African-Made Luxury Fashion Done Right
A new class of key players in the African-made luxury fashion space have learned from the mistakes of precious stakeholders, and continue to evolve and build sustainable businesses, one of such brands leading the shift is Studio 189. The timing could not be any more perfect, as it has grown to become one of the most well-loved brands by African celebrities like Burna Boy, and Africans in the diaspora, especially as this is the year of the return.
Based in Ghana and the United States, and spearheaded and co-founded by Hollywood actor Rosario Dawson, and Abrima Erwiah, the social enterprise is committed to sustainable practices, and recently won the prestigious CFDA Lexus Fashion Initiative Award for Sustainability.
This brand and the recognition it is getting, is such a breath of fresh, clean air, and proof that a socially conscious brand can thrive and still earn a profit. This message could not be more different from previous narratives that were relentless and adamant about the need to compromise on quality for sustainability or vice versa. Thought leaders have prior to, always insisted that “African-made” and luxury fashion didn’t belong, or could not be included as part of the same conversation.
Prior to the popularity of brands like Studio 189, the only instances we would see African textiles, prints and patterns on display were when they were being culturally appropriated by brands like Dior or Junya Watanabe. African culture has been constantly, over the years, made out to be something it is not, all while exclusively catering to a demographic that realistically had no knowledge of, or appreciation for them, and weren’t required to, to be honest. What’s worse is the unconscious pressure to feel grateful that we were being recognized at all. Thus, it is not lost on me that movies like Black Panther, and brands like Studio 189, finally are able to open up the conversation and instigate some real change.
What many non-African designers and fashion houses, as well as previous old glory African designers lack is an understanding of how to sell the “made-in-Africa” story, so new brands like Studio 189, with a bit of luck with timing, and social media, are successfully developing direct-to-consumer structures for selling. So much so that the African luxury goods market was valued at $5.9 billion in 2016, and LVMH predicts that it will grow by 30%, in the next five years.
By collaborating with Edun, and learning from their mistakes, in terms of starting slow and focusing on producing high quality garments, as opposed to leveraging star power (Rosario Dawson’s popularity as a Hollywood actor), Studio 189 has managed a much warmer welcome. By working with the United Nations to start a small operation in Ghana, the brand has been able to kickstart important conversations about social consciousness.
Between Africans in the diaspora needing to find physical props to kickstart the journey of returning to their roots, and the new age of consumers requiring production to be sustainable, Studio 189 is bang on target, and we are here for all of it.