I am just a few days shy of my one month anniversary since moving to the bay area. Classes have started, I am steadily growing in confidence at my new job, and I am making an effort to put myself out there and get to know people. In short, I am trying.
However, I want to discuss an amazing experience I had over the weekend. My first excursion into the east bay area, specifically Oakland, was to attend the Zuvaa: Pop-Up Tour. To give a little background, Zuvaa is an online marketplace that specializes in promoting African/African-American designers, who utilize African textiles, prints, and designs in their collections. The founder and CEO, Kelechi, describes the company’s mission as follows,
“…to empower designers worldwide with the tools to enter a global market and to make woman around the world feel bold and beautiful in vibrant and eccentric African inspired designs.” – Quoted from “Zuvaa: Who We Are“
Now, as the name indicates, this is a tour, which means there will be other locations visited throughout the nation. Cities in the line up include, but are not limited to, Chicago, New York, and Los Angeles! However, for a comprehensive list please visit the website’s tour page. Also, note the admission is free, though you are required to “purchase” a ticket through eventbrite. Once that is settled and done, prepare yourself for an experience filled with eccentric, vibrant, colors, prints, and patterns that offer an alternative to traditional fashion.
Personally, I grew up with a love and appreciation for African-inspired clothing. Though we are not African, in the sense that my family did not immigrate here within the last few decades, my grandmother insisted that we develop a love of our heritage, no matter how distant the ties may be. During my childhood, she would often commission seamstresses in historical Leimert Park, a hub for African-American businesses in Los Angeles, to make dresses for my little sister and I in rich, colorful fabrics. Often requesting a matching headwrap of the same fabric to go with it. At the time, I simply delighted in the idea of a brand new dress, cut and made just for me. However, now that I am an adult, I can appreciate what it was my grandmother was trying to do. She was teaching us how to love being Black. To her that meant to acknowledge that somewhere in our lineage we have roots in Africa, and even if we would never know exactly where we came from, we should embrace what we can and be proud of it.
Flash forward to present day, I stood at the entrance of the pop-up shop location, my heart racing; my roommate in tow. This year it was housed within 310 Art Gallery, and we were greeted by a lovely woman garbed in a maxi dress of African-fabric. I recall, distinctly, the contrast of yellow and blue against a black background. This would be our first glimpse into this subculture of the fashion world.
The gallery quickly filled up with scores of women, and some men, seeking to find unique pieces to add to their wardrobes. Some of them were obviously connoisseurs of the style, and knew exactly which designers they wanted to hit first. Others, like myself and my roommate, Kayla, were novices to it all, and it took a while to merely take everything in. The colors of the clothing alone, radiant as the are, were enough to stimulate the senses. And while the designs are all made of African textiles, designers still managed to distinguish themselves and the collections from one another. Each possessing an aesthetic of their own.
I first gravitated towards a brand called, Ray Darten, by a woman of Nigerian heritage named, Yetunde. What caught my eye was that her brand was the only one that provided a selection of children’s wear. This was most likely the school teacher in me raving, but I adored her fun, colorful styles for girls. Her two best models being her own children, paraded their mother’s designs for all to see. To see more of her inspired pieces and children’s wear, I suggest looking here.
Another designer featured at the gallery was Hope Anusiem, who also hails from Nigeria. Her brand, Chianu, had an assortment of pieces. However, there were a line of dresses with full skirts that reminded me of Audrey Hepburn’s little black dress in the iconic film, Sabrina (1954). In the movie, that Givenchy design features a bateau neckline, tapered waist, and full-flowing skirt. The Chiano dress I saw still accentuated a nipped waist and full-skirt, but with a halter neckline. Ms. Anusiem took the time to speak with me a little between assisting potential buyers. We discussed how in the past pieces like these would have originally been made to order, “but now there are more [designers] transitioning to ready-to-wear, even back on the continent [Africa]. This style is big in Europe, and it’s really taking off here in the U.S.” She explained as she expressed her excitement for the change. She went on to let me know that while her own personal site is still in progress, her pieces are up for purchase on the Zuvaa website.
A big part of the African fashion trend is utilizing decorative, patterned wraps as headdresses. Worn as an alternative to taking down one’s hair, for those with shorter, tight afros, or those who opt to keep a clean shaven head, headwraps are a lovely addition. As I mentioned earlier, I wore ones made of the same fabric as my dresses as a little girl. However, there is something far more dynamic about wearing a wrap of a completely different pattern and color scheme from your clothing that seems to add to the overall extravagance and glamour of the fashion. Natalie Taylor, purveyor of Royal House of Wraps, had a line up of ornately designed headwraps for every taste at the Zuvaa shop. She even took the time to demonstrate the different techniques for wrapping to achieve a variety of looks, and how to turn a wrap into a top, which a model, Dossé – Via, displayed.
Speaking of the models, I had the pleasure of getting to know a number of the lovely women who volunteered their services for the event. Dossé-Via, a 23 year-old mother, model, and astrologer, exuded grace and elegance modeling a wrap from Royal House of Wraps as a top, and a skirt by Chianu. Being West African, specifically from Togo, she explained how she was raised with Afrocentrisim as a norm. It was not until immigrating to America that she first encountered the idea that the clothing and customs she knew and loved could actually be viewed as, “weird.” Now here in Oakland, she explains it is special to her to see more African-American wearing these types of clothes.
Another model, Auriel, was a personification of warmth and beauty. Donning a skirt from the label Obiama, an intricate neck piece by Enza Accesories, and earrings with the continent of Africa carved out of wood, the 25-year old make-up artist, explained that to wear these clothes was a representation of her culture. She described the clothing as comfortable, well-fitted, and fashion forward. But most importantly, for her these clothes showed that she is, “proud of being an African-American woman.” Which, in a way, encompasses the reason behind why most of the shoppers chose to wear these clothes.
I know that is what it means to me.
I leave you with Kourtney Richardson, the 37 year-old designer, musician, and urban artist, who personified the positive essence of the event. Her high energy, amicable nature, and laughter created a sense of camaraderie and fellowship that only encouraged me to stay longer. Proud of being a Black woman, she posed beside the sign that stood outside the gallery doors.
It was a reminder from our men to all Black women of the presence of our own natural beauty, which can be forgotten under the stereotypes and accepted “norms” of American beauty.
For now my darlings, my inspiration to you is to be unafraid to embrace the bold, the bright, and the beautiful. These styles may have started as a Black empowerment movement, but it is my belief that there can someday be a place for African prints and fashion in the mainstream… in due time.
Until next time, may you always be sweetly inspired.
Links to Desginer/Labels and how to find their garments:
- Zuvaa: A Gloobal Marketplace for Africa Design (@shopzuvaa)
- Ray Darten by Yetunde (@raydarten)
- Chianu by Hope Anusiem (@mychianu and on Zuvaa.com)
- Royal House of Wraps by Natalie Taylor (@RoyalHouseOfWraps)
- LoveIguehi by Iguehi (@loveiguehi)
All images for this post were taken and edited by A. Reneé for Darling Afflatus, 2016. Please do not take any images without permission