The BE YOU campaign for this spring/summer season centred on enabling greater inclusivity within Africa’s fashion network.  

Twenty months into the pandemic, fashion designers and other creatives are still reeling from reduced demand for their garments and the closure of physical stores during lockdown. African Fashion International (AFI) launched Fashion Week Joburg with a no-fee payment structure, allowing established and up-and-coming designers to showcase while recovering from an unsteady economic climate.  

AFI understands that diversity is to be given a spot on the runway line-up but inclusion is to be comfortable showcasing, and for the collection to be valued as worthy of critique and admiration. The diversity observed on the runway coincided with diversity amongst the audience, culminating in an expressive experience of African distinctiveness and belonging.  

To date, stories told through Afro-centric fashion has steered toward vibrant colours, natural fabrics, and references to the cultural identity of the designers themselves. Beyond racial diversity, which is a standard practice for Fashion Week platforms on the continent, AFI Fashion Week was a celebration of diverse silhouettes, as well as diverse age groups and sexualities.  

Designers such as Love Jane, presented collections with plus-size models.Yvonne Chaka Chaka graced the runway for Lufi D, and her presence gestured a progressive transition in our collective understanding of beauty and ageism.

Modest wear, targeted to the Muslim community, was shown by designers within the Senegal Collective and its appeal extended into a cross-demographic luxury market.  

Trendy, and emphasising a long-desired cultural shift in gender and sexuality, was the enchanting introduction of menswear skirts. Designers including Amen presented the skirts as a silent but powerful cue that identity is uninhibited and fluid.  

In curating the line-up AFI strived for an equitable assortment of luxury ready-to-wear collections, allowing the audience to shop within their preferred price-points. It is a matter of significance that a large portion of the local market make purchases based on affordability. The official AFI Fashion Week stockist, House of Nala, hosts the collections via ecommerce and at their physical store at the Leonardo, with offerings ranging from high-end to the aspirational.  

Fashion that gives thought to the diversity of the audience makes for an exceptional reception to an inclusive runway. AFI Fashion Week continued with its three-tiered ticket offerings, and was also live-streamed for free to global audiences watching from home. The supplementary Fashion Week line-up included the exclusive opening to Fashion Week at the Leonardo and the Masterclass for creatives, and both were unrestricted and open to the public at no cost.    

Finalists of AFI Fastrack, a programme targeted to designers entering the industry, showcased alongside their more established peers in an intergenerational crossover of talent. The underlying goal was to elevate emerging designers through their proximity to the well-established, breaking the barriers between the insiders and outsiders.  

In the 70s European fashion houses ceased their domination over the luxury fashion landscape as American designers influenced transformation through multi-cultural expressions of freedom and style. In 2021 AFI aimed to do the same, raising the bar in industry access and equity, using its status as an insider to propel necessary transformation. Overall, AFI Fashion Week was a celebration of diverse interpretations of Africa. For the world to appreciate Africa’s contributions, we have a responsibility to appreciate all the parts of ourselves that we give the world.