Back home in Dar Es Salaam with a global fashion pedigree, two degrees from Parsons School of Design and stays at Vogue in New York and Vogue India in Mumbai, Nisha Kanabar took stock of the disjunction of access to high-end African fashion. Coming from the media industry, not having that point of clear and consistent education about the industry and market access was shocking, she said. This led her to create Industry Africa in 2018, a platform highlighting some of the continent’s leading luxury fashion brands. While this was a well-crafted resource for fashion enthusiasts to learn more about designers they would have otherwise spent hours browsing Instagram for, one key piece was missing: shopping.
A brilliant redesign this summer means users can now browse and purchase everything from AAKS bags from Ghana and Kikoromeo jumpsuits from Kenya to Pichulik earrings from South Africa, all in a digital showroom. The new site also includes an editorial section, To print, for which Kanabar partnered with Natasha Nyanin, a New York-based writer and creative consultant. We caught up with the duo to learn more about their vision to bring a far-reaching African fashion experience to curious shoppers around the world.
Nisha, what inspired you to start Industrie Africa?
Nisha Kanabar: I wanted to tackle misconceptions and shatter exotic stereotypical impressions of what African design really is. Were building this 360 degree pole of contemporary African fashion: a place of commerce, a place of content and a place of community. Were able to create context throughout the buying process.
Natasha, what drew you to what Nisha was creating?
Natasha Nyanin: I am a citizen of the world, I am a traveler and I am someone who lives an existence without borders, but I am also from Ghana and I am passionate about sharing African stories. The key was to capture a diverse set of voices from as many corners of the continent as possible, and bring a local perspective and an understanding of fashion in a global context. When people think of Africa, they think of black people, but there are all kinds of people who make up Africa. It is important for me and for the Nishashes of Indian heritage to broaden the understanding of Africa through the prism of fashion.
What do you look for in the brands you work with?
NK: There are plenty of interesting ways for designers to take historical techniques and incorporate them in 2020 through modern interpretations. Aso-Oke is a Nigerian fabric used by Shekudo based in Lagos; they mix them with leather to create contemporary and very easy to wear shoes. There’s a label called Nkwo in Nigeria which is inherently sustainable: they create their own fabric called Dakala fabric through offshoots of fabric scraps, using this Japanese stripping technique. It’s super interesting how they took something that’s effectively discarded and turned it into something innovative.
Awa Meit, based in Bamako, is a young girl from the neighborhood, and she is increasingly recognized for her work with local artisans in Mali. She works with materials such as bogolan or mud to create truly exceptional pieces. Ivorian designer Loza Maleombho was recently featured in Black is king. Her signature are hand hammered embellishments shaped like West African masks, and some Beyonc pieces are held together with those beautiful curls, with that urban glamor.
Natasha, who are your favorite designers on the site?
NN: Emmy Kasbit is a Nigerian designer who works with an Igbo textile called akwete. It’s nice to see this fun juxtaposition of bright colors and woven textures of the fabric breathe new life into menswear. Sidai Drawings works closely with the Maasai community in Tanzania to use Maasai beads to make contemporary jewelry. Friend Doshi Shah is based in Nairobi, and her Torque necklace and Form earrings are both quite interesting sculptural studies. Diarrablu de Dakar makes very beautiful resort clothes, flowing dresses, very ethereal, diaphanous swimsuits, easy dresses.
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