Roberta Comunian and Lauren England present at Africa Fashion Conference

Prof Roberta Comunian and Dr Lauren England from CMCI alongside Dr Eka Ikpe from the African Leadership Centre at King’s College will contribute to the “Africa Fashion Conference” organised by the Victoria & Albert Museum on the 18th and 19th of November and taking place alongside their celebrated “Africa Fashion” exhibition.

They will present research derived from their King’s Together funded project “Africa Fashion Futures” discussing specifically the relationship of African fashion designers in Lagos and Nairobi with their cities with a paper entitled “African Fashion Cities: inspiration, knowledge, materials and markets in Lagos and Nairobi”.

The paper argues that cities are key in the development of local creative economies, offering vital sources of inspiration, networks, support and a key market for creative products and creative producers. This is even more true in the world of fashion. While the urban marketing and financial investment of the Global North in major fashion cities (London, New York, Paris, Milan) cannot be directly compared to their development in Africa, the vitality, creativity and informal networks in these cities offer novel and distinct insights into how some of the fastest growing cities are contributing to the future of the global fashion industry.

Drawing on in-depth qualitative interviews with fashion designers in Lagos (9) and Nairobi (9), we explore their lived experiences of the city and how the city and its surroundings are used as sources of inspiration, materials and knowledge, and markets. Inspiration is key to the creative processes of fashion designers, with the multicultural dynamics of African cities offering daily design inputs. Materials and knowledge are also negotiated in the city, from learning specialised skills or techniques to sourcing specific fabrics or embellishments in local markets and malls. Finally, cities are the main markets, where wealth accumulates but also trends can be set and promoted to become an important source of income and business development. 

While cities support a complex and networked cultural ecosystem of people, materials and ideas that fashion designers engage with, they also remain important access points towards more rural, regional markets (where different traditions, materials and knowledge can be sourced) and global linkages that connect African fashion designers to potential international markets. 

The paper explores these complex, multiscale dynamics, arguing for the need to move the global fashion industry and cities’ discourses beyond the Global North, embracing the emergence of African Fashion cities more fully.