Meet the Ghanaian author documenting the history of African designers

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For years, major highlights of the African fashion industry went undocumented – missing the mark for a much younger generation of people looking for information to reference for research purposes. Books that focus on African fashion are available, however. Kenneth Kweku NimoAfrica In Fashion: luxury, craftsmanship and textile heritage,are revealed and document the work of leading African designers of the present, past and future.

Ken Kweku Nimo is a Ghanaian-born, South African-based fashion writer and researcher who has been hugely influenced by the continent’s vast and immersive cultural scenes. He obtained a first degree in economics, statistics, then created a business related to fashion. He then created a digital store that provided services to schools and other institutions.

Nimo was looking for more challenging tasks and enrolled in a research-based fashion program, Fashion Merchandising then LISOF, now STADIO. Since then he has worked in fashion spaces like luxury flagship store Luminance and menswear brand Odrin. Working in these spaces – and seeing stark disparities between stocked international brands and local brands – Nimo asked questions that led him further in his studies, where he earned a master’s degree in fashion design from the University of Johannesburg.

Through her book, Nimo uses these experiences, her knowledge of fashion and her observance to help us understand, outside of academia, the inept happenings within the African fashion industry. Africa in fashion: luxury and craftsmanship..

OkAfrica talked to him about his journey in fashion, why it was important for him to publish this book, what he found during his research, and more.

Photos courtesy of Kweku Nimo

How did this journey start for you?

Between the time I spent in these flagship stores and the individual brands, it was a great opportunity to meet many designers in South Africa. I will visit their studios and hire them. After completing my painstaking dissertation, I took it upon myself to understand what made these brands unique and why they could command this kind of value. I also visited Cape Town to collect data from local designers. I will sit down with them, ask very relevant questions and record. Unbeknownst to me, I was gathering data to create the book.

As I logged off for 2020, I was having a conversation about a brand called Lezanne Viviers with one of the designers. Livestock workshop.I told him that I intended to create a book and that I was considering archiving it. She said, “That’s it!” It was doubtful for a moment. She asked. “who else?” That’s when I started imagining the idea. Sent a synopsis of the idea to agents and editors and it just started.

Photos courtesy of Kweku Nimo

If we bought the book, which designers would we find?

The book is an attempt to both document the current scene and share the history of African fashion. It was done in a unique way. For example, with the history of African fashion, the reader is not subjected to a chronological analysis of the history of African fashion, but to what I call the vectors that have shaped the history of fashion African. I briefly touched on [slave]Transatlantic trade and trans-Saharan trade. I also talked about colonization, globalization and culture. These are the four most important elements that have shaped African history, and I find the reading fascinating.

I also talked about the current designer scene, as well as the evolution of African fashion since the 21st century. I will try to revive the fashion icons that shaped African fashion at the start of independence. Shade Thomas-Fahm was one of my favorites. Alphadi and Kofi Ansah were also mentioned.

I briefly touched on textiles, their stories and their origins. Many of them are not widely known. Even jewelry and adornments, before wrapping it up with contemporary designers making waves around the world. They were the new wave of African designers, such as Lukhanyo Mdingi (Thebe Magugu), Tokyo James, Maison ArtC, Adama Paris and Bubu Ogisi. Mmuso Maxwell, Christie Brown and many others. It was hard to capture all of these brands in one volume, to be honest.

What were the most important things you knew about these brands before contacting them?

I started with a long list of criteria, and my main focus was global impact. The book is meant to be inspirational and can help inspire the next generation of designers. They must see each other there. Brands need to be visible enough to do something unique, and those brands are where they are because they’re doing something unique.

I also looked at “stability”. You would see that some of these brands might not make the headlines. But they stood the test. It was important for me to document brands that have been around for a while. If you read past books on African fashion, you will see that some of the brands featured are no longer active or in the public domain.

We also considered brands that weren’t just here in Africa, but identified with us on other continents and were displaced for whatever reason. Imane is based in Paris, T-Michal is in Norway, Mimi Plange in New York and many other brands.

Africa In Fashion: Luxury, Crafts and Textile Heritage delivers in front of the face of man.

Photos courtesy of Kweku Nimo

It is very interesting that you refer to some previous books on African fashion. How would you respond if we asked you to tell us what sets yours apart from other African fashion books?

This book delves into the voice of the designer. It’s theirs. There is part of the African fashion industry from my point of view, then there is theirs. These designers are what you listen to. They literally took the book back. The book takes you behind the glamor of what they do. For example, Adele Dejak holds no barrels and castigates designers who want African creations to always look like “cheerios cheap”. She used that term. This book literally allows them to speak directly to readers. That’s what sets it apart.

This book also attempts to provide a comprehensive view of the operations of the industry as well as the current African fashion scene. We also discussed the economics of the industry and its impact, emerging issues like retail and everything to do with shaping the African fashion industry.

What do you want this book to accomplish?

I want this book to be on the shelves of as many fashion schools and institutes around the world as possible. I want young African creators, both in Africa and abroad, to be able to look at the book and see themselves on the same level as the famous creators.

I look forward to writing more books on fashion and marginally on African culture. This is an area very little represented in the literature.

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