African Fashion Week London was created by Ronke Ademiluyi to increase the visibility, awareness and sustainability of African and Black fashion brands through catwalk showcase, exhibition and education. The Africa fashion week program was created 13 years ago, out of the lack of inclusion of African and black designers in the UK’s mainstream fashion industry and it has showcased the creative designs of over 1000 African designers to a global audience, providing them with visibility and awareness so that they can become sustainable brands.
The annual event is the world’s largest, longest-running showcase of African and African-inspired fashion & design. ALT caught up with Ademiluyi on the lead up to the event.
How did you move from studying law to fashion?
Who won’t want to study African fashion, its bold and vibrant colours, it’s rich fashion heritage. I actually wanted to study fashion, African fashion to be precise but back in the days when I was studying fashion wasn’t seen as a lucrative profession, so I opted for law, although while studying law at the University of West London I was still engaging in my fashion entrepreneurship business by selling clothes to my friends who were studying too.
What inspired Africa Fashion Week London?
It was inspired by the lack of a platform that supported African creativity. Over a decade ago there was hardly any representation of Black or African fashion in the mainstream fashion weeks, so AFWL was born out of that urgent need and moral responsibility to create a market for African fashion and make it accessible.
AFWL is now known as UK’s largest African Fashion event – what were some of the challenges and joys to bring it to market?
For 13 years AFWL has consistently showcased the tapestry of African fashion, it is a platform for designers, artisans, weavers, promoting sustainability in African fashion and how it can be used as an instrument of job creation and wealth creation in Africa. We have contributed immensely to the success stories of so many African designers and we have designers who have been a part of AFWL for over a decade.
Initially when the idea of hosting an Africa Fashion Week in London came up in 2011, no one thought it was a good idea, and this was due to the fact then that we hardly knew any African designer in London and African Fashion wasn’t popular back then, but now due to the creativity and innovation of the new generation of African designers, who are blending traditional African textiles with modernity, it has opened African fashion up to a global audience.
What advice will you give to aspiring designers?
To keep telling their stories through their fashion as every collection tells a story,
To take risks, to always show up and step up at every opportunity to showcase their creativity
To become that leader in fashion and let leadership show in their projects.
To stay focused with their aspirations as I did with African fashion week London, which has now become a leading voice in the global fashion space.
We have seen on the continent the success of designers like Christie Brown. What do they owe that success to?
Consistency, tenacity, and creativity our unwavering commitment to keep putting African fashion out on the global stage. The continent of Africa has over 3000 tribes and each tribe has its own unique fashion culture, so we are just scratching the surface of fashion from Africa or fashion inspired by Africa.
How has the pandemic affected the fashion industry as a whole?
I feel it affected the fashion industry in both ways negative and positive, as it allowed designers to look for alternative ways to showcase their designs in the digital space, it created the use of digital models and online fashion weeks, where people could sit at home and watch fashion within the comfort of their homes. While it allowed for so many digital inventions within the fashion industry, this had a negative effect on the use of physical models, because at a stage designers were using digital models.
But everything has gone back to normal now, but the pandemic really taught us how to think out of the box.
What have been some of the game-changers for African fashion in the last five years and what role does eccomerce play?
Ready To Wear has really been a huge game changer for the African fashion, decades ago African fashion was only worn on traditional occasions and ceremonies, but now there is ready to wear African fashion all over the world and the eccomerce platforms have played a very pivotal role in enabling the global audiences access African fashion.
What are the trends designers you like for fall/winter 2023?
Who are your customers/ attendees at AFWL?
Our customers are African designers from the Africa Continent and from the African Diaspora too.
The African Cotton Textile and Garment industry.
The Trade and Investments Councils in Africa
The Export Promotion Councils
We encourage all of them to participate in AFWL as our Textile and Garment industry can create jobs and grow our GDP in Africa.
As per our audience we are the gateway of African fashion to the world so we target a global audience, including Africans and Afro Caribbeans in the diaspora.
If you had to travel and could only take five designers clothes with you and you had a brunch, red carpet and business meeting what would you wear for each?
It would definitely be a fusion of African and contemporary designs made out of our indigenous hand made fabrics like Kente and Adire. Because each piece will tell its own unique story.
What can we expect from 2023 AFWL?
We have moved to a new venue
The IOD in Pall Mall
We have added a new initiative to AFWL and its called UKATE The Beyond Fashion UK AFRICA TRADE EXPO.
With the aim of bringing the value chain of the fashion industry together and the influence they have on African fashion, highlighting the culture and commerce of the African fashion industry.
Giving the Keynote Address is His Imperial Majesty The King of Ife Kingdom Ooni Adeyeye Enitan Ogunwusi Ojaja II.
Also as a covid bounce back project we set up an indigenous textile factory to support female artisans in 2021 and they have been creating hand made Adire textiles for designers and a lot of this will be seen on the runway at AFWL 2023.
We have a line up of over 60 designers this year representing the continent of Africa and its Diaspora and there will be a Royal Closing Black History and Lifestyle Awards Gala with celebrities on the runway.
AFWL2023 on 27-29 October 2023 116 Pall Mall, London. The largest catwalk and exhibition event showcasing African fashion and design outside Africa.