AZ Factory by Thebe Magugu.
AZ Factory by Thebe Magugu.
Image: AZ Factory

In the next five to ten years, we can expect African luxury fashion brands to scale. This is Xavier Marin’s optimistic view, according to a recent report from Vogue Business. Marin is the chairman of Trail, a European private-equity firm that in April announced a partnership with Birimian, a venture-capital firm focused on supporting the development of African brands.

The two announced plans to invest at least $5m in African brands, annually. “We know African heritage is going to be a big thing. If you look at music or fashion, there's a lot of interest there,” Marin said at the time.

These predictions are not misplaced. Signs abound across the creative industry landscape that ‘Africa, Your Time Is Now’ is no longer just a term emblazzoned on a t-shirt. It’s becoming a reality.

The past couple of years have seen Africans making strides on the global stage in the cultural sector. Nigeria’s Burna Boy has become a dominant global music-chart force, for example. The likes of Tems, Ckay and others appear to be treading the same path. Genres like afrobeat — although clearly misunderstood by many observers — as well as amapiano have become part of the global music conversation. In the visual arts sector, the likes of Kenya’s Wangechi Mutu, Morocco’s Hassan Hajjaj and others are kicking down doors all over the world, leading a renewed interest in the continent’s abundant art market.

Similarly, our fashion designers are no longer just the talk of runway sidelines. Thebe Magugu’s “Girl Seeks Girl” is a permanent feature of the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Costume Institute in New York. The designer recently collaborated with adidas, enlisiting the help of frequent collaborator, artist Phathu Nembilwi, to bring to life the stories of the women in his life through a vibrant collection that includes a reimagination of signature adidas footwear styles like Stan Smith, Astir, Nizza and Forum.

Thebe is also a featured designer in the Victoria & Alfred Museum’s “Africa Fashion” exhibition, spanning decades of African fashion creativity, to celebrate the continent’s contribution and impact in global fashion. Running until April 2023, it’s the largest exhibition of its kind anywhere in the world. The New York Times has called it “an overdue moment” for a continent that has, for decades, inspired Western fashion while remaining largely underrecognised.

But it’s one thing for African designers — and cultural producers of all stripes— to receive global recognition, as that is not something new. We’ve seen the likes of David Tlale appearing on the New York Fashion Week main schedule before; many of our designers go all over the world showcasing what they do, and three South African designers have been recognised by the LVMH prize, so what makes it different this time around?

I would argue that the efforts by the likes of Trail, and their conviction that African brands are ready to scale, marks the first time some serious dollars have been poured into the development of individual brands. Yes, designers can win awards and get all the press they can while getting flown around the world, but none of this matters if it doesn’t address one of the biggest issues facing this industry today — access to market.

Unless ordinary consumers are not only interested, but can also purchase African brands, we can continue to sing the “Africa, Your Times is Now” tune till kingdom come. Without the funds, and necessary business development that comes with that, that won’t happen and Marin’s prediction simply won’t come true. We will continue to see media outlets writing about African fashion as a curiosity but, now more than ever, signs abound that we are on the precipice. The first truly global African luxury brand’s time is nigh. 

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