African fashion has grown and developed in so many aspects since the time of colonial rule.
For a continent that is blessed with many resources, the colonial masters at the time denied Africans access to their resources and the freedom to cultivate in businesses.
Those in power had favored imported European textiles over African textiles and this saw the breakdown of infrastructure that was there from the start.
Gone are the times of colonization. It is the 21st century. The African continent has made its impact in the world of fashion.
Contemporary designers are now seen defying the odds and forcing recognition to be given to the African arts. This has led to tremendous success in African fashion.
Here is a list of the top 10 African fashion designers who have shown they are capable of competing alongside American and European fashion designers in the world. Please note that there is no particular order in which the designers are ranked.
1. Lisa Folawiyo (Nigeria)
Lisa Folawiyo’s stylish and traditional designs have earned her a solid spot in the world of fashion. If you find yourself loving Ankara styles then you will definitely fall in love with one of Lisa’s designs. Lisa Folawiyo is a Nigerian Fashion designer that has featured in several international media houses like The New York Times, Vogue, Style.com, and many others. She is the owner of the Jewel by Lisa label.
Born in 1976, Lisa was never originally into fashion, nor did she study it in school. She had graduated from the University of Lagos with a law degree. Her label, Jewel by Lisa, was started in 2005 from her home.
The young lawyer at the time developed an interest in the world of fashion and decided to make a career out of it.
Lisa was particularly interested in purses, jewelry, and clothing, and soon found a way to create a beautiful blend of African traditional fabrics with modern ones.
Today, her clothes have been worn by international celebrities, including the likes of Beyonce, Tasha Smith, Lupita Nyong’o, and many others.
Her designs have been featured in several fashion shows including the New York Fashion Week 2010, and the Paris Fashion Week 2010. Lisa has made an impact in the world of fashion and was awarded the African Fashion Award in 2012, amongst many other awards.
2. Imane Ayissi (Cameroon)
Imane grew up in a family of dancers and singers and had dreams of becoming one. He was enrolled in the National Ballet of Cameroon. His interest in fashion was inspired by his mother, Julienne Honorine Eyenga Ayissi, who was crowned the first Miss Cameroon after the country gained independence in 1960.
Imane Ayissi started his fashion journey by dressing some of the greatest dancers and choreographers in the world. Following this success, the young dancer and designer worked with big brands like Dior and YSL as a model. This inspired his designs to move more into creating African outfits for women.
The young Cameroonian designer is also the first black African designer to have his designs shown on the Paris haute couture catwalk.
Imane stands out for how beautifully and creatively he is able to construct clothes out of varied textures. He draws much of his inspiration for designing from dance, particularly the shape and movement of his fabrics when worn. He founded his label in 2004 and his designs have been worn by famous celebrities like Zendaya and Angela Bassett.
3. Deola Sagoe (Nigeria)
Deola strongly believes in the future of the African fashion industry, and she has made a notable impact in pushing the industry forward. She was born in Ondo State, Nigeria as the first child of Chief Michael Ade-Ojo, the founder of Elizade University.
While Deola majored in finance and management, her career blossomed in African fashion. She started her line in 1989 and soon became the stylish designer every celebrity wanted to wear. Her style reflects more of her personality as she likes to create multi-layered designs.
Deola Sagoe is the founder of The House of Deola Sagoe and has designed outfits for famous celebrities including Will Smith and Oprah Winfrey. She won the MNET/Anglo Gold African Designs 2000 Award.
4. Christie Brown (Ghana)
This is yet another prestigious fashion label from the African fashion industry. Christie Brown is a label founded and created by Aisha Anyesu, a Ghanaian fashion designer.
Aisha Anyesu developed love for fashion at an early age. However, the motivation for creating her own brand came from watching her grandmother, Christie Brown, create beautiful garments. The label was founded in 2008 and named rightly after her grandmother, Christie Brown.
Today, Christie Brown is recognized globally as a line that creates women’s apparel and accessories all inspired by African culture and art.
Christie Brown has been worn by many celebrities including Beyonce, Genevieve Nnaji, Jackie Apiah, and many others.
Aisha has won several awards through her fashion line. In 2016, she was listed as one of Forbes’ Most Promising Entrepreneurs.
In 2010, Christie Brown was the only Ghanaian label chosen to showcase in the Arise L’Afrique-á-Porter, in Paris during Paris Fashion Week. Aisha was also awarded two times the African Designer of the Year, Glitz Style Awards in both 2018 and 2019.
5. Folake Coker (Nigeria)
Much like how many of the top African designers emanate from Nigeria, Folake Coker is another prestigious designer that has successfully earned herself a place in the record books.
Born in 1974, Folake is a Nigerian fashion designer and the creative director of Tiffany Amber. Folake was never originally a fashion designer. She obtained a degree in petroleum law in Switzerland before returning to Nigeria afterward to pursue her fashion career.
The brand Tiffany Amber was founded in 1998 and after scaling through what was described as one of the worst times in Nigerian fashion industry, Tiffany Amber is now recognized internationally. With many awards in tow, Folake became the first African fashion designer to showcase her collection at the New York Mercedes Fashion Week for two years in a row.
Folake was the first recipient of the “Designer of the Year” award at the African fashion week in Johannesburg in 2009. In 2011, she was awarded “Fashion Brand of the Year” at the ARISE Magazine Fashion week. Several other awards and accomplishments have also been received by the Nigerian designer, all of which significantly contributed to her recognition as one of the big names in the African world of fashion.
6. Zizi Cardow (Nigeria)
Zizi Cardow is known for her use of Ankara prints to create contemporary women’s fashion designs.
Cardow’s fashion career started at age 17. The young Zizi had dreams of becoming a forensic profiler, but this quickly changed after she landed her first fashion job in an Italian-owned boutique. Her interest in fashion has peaked.
The label rightly named after her, Zizi Cardow, was founded in 2000. By the end of 2001, Zizi designs had graced several fashion shows in South Africa, France, Italy, and the UK.
Many awards have also been received by the Nigerian designer and all of these earned her spot in the list of top African designers.
7. Amanda Laird Cherry(South Africa)
Amanda is a South African fashion designer that creates beautiful designs for both men and women.
The South African designer studied clothing design and acquired experience before finally launching her own fashion label. Amanda Laird Cherry has been displayed in various fashion shows, including London Fashion Week.
8. Laduma Ngxokolo (South Africa)
Laduma Ngxokolo is a South African fashion designer that focuses on creating a modern twist on traditional Xhosa knitwear. Laduma founded the brand Maxhosa Africa in 2011 and has since become a major influence in the world of fashion.
Maxhosa Africa is known for its knitwear designs, which reflect the designer’s Xhosa heritage. Laduma studied Material Futures at Central Saint Martins in London, and has since won himself several awards, including the Design Indaba Most Beautiful Objects Award.
His designs have graced the runways of several fashion shows across the globe including invites to showcase at the New York Fashion Week.
Laduma’s designs have been displayed and archived in museums in Hamburg, Switzerland, and Berlin.
9. Lukhanyo Mdingi (South Africa)
Lukhanyo Mdingi is one of the significant contemporary African designers that are representing the creative energies of Africa.
A graduate of Cape Peninsula University of Technology for Fashion Design, Mdingi grew up inspired by Gianni Versace and the supermodel era. The Mdingi brand was launched in 2015 and has since been on display in several fashion shows including the Paris Fashion Show.
According to Mdingi, his recent designs are created by sourcing for textiles from crafts communities in Burkina Faso, Somalia, and nearer home in the Eastern Cape. “The idea is to see how we can create something that’s really modern, that marries artisanal craft with fashion that lives in the contemporary world, to create something that’s really honest, steady, and really strong.”
10. Hamaji (Kenya)
Louise Sommerlatte grew up in the countryside of Kenya surrounded by nature and this inspired her designs. The young Kenyan designer studied at FEDISA school in Cape Town and soon started her own clothing line which she called Hamaji.
Hamaji has since been a successful brand with its slow growth since 2017. Louise’s designs are fed by all her childhood memories as well as the ancient textile traditions of indigenous and nomadic tribes.