Filed under: The Fashion Statement
The fashion world is obsessed with Africa. To wit, see a spring look at Rodarte (above) shown on a model painted with tribal tats.
The New York Times had a wonderful story last week about why this is so, listing all kinds of converging influences from Afrobeat musician Fela Kuti to the popularity of Duro Olowu and a whole host of other Nigerian designers in London.
And there's a separate phenomenon emerging from fashion's fascination with Africa. Fashion philanthropists who are capitalizing on this trend and all the while helping the people who need it most: Africans.
The NYT mentioned filmmaker-cum-designer Max Osterweis and his Suno line that brings jobs to people in Kenya. Suno's line of graphic patterns inspired by vintage African kangas he collected during his travels can be found at Opening Ceremony in Los Angeles and New York. Even Michelle Obama has worn Suno.
Time magazine's Style & Design issue earlier this year wrote a story about global fashion executives forging partnerships with artisans and, as a result, has boosted employment and changed lives. Max & Co. is one of the retailers carrying beaded necklaces, belts and crocheted pieces sewn by Kenyan women.
I came across another fashion activist last year. San Francisco attorney Ann Elston traded her corner office for a life of peddling jewelry at tradeshows, festivals and retailers all to benefit the Blue Men of the Sahara, or the Tuaregs. The Tuaregs are historically expert silversmiths and they are nomads who roam anywhere from Morocco to Niger. Recently, they have found their way of life threatened by borders, dictatorships and lack of economic opportunity.
So Elston runs a website that sells Tuareg-made jewelry without keeping a penny for herself.
"It's all they've got," she told me today, noting the basics like good hospitals, police and schools in Niger are substandard given the current political situation.
I'm particularly impressed with the chunky cuffs that are inlaid with ebony amulets. It's just the sort of primitive, slightly fierce look the fashion world craves right now.
Check it out at http://www.tuaregjewelry.com/products.php?row_offset=10&cat_id=2
So I'm appealing to fashionistas far and wide: As long as we're pining for all things African, go to the source now and again. Whether it's beads made by women in Nairobi, jewelry by the Tuaregs or kangas by Kenyan women, buy goods that can benefit the country we're having a love affair with right now.