BY SARAH KHAN
Returning home to Dar Es Salaam with a global fashion pedigree—two degrees from the Parsons School of Design and stints at Vogue in New York and Vogue India in Mumbai—Nisha Kanabar took stock of how disjointed access to high-end African fashion was. “Coming from the media industry, not having this clear, cohesive point of education about the industry and access to the market was jarring,” she says. This led her to create Industrie Africa in 2018, a platform highlighting some of the continent’s premiere luxury fashion brands. While it was a well-designed resource for fashion enthusiasts to learn about designers they might have otherwise spent hours scouring Instagram for, one key component was missing: shopping.
A glossy revamp this summer means users can now browse and buy everything from AAKS totes from Ghana and Kikoromeo jumpsuits from Kenya to Pichulik earrings from South Africa, all in one digital showroom. The new site also features an editorial component, Imprint, for which Kanabar teamed up with Natasha Nyanin, a New York-based writer and creative consultant. We spoke with the duo to learn more about their vision for bringing a wide-reaching African fashion experience to curious shoppers around the globe.
Nisha, what inspired you to start Industrie Africa?
Nisha Kanabar: I wanted to address misconceptions and shatter the stereotypical exoticized impressions of what African design really is. We’re building this 360-degree hub of contemporary African fashion: a place of commerce, a place of content, and a place of community. We’re able to weave context through the shopping process.
Natasha, what drew you to what Nisha was creating?
Natasha Nyanin: I am a global citizen, I am a traveler, and I’m someone who lives a borderless existence—but I’m also from Ghana, and I’m passionate about sharing African stories. The paramount thing was to capture a diverse set of voices from as many corners of the continent as possible, and bringing a local perspective and understanding of fashion within a global context. When people think about Africa they’re thinking about Black people, but there are all sorts of people who make up Africa. It’s important to me and to Nisha—she’s of Indian heritage—to expand the understanding of Africa through the lens of fashion.
What do you look for in the brands you work with?
NK: There are a lot of interesting ways designers take storied techniques and bring them into 2020 through modern interpretations. Aso-Oke is a Nigerian fabric used by Shekudo based in Lagos; they mix them with leather to create contemporary and very wearable footwear. There’s a label called Nkwo in Nigeria that is inherently sustainable: They create their own fabric called Dakala cloth through offshoots of fabric scraps, using this Japanese stripping technique. It’s super interesting how they’ve taken something that’s effectively scraps and transformed it to something innovative.
Awa Meité, based in Bamako, is quite a new kid on the block, and she’s gaining acclaim for her work with local artisans in Mali. She works with materials like Bogolan, or mudcloth, to create pieces that are quite exceptional. Ivorian designer Loza Maleombho was recently featured in Black Is King. Her signature is hand-hammered embellishments in the shape of West African masks—some of Beyoncé’s pieces are held together with these beautiful buckles, with this urban glamour.
Natasha, what are some of your favorite designers on the site?
NN: Emmy Kasbit is a Nigerian designer who works with an Igbo textile called akwete. It’s nice to see that fun juxtaposition of bright colors and the woven textures of the fabric breathing new life into menswear. Sidai Designs works very closely with the Maasai community in Tanzania to use Maasai beading to make contemporary jewelry. Ami Doshi Shah is based in Nairobi, and her Torque necklace and Form earrings are both quite interesting sculptural studies. Diarrablu out of Dakar does really lovely resortwear, flowy dresses, bathing suits—very ethereal, diaphanous, easy dresses.ADVERTISEMENT
Americans might not be able to get to them for a while, but what are some of your favorite destinations on the continent for shopping?
NK: Nairobi is one of my favorite cities: It’s a little bit glam, a little bit urban, a little bit edgy, and full of character—and there are a ton of interesting subcultures and artistic pockets that give it so much life. Nairobi has a diverse culinary scene, and Talisman in Karen is quite popular, very refined. I also like to check out designer ateliers like Designing Africa Collective.
Cape Town is an obvious choice but I find it super design forward. Merchants on Long, owned by Hanneli Rupert, is the original mothership of African luxury retail. And I love indulging in a mini excursion to wine country—Leeu Estates in Franschhoek is at the intersection of modernity and country charm. The art is amazing.
I think of Lagos as this glittering population against a backdrop of concrete jungle, it’s overflowing with high-energy glamour and grit. Alara, designed by David Adjaye, and Temple Muse are two luxury retail concept stores, and the visual splendor is inspiring. You’ll see Kenneth Ize beside Amina Muaddi—the merchandising is beautiful and merges western luxury with African brands.
Dar Es Salaam is not much of a shopping city, but the Green Room is a great concept store that collaborates with local designers and makers on homeware and beauty products.