African designers eye growth at debut fashion week

Mon Jun 15, 2009 6:42am EDT
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By Sandiso Ngubane

JOHANNESBURG (Reuters Life!) - Traditional prints vamped up with stiletto heels and shoulder pads define the inaugural pan-African fashion week where designers from 20 countries are eyeing growth despite the global slowdown.

The recession has dulled demand for haute couture from Paris to Tokyo, but African economies are faring better than many in the west and designers hope the energy of a young fashion industry and this week's new platform will help lure buyers.

Adama Kai from Sierra Leone described herself as a pioneer in her country, better known for a devastating civil war where drugged-up child soldiers hacked off villagers' limbs with machetes, than swathes of chiffon and the vintage mini-dress.

"I'm hoping to get exposure, to meet buyers, to link up with some magazines," said Kai, who was trained in New York and Paris.

"We're growing The excitement of childhood, the excitement of youth is what African fashion really has to offer the industry right now." Kai added.

Kai said the global slowdown had forced African designers, like their peers in the fashion capitals of Paris and Milan, to focus on practicality rather than whimsical design.

While South Africa already hosts several events for local designers, this is the first pan-African fashion week, and is aimed at highlighting the continent's creative energy by bringing 50 designers from across Africa under one roof.

"We needed a platform where we can have the focus of the world on what the design output of the continent is," said Precious Moloi-Motsepe, chief executive of Africa Fashion International, the company that hosts the event.   Continued...