clothes for women – often headline the fashion weeks of the West. But in Dakar, Senegal and other African hubs such as Nairobi and Lagos, fashion is progressively becoming a women’s business.
At Dakar’s 17th annual fashion week, which ended Sunday, not only were 80% of the featured designers African women—the show is run by Adama Ndiaye, a female Senegalese designer and entrepreneur.
The decision to include a female majority in her designer lineup was easy, Ndiaye said. Women know women’s bodies better than men, and that’s reflected in the quality and aesthetic of their designs.
Furthermore, Ndiaye said, the show serves as a conduit through which she can lift up other female entrepreneurs.
“Women are always seen as less, no matter where we are, but it’s even worse here in Africa,” she said. Young girls are often expected to stay home to learn to cook and clean with their mothers while their brothers go to school, she noted.
“So if I can give women the opportunity to be in the fashion show, than I do,” she said. “Because it’s not a democracy, it’s me who gets to decide.”
Tchianna Pembey, a Congolese designer who participated in Dakar fashion week Friday, was inspired to start her brand Lupita Swagga in 2013 to pay homage to her imaginary world—a world run by women.
As an African female entrepreneur on Planet Earth, she said, she must work twice as hard as men to accomplish her goals. But in her dream world, there are only women.
She describes her clothes as “afro-futuristic”; they feature elongated shoulder pads and flowing material that descends from the back – representations of wings with which she can rise above the hardships of life on Earth and into her feminist fantasy.
“In my world, I’m the queen, and I can fly,” she said. “Remembering that is what gives me the strength to deal with things in real life.”
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