11 Fashion Brands Reflecting The Beauty And Cultural Diversity Of The African Diaspora
Photo Credit: Blavity
“Diaspora” derives from the Greek term that literally means "to scatter about," a perfect explanation of how African culture has been shared across borders of land and sea. We have migrated, by coercion as well as willingly, to foreign lands, assimilating to other cultures while never fully negating our own. Though far apart, no matter where we have ended up in the world, we've always managed to find ways to stay close to home.
Among the many ways we have remained in tune with our roots is through fashion. Here are 11 dope and empowering fashion brands that represent the African diaspora so well.
First generation Nigerian-American Mapate Diop desired to find clothing that allowed him to take pride in his Nigerian heritage. His issue was that designers were not creating the fine, high quality, comfortable and vibrant shirts from Ankara fabric that his mother made for him throughout his childhood. Unable to find what he was looking for, Mapate and his business partner decided to create it themselves. Now, you can shop their amazing threads at the online DIOP store.
2. ILAVA: It Can Be Done!
ILAVA is a socially conscious brand focused on uplifting women around the world through its lifestyle fashions, home decor, jewelry and handmade cards. The term "ilava" derives from a Tanzanian tribal language called Nyamwezi and means "it can be done." Owned and operated by Rahel Mwitula Williams, a Tanzanian-American woman who is proud of her heritage, the brand radiates boldness while also evoking functionality in all of its apparel. ILAVA's goal to empower women is met with deep purpose, as they use their products to share the history of the Tanzanian women who inspired its inception.
3. The Bombchel Factory
A female-empowered apparel company, The Bombchel Factory is about more than just looking good; it’s about feeling good and implementing change. Based out of owner Archel Bernard’s ancestral homeland of Liberia, The Bombchel Factory uses skills-training and education to design and manufacture contemporary attire from traditional African fabric purchased locally in West Africa. Bernard employs women who are members of the deaf community as well as survivors of rape and Ebola. Known as “bombchels,” the women learn how to conduct business and be self-sufficient, earning salaries to provide for themselves and their families.
Mizizi, which means “roots” in Swahili, is a fashion and lifestyle brand that aims to display African pride. Paakow Essandoh developed Mizizi in 2014 while in college, because he wanted to see more African pride on the University of South Florida campus. Drawing inspiration from African ancestry, the brand showcases designs that challenge the diaspora to remember our heritage and take pride in being African no matter where we are.
5. Andrea Iyamah
Exuding bold patterned, vibrantly colored swimwear that represents a variety of African cultures and tribes, Andrea Iyamah is a must have amongst the African diaspora fashion brands. Although the brand is known for the architectural designs in their swimwear, Nigerian fashion designer and founder Dumebi Iyamah is a versatile designer, who also offers ready-to-wear special event dresses. Also known by her nickname A.I., Iyamah's aesthetic is best described as vintage with a twist.
6. Kaela Kay
After quitting her corporate job in 2017, founder Catherine Addai decided it was time to pursue her passion for fashion and become a full-time entrepreneur, pouring herself into her fashion brand. Reflective of both North African and American style, Kaela Kay combines traditional Ankara prints with additional vibrant colors and patterns inspired by American pop culture, all of which are topped with an edgy, feminine flow.
7. UE Supply Co.
A rising star based out of Chicago, UE Supply Co. represents a millennial-centric fusion of African and American urban flare, marrying hip-hop and motherland. From accessories to two-piece fits, these styles complete or compliment day time and evening looks with ease and finesse.
Accessory brand 84Gem displays African history with practical, functional delivery. The 84Gem jewelry collection consists of both traditional and contemporary African styles that can be paired with any attire. Creator Kimone Young uses her Jamaican-American heritage to inspire some of the most beautiful, unique items. Made of natural jewels, metals and beading, the creativity and time spent to create 84Gem jewelry further increases the special value each piece possesses.
9. Africa on My Back
What more practical way is there to include some traditional style in your daily wardrobe than with a versatile accessory? Africa on My Back is a backpack and handbag line made with both students and professionals in mind that celebrates African culture throughout all generations. The trendy and lightweight backpacks, duffles, satchels and handbags are both stylish and versatile, coming in a range of sizes and prints. A portion of its proceeds are directly sown into The King’s Compass, a mentor program for young African-American boys in the Houston, TX, area.
10. William Okpo
Sisters Darlene and Lizzy are the creators behind the apparel line William Okpo. Named after their father and modeled after their mother, the brand exists as an ode to their Nigerian immigrant parents’ take on American style. Combining culture and circumstance to create an array of mod, feminine designs with a hint of masculine influence, William Okpo is a unique brand among the African diaspora.
11. Yohannes Sister's Couture
When Ethiopian sisters Lilly and Zeze Yohannes moved back to their native country, nearly a decade ago, they were enamoured by the beauty of traditional Ethiopian fabric. The pair wanted to showcase that beauty to the world, thus they created the Yohannes Sister’s brand, a labor of love, stocked with beautiful couture garments. By intertwining a small amount of western material with exquisite Ethiopian textiles, the sisters are able to create dresses and gowns that are bold, elegant and captivating.