African Fashion Week Grows to Include Retail Focus [Photos]

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African Fashion Week in Toronto has become an important event showcasing the unique talents of Afro-Caribbean designers to the public and the retail industry.

It is also providing those designers a vehicle to eventually sell their creations.

“We did realize there are a lot of creative people in our industry within the Afro-Caribbean industry in Toronto, Canada and around the world but for some reason they didn’t have any mainstream platform to be recognized or to showcase their talent to the world,” says Isaac Ansah, co-founder of the event, who also owns a company called Imagine Management and Marketing, providing branding and marketing services to fashion designers and beauty companies.

“So we decided to create this African Fashion platform to invite local designers and also designers from around the world to come into Toronto to let the world see the talents and skills that they have. Also, the rise in African fashion in general made it easy to really put this event together.”

African Fashion Week was held last week at the Royal Ontario Museum. The event began in 2013 at the Japanese Canadian Cultural Centre in Toronto. 

During the week, about 30 designers were showcased, featuring about 60 models as well. 

The organizers will be introducing retail to its designers in the near future. An online platform will be launched in the fall as a place for designers to sell their creations. 

“The problem with the Afro-Caribbean fashion industry is that it’s not accessible enough yet. We’ve been doing this now for five years marketing it. Now we want to introduce the retail aspect because people are now starting to accept this industry. This is the time. We’re going to introduce online retail. . . and we’re going to have a bricks and mortar store in Toronto that will showcase these designers in 2018,” says Ansah.

The fashion week is usually four days but this year it was held over five days to celebrate its fifth-year anniversary.

It also included a student designer competition which allows student designers in Toronto schools to come out and showcase what they learned in school, their fashion lines and collections. 

“It is a chance for them to get seen before they graduate,” says Ansah.

He says Afro-Caribbean fashion used to be very different from other fashion but the industry is now more diverse. Designs are now created to attract people from different places where in the past it used to be more cultural and traditional in style. But today the African and Western influences have merged. However, the difference between the two tend to be in colour as Afro-Caribbean style is more “bold,” says Ansah.

“It is very important. The purpose of Fashion Week is it’s a marketing platform. It gives these designers a marketing platform to be seen, to be noticed by buyers, retail chains, and that kind of stuff. We do our best to invite as many buyers and retail professionals out to the shows. This is the talent we have to show the world. This platform is pretty much the avenue for these Afro-Caribbean designers now to get its hand to enter the retail market,” he says.

The week usually attracts about 2,500 people.

Ansah, originally from Ghana, in west Africa, moved to Canada at a very young age. He fell in love with fashion during his high school days and entered the retail industry early. He also volunteered for fashion shows.

“My love for the industry kind of grew. That’s what pretty much propelled this African Fashion Week,” he says. 

*Photos are courtesy of Louise Images. 

Article Author

Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi
Mario Toneguzzi, based in Calgary, has more than 40 years experience as a daily newspaper writer, columnist, and editor. He worked for 35 years at the Calgary Herald covering sports, crime, politics, health, faith, city and breaking news, and business. He is the Senior News Editor with Retail Insider in addition to working as a freelance writer and consultant in communications and media relations/training. Mario was named as a RETHINK Retail Top Retail Expert in 2024.

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