3 of the Most Exciting Cities in Africa for Design Right Now

Throughout Africa, young designers are using traditional techniques and local materials to create fresh looks now seen everywhere from your Instagram feed to international runways. Hannah Azieb Pool, the editor of Fashion Cities Africa, introduces us to three of the most creative cities to watch.

3 of the Most Exciting Cities in Africa for Design Right Now

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Photo by Grant Cornett

Accra, Ghana

The scene: “There has been a real resurgence of artistic and creative expression in Accra,” says Nana Dabanka, who, along with her sister Afua, launched MONAA, a line of leather sandals inspired by the sisters’ Ashanti heritage. The city’s creative hub is the Osu neighborhood, where the busy main streets are lined with both small craft booths and quiet high-end boutiques. “Osu and its surrounding areas are bursting with so much style and culture,” says Makeba Boateng, founder of Fashion Forum Africa, a lecture series focused on promoting and encouraging African designers.

Where to shop: In Osu, look for shops such as Studio 189, a label launched by former Bottega Veneta global marketing executive Abrima Erwiah and film star Rosario Dawson. You’ll find both MONAA sandals and woven AAKS bags at the concept store Elle Lokko. For contemporary updates on Ghanaian jewelry—think intricately beaded necklaces and gold-plated rings shaped like turtles and grape bunches—seek out stores beyond Osu, such as Sun Trade Beads in a neighborhood called Asylum Down and Budding Tree in South La Estate.

Nairobi, Kenya

The scene: Everything you need to know about Nairobi’s style scene you can find out from siblings Velma Rossa and Oliver “Papa Petit” Asike. The sister and brother are the architects of 2Many Siblings, a Tumblr blog that chronicles Nairobi’s mitumba (or “thrifting”) culture, and in 2015 they founded “Thrift Social,” a combination swap meet, music event, and fashion street fair. The siblings also champion up-and-coming Nairobi designers such as Anyango Mpinga and Katungulu Mwendwa, as well as their own label, Rossa and Asike.

Where to shop: Nairobi has a smaller fashion and design scene than Accra or Johannesburg, so successful shopping is all about knowing where to go. To check out the thrifting scene, try Gikomba, Africa’s second-largest market for secondhand clothes. But the city is also known for its artistic locally made jewelry. Make an appointment to visit Ami Doshi Shah in her small studio in the dynamic Westlands neighborhood, or swing by Adèle Dejak’s shop at the Village Market in uptown Nairobi. Both designers draw inspiration from their surroundings and use locally sourced materials (leather, Ankole horn) to make handcrafted jewelry that would look as good on your wall as it does around your neck.

Johannesburg, South Africa

The scene: For years, Johannesburg’s style scene remained in the shadow of Cape Town’s. But as the city emerges from decades of decline, with the gap between privilege and poverty shrinking, a new batch of ambitious, radical young designers has also arrived. There are the more glamorous brands—Thula Sindi, Marianne Fassler, David Tlale, and others—but some of the city’s biggest influencers are multidisciplinary groups such as the Sartists, a young fashion collective that collaborates with major brands including Adidas and Levi’s and one of its members, Wanda Lephoto recently launched his own clothing line.

Where to shop: Much of Johannesburg’s fashion energy is in the city center and Newtown, the cultural precinct, where you’ll find Simon and Mary hats at Guillotine (as well as several other places in town) and Maxhosa by Laduma sweaters at a showroom in the Newtown Junction Mall. For a taste of the edgiest scenes, hit up one of the markets in the nearby precincts: Both the Neighbourgoods Market in Braamfontein and Market on Main in Maboneng offer up weekends full of fiery Bloody Marys, food, DJs playing Afrobeats on car park rooftops, and cutting-edge fashion.

>>Next: Exploring Asia’s Surprising New Capital of Cool

Hannah Azieb Pool is a British–Eritrean writer and journalist. She is a former staff writer for The Guardian, and writes regularly for national and international media. She is a patron of the SI Leeds Literary Prize for unpublished fiction by Black and Asian women in the UK.
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