Jacqueline Shaw's book, Fashion Africa, changing perceptions about the continent

Published: 24 August 2014 | by Janine Dube
Jacqueline Shaw's book, Fashion Africa, changing perceptions about the continent
For a long time, Africa has been seen as a place that needs help, a place rich in culture but seldom as a contemporary partner in business.

It can be argued that many fashion students, particularly in the west, who desired to study African fashion found that all they could access were books about cultural dress or history, never anything contemporary.

This was the case until author, consultant and fashion designer, Jacqueline Shaw, published her book, Fashion Africa, which celebrates contemporary fashion in Africa.

Fashion Africa, published by Jacaranda Books, is the first of its kind and it is a vivid and fun book.

It is a beautiful collector's item, that shows Africa as it is now, a place ripe for business that is on par with the rest of the world.

In an interview with OneVybe, Jacqueline Shaw spoke about what made her embark on the Fashion Africa project.

Author Jacqueline Shaw talks about her book Fashion Africa

She said, "Initially I was doing my Masters in Ethical Fashion and I had always been interested in textiles generally, being a fashion designer.

"At the time, I'd gone to quite a few African weddings or baby showers and dedications.

"I was just in awe of the fabrics and textiles and I started to recognise that there was something happening in the African fashion market, in the industry."

Jacqueline said that the more she looked into African fashion, the more she realised that there weren't many platforms available that showcased the industry in a contemporary light.

"So that's why I created both my website Africa Fashion Guide and the book, Fashion Africa.

Jacqueline also mentioned that she used to work in a local library for about eight years and would always look through the books.

"My final fashion show at university was on African slave trade so I was always looking at books on African history and African textiles."

"All the books I found were about tribal Africa, the history of Africa and colonialism.

"There was nothing contemporary that was modern and fun and I really wanted to create something of that ilk."

An except from an interview with Jacqueline Shaw

On who the book is aimed at, Jacqueline said that she wanted to create something beautiful that did not already exist.

She recognised that there was an audience internationally that wanted to find out more about designers from all over the world, including Africa.

The Africa Fashion Guide blog and the book were conceived as ways of helping people connect with those in the fashion industry in Africa.

Fashion Africa has gained quite a following, including artists and students and the book is now available at the renowned Tate Modern in London.

The Victoria and Albert Museum is also interested in stocking it.

Jacqueline has been doing industry workshops and together with the book, she hopes to show the African fashion industry as it is now and to change perceptions.

Ethics in business is something that is at the heart of Jacqueline's work and in the book she looks at the whole supply chain, including sustainability and responsibility in sourcing and manufacturing.

She believes there is still an image of 'poor Africa' and 'Africa needs' and this can lead to some designers 'green-washing' the issues without even realising it.

According to Jacqueline, green-washing can result in those in the industry creating a particular story to evoke emotions and she says, "intentionally or not, they create this story to hit the hearts of people to give, whereas for me, the ethical story is just how how fashion should be, it shouldn't even be called ethical or sustainable fashion."

Jacqueline believes that ethics should be an automatic part of business at all times without the need to put a label on it.

When she was working on the book, Jacqueline visited various countries in Africa including Morocco, Ghana, Nigeria and South Africa.

Jacqueline told OneVybe that she felt that generally speaking, Africa as a continent is quite embracing and she was left in awe because there are so many opportunities and the entrepreneurial mindset is infectious.

On whether African fashion is now accepted in the mainstream, Jacqueline said, "I think there is still a curiosity, I wouldn't say it is accepted, I think it's still seen as a separate thing but there are so many good initiatives going on."

These initiatives include the International Trade Centre's 'Ethical Fashion Initiative, Mercedes Benz sponsored fashion shows in South Africa, competitions by Louis Vuitton and Selfridges' pop up shops.

International Trade Centre's 'Ethical Fashion Initiative

Jacqueline believes that business people are beginning to recognise that there is something in Africa and there is a move towards the continent.

"I want to be part of the change in Africa," Jacqueline said. The book and the Africa Fashion Guide blog were meant to bridge a gap in the market and it appears that Jacqueline's effort are beginning to bear fruit.

In 2012, the Africa Fashion Guide was named amongst the top 10 African fashion blogs by the Guardian.

On what the future holds for her book, Jacqueline said: "The book will have brothers and sisters coming along, it will grow a family. I want it to be part of history."

Jacqueline Shaw's ground breaking book, Fashion Africa, is available to buy from any of the following:
- OneVybe

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