Shining a light on Subsaharan African Fashion with Readymag
After graduating from Condé Nast College with a BA (Hons) in Fashion Communication, we catch up with alumna Emma Hechle, from Nairobi, Kenya about her intriguing final project that explores a digital scape for the Subsaharan African fashion industry presented via Readymag.
Emma presented her final project via Readymag, which enabled her to show the interactive nature of ‘The Essence of Subsaharan Fashion’, a bookazine, online market place and digital platform to showcase the incredible fashion design talent coming out of Africa… here she explains the project in more detail…
What did you most enjoy about studying with Condé Nast College?
What an honour it has been to study at College. Two years is a very short time to gain the knowledge and confidence required to enter into the creative industry, and it was pretty intense from start to finish, but it was a great experience! I most enjoyed the feeling of accomplishment following the final major project – using what I had learned in a practical way.
Your final major project looks at Subsaharan Fashion, tell us more about your interest in this?
Growing up in Kenya, I was surrounded by African fabrics, beads and accessories, and was constantly drawn to the vibrant colours and patterns. I wanted to spread awareness of African designers and their wonderful artistry to a wider audience. It was fascinating talking to these creatives, and learning more about what it takes to source, make and bring their products to the global market.
What did your Independent Final Project help you discover about Subsaharan African Fashion?
I was delighted to ascertain just how sustainable the African fashion industry is. The majority of jewellery designers I researched use recycled metals and un-precious gems to create their pieces, and the garment designers often use up-cycled fabrics. The industry as a whole also helps a vast number of local people. The majority use local artisan groups from within their own countries to create their products, providing employment to many who would otherwise live below the poverty line, and boosting the local economy.
Were there any African designers that really stood out to you?
To be honest, all the designers that I featured in my bookazine were totally inspirational. Their brands are all based on sustainability and high ethical standards; working with the natural resources and the people of their countries to produce stunning creations which I believe could be hugely successful on the global fashion stage. They are imaginative and resourceful and can always make something out of nothing in an environment which is working against them.
What challenges do you see for the African fashion industry?
Geographical barriers are a distinct challenge: These designers and brands have to work seriously hard to get their products out past their own borders, due to economic, political and logistical circumstances. This is something which is going to take time to conquer, but the industry is most definitely making progress in the right direction as e-commerce expands.
A further challenge is that African designers tend to be put in a metaphorical box. One conversation I had with a jewellery creative educated me to the fact that many outside the continent view African fashion as simply traditional tribal wear, and don’t think it’s worth a closer look. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Yes, many of the designers draw upon their traditional backgrounds but they are incorporating these origins into contemporary fashion, creating unique and beautifully crafted pieces.
As a Kenyan, how do you perceive the fashion industry in East Africa?
As a child, it seemed that Kenya was very backward as far as fashion was concerned. The population was, in the majority, dressed in standard western style clothing both imported and locally made, or through the second-hand markets shipped over in huge containers by charities. All mass-market produce, non-sustainable and thoroughly gender-based. Although the traditional tribes still wore the colours of their people in the small villages, the rest of us appeared to be stuck in the last century, with very few affordable fashion shops. Over the last 10 years so much has changed. The designers and the market have begun to make our own style based both on where we live and the world beyond our borders, using what we have in our own country, and selling them in small shops scattered around the major cities. Where I would suggest we need to make more headway is with our footwear. We tend to have to purchase our shoes from overseas – although the local market in leather beaded sandals has always been amazing.
The Readymag proposal you put together really helps to bring the project to life, could you elaborate a bit more about the project’s touchpoints?
I believe that the more you know about where your product is coming from, how it was made, and what the brand stands for in this new environment of sustainable, ethical fashion, the more likely you are to invest in that product and brand both short and long-term. Towards this end, I very much based my touchpoints on telling the stories of my designers and their products. Obviously, the consumer then needs to be able to make their purchase easily and, with these designers all based overseas, digital touchpoints are the most effective way for the transactions to take place.
I incorporated QR codes for each designer into their bookazine page, which links to my website, which then acts as an online marketplace. This allows the designers to sell their products throughout the world. I used interactive techniques on social media in order to exhibit the designers and their products to users of digital media and link up with the website marketplace. And finally I created a virtual 3D event where the consumer could interact with the designers, using avatars, and shop from virtual stores. It’s vital that the designers, who are still virtually unknown on the global stage and are starting from scratch, be able to create their pieces without unnecessary overheads, meaning that virtual stores are really the way of the future.
View Emma’s Readymag project
Do you have plans to take the project forward?
Currently, as I make my way out of Condé Nast into the creative industry, discovering all that there is available to me, I am focusing my time on establishing which area – or areas – of the business I wish to settle into.
Finally, what’s next for you?
Although Condé Nast provided me with a vast array of theoretical and practical experience it is clear that the most important thing to do right now is further increase my digital skills. I am currently a design intern at an agency in London, which is providing me with an insight into how the real world works and I am getting a lot out of it.
Damilola Odeyemi, Recipient of the African Fashion Foundation Scholarship