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Fearless African Fashion: African Designers You Need to Know

For far too long, African designers have gone nameless. We only know the wax prints, kente cloths, and articles like the infamous dashiki of the 70s. African design was seen as “niche” or as accent pieces to highlight otherwise Euro and American styles. But lately, African designers are being heralded not only on the catwalks of Fashion Week, but on the red carpets of Hollywood as well. With creations spanning from accessories and swimwear, to cinema wardrobe and haute couture, these ambitious designers are making their own rules while the world is merely playing catch up.

Dumebi Iyamah – Andrea Iyamah

Originally known for killer swimwear, Nigerian designer Dumebi Iyamah is making a splash in the world of couture with her fashion line, Andrea Iyamah. Originally a fashion blog, Dumebi launched “A.I.” at the young age of 17. The baby sister of six children, she saved her money to buy her first sewing machine at age 12. Her first ever design was a pair of shorts and a jacket she insisted her sister model for her. Thus began the journey to Andrea Iyamah. In the years since, Dumebi and her designs have graced stages at the University of Pittsburgh, nonprofit fundraisers for children’s organizations in Nigeria, and even the red carpet at the EssenceFest in Durban, South Africa. Today, she looks to the new season from her design studio in Ontario, Canada.

House Of Tayo

Matthew “Tayo” Rugamba – House of Tayo

Hailing from the beautiful country of Rwanda, Matthew “Tayo” Rugamba is turning menswear on its heel with his line of bowties and other accessories. Founded in 2011, the mission of House of Tayo is to display African style, flavor and sophistication through locally made clothing. Born in London, Matthew remembers falling in love with tailoring as early as 8 years old. When faced with misconceptions about Rwandan life and culture, Tayo decided to fight ignorance, with creativity and sartorial savvy.

For inspiration, Rugumba turned to local craftsmen and tailors in Rwanda. Starting first with bowties, then expanding to ties, scarves, and shirts. When asked to categorize his work, Rugamba identifies House of Tayo as a “distinctly African” brand. He highlight that the Tayo designs are constructed to suit African climates and body types. House of Tayo has been featured on CNN, Huffington Post, and and in the exclusive web series House Of Tayo: Journey Of A Rwandan Designer.

Christelle and Michelle Nganhou

Christelle & Michelle Nganhou – Grass Fields

With a mission to “put the love back into African print clothing,” Cameroonian twin sisters Christelle & Michelle Nganhou launched Grass Fields in March of 2013. The line was the brainchild of Michelle, an MBA grad job hunting in the United Kingdom, after being told on a job interview that she wouldn’t be allowed to wear her “bright colors and prints.” Discouraged, but determined, she returned to Cameroon from the UK and asked her sister Christelle to go into business with her selling clothes online sources in their beloved Cameroon and their adopted home in UK.

Another pride of the fashion house, is their commitment to the responsible sourcing and manufacturing of their designs. All the African print fabrics used in the Grass Fields collections are sourced from Cameroon, Nigeria, Benin, Ghana and the Ivory Coast. The twins employ 21 seamstresses, working in three workshops in the UK and Cameroon. Their hope and ultimate dream is to open an African print manufacturing company in Cameroon and create more jobs in the region.

Mind of Kye

Kyemah McEntyre – Mind of Kye

Two years ago, then 18 year-old Kyemah McEntyre took the Internet by storm when her self-designed prom dress went viral. After rightfully winning Prom Queen, she immediately got to work designing for red carpets while simultaneously starting school at Parsons The New School of Design. Kye’s designs have earned her recognition in Vogue, Glamour, Allure, and even an interview in the New York Times. The young designer has seen her designs worn to award shows ranging from the Black Girls ROCK ceremony on BET, to the Golden Globes.

Wale Oyejide

Wale Oyejide – Ikiré Jones

Beginning as musician, and then switching gears to practice law, Nigerian-born Wale Oyejide tried many paths before turning to fashion design. Despite having no formal fashion training, Oyejide was named one of the “Best Dressed Men in America” by Esquire in 2010. That nod motivated him to launch his own bespoke menswear fashion line, Ikiré Jones with the help of friend and musician Sam Hubler.

Fast forward to 2016 and the internet is abuzz with excitement about Marvel’s newest feature “Black Panther.” Knowing that his designs were perfect for the film, he reached out to Marvel via one epic tweet: “Seriously Marvel are you guys going to let @IkireJones do the wardrobe for “Black Panther” or nah?” Before he knew it, the film’s representatives, and later, lead costume designer Ruth Carter was on his line. Now, you can catch glimpses of his line in the upcoming film in 2018. About his recent success, Wale doesn’t downplay the hard work behind the scenes. Telling OkayAfrica: “it’s kind of a fairy tale thought to picture someone checking their twitter feed and randomly discovering my work. But I think it’s more realistic that as my reputation as a designer has grown over time, people have generally become more aware of what I do and what I stand for. I was contacted by a representative of the film who thought we would be a good fit, and the relationship went from there.”

From menswear to Marvel films, these designer more than have what it takes to propel African fashion to unimaginable heights. African style is much more than “tribal” accessories, but it is a representation of culture, identity, and pride across many nations. One by one, these designers are carving new niches and showing that there’s more than one way to be fabulous. So the next time you’re looking for the next “wow” piece for your wardrobe, look up some of these designers. We can’t wait to see what they show us next!