West African Fashion Designers Explore Virtual Worlds

Leading fashion designers in West African luxury fashion discuss the potential of digital fashion shows and marketing.

Back in May, Congolese designer Anifa Mvuemba, founder of fashion label Hanifa, staged a mould-breaking virtual fashion show over Instagram Live using beautifully conceived 3D renderings instead of models. The show was an unprecedented global hit, both on social media and in the mainstream press — arguably one of the fashion moments of lockdown.

Mvuemba’s achievement highlighted the potential of technology to transform the digital fashion show into a spellbinding spectacle. It also shone the spotlight on innovation in the West African fashion world, where designers are eager to reinvent their marketing strategies in the time of lockdown.

Besides Hanifa, other West African labels such as David Tlale, Christie Brown and Allëdjo Studios have launched collections in recent weeks through virtual shows or via lookbooks on social platforms. Kassim Lassissi, a Beninese designer for the brand Allëdjo, even found a live DJ to host his launch on Instagram. The virtual experience, it seems, has been truly embraced by African luxury fashion.

The designers

Anifa Mvuemba: Hanifa has 285k Instagram followers, with tens of thousands of them tuning in for the brand’s virtual catwalk, showcasing her Pink Label Congo collection, staged on 22 May. Although she’s based in Baltimore, in the US, Anifa Mvuemba draws her design inspiration from her home country of Congo. The self-taught designer first conceived the idea of a 3D show five years ago.

“I feel as though African designers will be innovative with the resources they have access to for creating a fashion show,” she says. “In my case, I previously learned 3D technology prior to Covid-19 and was able to amplify that experience in the form of a fashion show much later. The future of fashion shows for African designers is limitless. We just need the access and knowledge to bring our ideas to life.”

Aisha Ayensu Obuobi: She’s creative director of Christie Brown, one of Ghana’s best-known luxury fashion brands. Aisha Obuobi first fell in love with fashion watching her seamstress grandmother at work. Christie Brown, named after her grandmother, was founded back in 2008, staging its first runway show in Accra, Ghana. Responding to lockdown, the company came up with a digital “see now, buy now” show for Spring/Summer 2020, which drew more than 29,000 viewers on Instagram. “Little did we know that there was a whole pandemic on the horizon,” Obuobi recalls. “But it forced us all to reinvent ourselves in our ways of doing things.”

The 3D creatives

Percy Nii Okine: He’s a Ghanaian 3D visualiser, working with a variety of brands as well as emerging fashion designers. “West African designers are gradually warming up to virtual possibilities with regards to fashion and are willing to imbibe new ideas to push African fashion on a global scale,” he says. “Post-Covid-19, virtual shows won’t become the new convention but [will represent] a good alternative to the physical fashion show.”

Baboa Menson: The founder of BalmLabs is a CLO3D specialist from Ghana who focuses on conceptual design and photoreal visualisation of concepts for fashion designers. “I think it’s a bit early to tell, but I believe virtual shows will create many more jobs and opportunities in the industry,” she says. “I’ve started to see a rise in designers wanting to incorporate 3D technology into their process. It’s mainly a result of the pandemic. It is exciting to see how significant it’s going to be.”