Whose story is it?
New directions in creativity can start when cultures meet. Ideas about the shape and style of clothing, the way textiles are decorated or the materials used, are exchanged between people. Often new textiles are a product of ancient trade routes, religious conversions or the colonial histories of particular countries. Traditions from one place are re-created in another and a new tradition is developed.
Emmanuel Adukwu was born to Nigerian parents, grew up in Nigeria and came to Bristol in 2013. He is a Senior Lecturer in Biomedical Science and Department Lead for Employability, at the University of the West of England. As well as being the creator and coordinator of the Africa staff network and creator and director of their annual Africa Week event he was also co-founder of the Aspiring Professionals Hub platform.
Today I’m talking about my own personal interest in African fashion, African textiles, African designs and one of the things that really interests me about this is what the African clothes says about culture and cultural exchange and diversity.
Identity is a very key thing when it comes to African fabric and African designs and African styles. Many years ago I never found myself in the situation where I wore African clothing in the UK because there were never really the right spaces for me to do that and this is something which I have taken into the workplace because I recognise that people of African origin, African descent never actually wore any of these different sort of different attires and that sparked conversations around ‘What exactly are you wearing?’ and that was a very good starting point and it created education about what it is that other people wear in different spaces.
One key area of interest for me is that of exchange. Now ‘where do I source them?’ I tend to get that question all the time. So I tend to travel, you can find some of these in the UK. I remember specific stores in Manchester or in London where you can actually go and buy a lot of these different fabrics. However, when I do travel occasionally and I go to Ghana, I go to Nigeria – The North of Nigeria, the south of Nigeria, the West. We all have different individual styles. But what has changed as well is the movement of some of these ideas across different spaces that you don’t necessarily need to be in the north to wear clothing that actually has a northern print and northern embroidery. You can get that from the south.
In Nigeria you would always hear about the hollandais, which is Dutch wax, that people actually always source from the Netherlands but you can always get now across different parts of the continent. With a lot of designers also showcasing this stuff on social media sites like Facebook and Instagram you can now see something which is an African print across the continent but also in the UK, in the US you find people can create some of these different of things. It is now being seen as mainstream and also growing in its appeal. Eventually once we start to get people to learn, to wear, to buy, to try, we then move away from the questions about costumes into what we all now find now as mainstream designs and mainstream attires across the world anyway.
These days things have moved on because you have quite a lot of modernisation in terms of design and styles and people are now wearing these different designs and these different styles across the continent. But not just in the continent of Africa but if you come over to the UK, you go to the US, you go across Europe, you find people wearing a lot of African designs and for many people who would have seen the recent movie black panther, you would have seen across the world, a lot of people are turning up wearing things which are showcasing some of the different African fabric, different African styles, African prints, and that’s showing how widely it is now being seen as mainstream.
For some people, how they dress is also a political statement. Wearing an African fabric for a lot of people also signifies or indicates a shift. We’re moving away from this sort of colonial idea in terms of outfit and dressing but what we want to do eventually is try to get people to learn. Want to actually get people to actually talk to us about what we wear, exchange ideas, educate others. It’s also encouraging other people to try out these different designs, try out the different fabric, try out what we wear, see how we actually have a lot of skilled designers and skilled tailors who are creating a lot of these different materials.
For me dressing was never really a major passion of mine but is now become a passion of mine with regard African design, African textiles, African prints, African fabric and I think it’s here to stay and I hope that the wider public will start to engage a bit more with it and actually enjoy seeing the lovely flamboyant colours that are African clothing and African outfits and African designs.