Algeria, April 22, 2018

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To Vogue or not to Vogue . . . Does Africa need an edition?

On a recent visit to Lagos for a fashion show, supermodel Naomi Campbell called on a leading global fashion magazine to start an Africa edition.

The suggestion sparked a bit of debate in Africa’s fashion cir-cles on whether the region really needs Vogue or if Vogue needs Africa. There has also been some talk about Africa designers and followers doing more to support home-grown fashion publications. One thing that people on all sides of the debate seem to agree on though is that fashion in Africa is a vibrant and diverse space that does not get enough recognition for how it has influenced global trends.

Those who are for Vogue starting an Africa edition believe that it will give the continent’s fashion indus-try the global visibility it deserves to foster its growth. Those who are apprehensive about the move fear that Vogue will represent African fashion in a way that only exoticises and fet-ishises African fashion, but to the benefit of the West without any

real benefits to the cultures and design-ers, who have been responsible for creating and growing Africa’s fash-ion legacy. Either way, Vogue would be play-ing catch-up as African fashion is alive, well and constantly reinvent-ing itself. All one needs to come to this conclusion is to simply walk through the streets of Dakar, Addis, Lagos, Nairobi or Accra or “visit” them on Instagram.

The appeal of the fashion publication that Anna Wintour revolutionised and the fact that Vogue UK now has a British-Ghanaian editor (Edward Enninful), who is keen to diversify the publication - and in fact mas-terminded the 2008 all black Vogue Italia top-selling edition - might still not be enough reason for us to believe that a Vogue for Africa is what we need. But here is the thing, Vogue’s entry into Africa will likely hap-pen in some sense whether peo-ple like it or not. The economics of publishing a fashion magazine on the continent will likely work in their favour.

“If Vogue does start an Africa edition, one of their strengths is the major finan-cial muscle behind them (Conde Nast),” says Madji Sock the founder of Layu, a Dakar-based, global life-style brand and an investor in an African design publication.

“One has to wait a long time to see any profits when publishing in the fashion and design industry. This is the reason many other fash-ion publications closed shop after a few years,” adds Sock. A Vogue for Africa could lend credibility to any brand it cov-ers, especially in a market where other fashion magazines struggle to survive.

But the reality in 2018 is that getting a mention in Vogue may not suddenly make a brand blow up the way building a huge following on Instagram can with pages ike StyleMeAfrica, Iwear_ Africa and BellaNaijaWeddings. The additional visibility cannot hurt though. It is not just about whether Vogue should or should not start an Africa edition. Even if it does, how would Vogue avoid some of the pitfalls African readers are already wary about?

The Africa popular culture space has become charged with difficult discussions on representation, cul-tural appropriation, intellectual property etc. Everything a Vogue for Africa would do will be con-sidered political in this climate - trust runs low as Africans have been time and time again taken advantage of in these areas. What do the models look like? What type of hair do they have? Body size? Complexion? Was the community that inspired this line compensated in any way?

For a continent that has always been on the receiving end of neg-ative stereotypes that do not value the way the majority of Africans look, Africans will be waiting to see any signs of a bias in how they are represented. Even with all that, a Vogue for Africa would have to remember Africa is not a monolith.

“I hope they don’t give us one of those magazines that are 75 per-cent South African content and 25 percent other.

I remember a few years back when Cosmopolitan started a Kenyan edition that was a quarter Kenyan and 75 percent South African content,” laments Anyango Mpinga the founder of a leading Kenyan luxury fashion brand under the same name. “The only way they will not fail is by involving Africans in this front, back and centre as writers, editors, designers, photographers, models, makeup artists, as advertisers etc.

We are not a trend! We are here to stay,” says Aissatou Sene, the founder of Senegalese fashion brand Belya. Ideally, if this was to happen it would be a global edition in the same way Vogue Italia has been praised for crossing continen-tal barriers, but it shouldn’t be a publication that simply moves the western gaze from behind a pair of binoculars to behind a microscope.

By involving Africans through-out every aspect of its production, Vogue could create a product for Africa that we all clamour for on the continent and abroad, while not fetishizing, minimizing or over-simplifying the diverse African stories and experiences.

If well done it could unearth and share groundbreaking fashion sto-ries across the continent such as the recent viral entertaining yet edu-cational video on the Herero Dress done by Style Out There.

The US$1.5 trillion global fashion industry has sub-Saharan Africa’s apparel and footwear market valued at just $31 billion, so there’s plenty of room for growth. Even in the age of Instagram, a global player like Vogue could still be a major stepping stone in giving African fashion brands the type of visibility and credibility that can turn them into mainstream international fashion brands.

A “Vogue Africa” would succeed by representing Africa and Afri-cans with dignity, allowing our stories to have the diversity that we love and embrace.

In this way, it could be comple-mentary to a lot of the initi-atives already happening on the continent – the fashion weeks, the art fairs e.g. the upcoming African contem-porary biennale in Dakar, the music videos celebrating African fashion and beauty etc. Vogue for Africa has to be Afri-can.

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