While most people marveled and reveled in British designer, Stella McCartney's recent Spring Summer 2018 Paris Fashion Week showcase, I on the other hand, a Senegalese/Cameroonian fashion student, could only remember pieces from the collection as memorable in an entirely disappointing way. Described as, "A vibrant celebration of British Style and a joyful display of colour", the SS18 collection saw an array of fresh feminine pieces lingering among the sea of African designs— seemingly out of place.
The problem? These pieces, known throughout most of West Africa as "Ankara" or "Kaba" are made of traditional Ankara prints— unique to the region. For many of us Africans, we recognize these prints as the "Ankara" dresses that our mothers, grandmothers and aunties would sport to wear around the house, or simply out to run errands (and notably cost a fraction of the price). Much like Kilts are culturally significant to the Scottish, "Ankara" is quintessentially African to casual wear.
My initial look at these runway images took me through a spectrum of emotions: I was stunned. I was dumbfounded. I was insulted and I was hurt. But most importantly, I was sad. Sad for my African people, whose pride, skill and culture lie within the very fabric of these designs. Sad for the millions of people who Stella McCartney's reach will never grasp and discover the incredible talent that lie behind these African designs. See, it goes beyond just "yet another designer ripping off a culture that is not theirs" and "cultural appropriation"—this issue is one that is much greater. It's not enough to cry "cultural appropriation" without truly understanding the insidiously problematic and dysfunctional effect that moments like this represent.
The African fashion and textile industry is one that is one of the most underrated, talented yet booming industries. This industry has birthed remarkable talents such as David Tlale and Maki Oh, amongst others. Though, despite the incredible design talent that the African continent produces, one major aspect that is lacking is visibility. Visibility is something that can skyrocket an unknown designer from a small Ghanaian town into the international fashion stratosphere-to be credited and revered by fellow, yet more well-known, designers like the Marc Jacobs and Michael Kors of the world. Visibility is something that a fashion powerhouse like Stella McCartney could have easily given to African fashion, but sadly chose otherwise.
While I am admittedly—yet strangely—proud of the fact that a major designer like Stella McCartney would take inspiration from Africa and Africans, it's still important to protect artistic dignity in giving credit to those who gave you the inspiration that you are profiting off of by, either featuring a black model wearing said designs. (Again. Visibility.) or collaborating with other emerging African designers.