Nigerian fashion designer, Emmanuel Okoro of Emmy Kasbit has added yet another international award to his portfolio: he has emerged the winner of the inaugural edition of Africa Fashion Up, a showcase for African designers, with his men’s and women’s collection made using traditional West African weaving techniques.
Okoro was one of five designers shortlisted for the event in Paris, organized by the Share Africa platform in partnership with luxury streetwear brand, Balenciaga. Other finalists were Guy Fabrice Sullivan, the Ivorian designer behind the Zaady label; Zak Koné, also from Ivory Coast, founder of eveningwear brand Pelebe; Baay Sooley and Laure Tarot, the designers behind Senegalese streetwear brand Bull Doff, and, Natasha Jaume and Carina Louw, founders of South African women’s wear brand Erre.
In addition to attending masterclasses with members of Balenciaga’s executive committee, the finalists met buyers from Galeries Lafayette and visited the workshop of Imane Ayissi, patron of the event and the first designer from sub-Sahara Africa to show on the official couture calendar in Paris. All these activities culminated in a fashion show at the Hôtel Salomon de Rothschild on Friday evening, September 17, 2021.
The competition was open to designers under 40 whose brand is at least two years old, and who have produced a minimum of two ready-to-wear collections. Okoro, who won the 2018 Fashion Focus Fund prize at Lagos Fashion Week and the 2020 Vogue Fashion project, impressed the judges with his sharp tailoring using Akwete cloth in a palette of citrus colours.
Members of the jury included Martina Tiefenthaler, chief creative officer of Balenciaga; Vanessa Moungar, chief diversity and inclusion officer at LVMH, and, Maryse Mbonyumutwa Gallagher, director and co-owner at garment manufacturer C&D Pink Mango Rwanda.
Former model Valérie Ka, cofounder and artistic director of Share Africa, said Africa Fashion Up was designed to help African designers, many of whom are self-taught, gain a foothold on the international market.
“I found it a bit frustrating that you often see these designers show in Europe and Africa, but then nothing happens afterwards. As a model, I know their struggles. That’s why I asked the team at Balenciaga to help us, not just to put on a show, but to train them and give them the necessary tools,” she said.
She also added that Okoro’s collection will be sold on new luxury marketplace, Jendaya, explaining that “what we need now is buyers.”