Every fashion designer has their own way of expressing what fashion means to them through their designs. While some see fashion as strictly male or female, others see fashion as neither here nor there. To them, fashion is what it is, regardless of gender.
Though not so popular in Africa due to the conservative nature of most African cultures, some fashion designers have forayed into androgynous fashion. This type of fashion is gender neutral and gender fluid, and so is suitable for both male and female customers.
Here are 5 African designers that are leading a paradigm shift in Africa with their gender neutral designs;
5 Designers Changing the African Fashion Space with Their Androgynous Designs
1. Adebayo Oke-Lawal
Adebayo Oke-Lawal is the founder and creative director of Nigerian fashion brand, Orange Culture. To him, the brand is a “movement that covers universal silhouettes with an African touch to a creative class of men.”
The brand, however, can hardly be defined as a strictly menswear brand as it caters to everyone and anyone, regardless of gender. With a feminine touch to most of their outfits, Orange Culture can be defined as a gender-fluid brand.
The brand is one that aims to break stereotypes and defy ideas about gender within the context of identity, culture, and race while still celebrating the Nigerian culture. Through his brand, Adebayo hopes to open up conversations about what it means to be a man and show to the world that men do not always have to be hard to be seen as men.
“It was important for people to think outside of a particular type of African man by believing that men can be so many diverse things. We can be emotional, we can be vulnerable, and we can express ourselves however we want to without being seen as anything less than African.” – Adebayo Oke Lawal.
The pieces the brand makes are a “heady mixture of Nigerian inspired fabrics, colour, and contemporary urban streetwear.” Organza, chiffon, silk, and cotton make up a large part of his pieces. His collections incorporate bold colours and elements of traditionally feminine designs, fabrics and silhouettes, such as wide cuts and plunging necks but translated into unisex outfits.
2. Babatunde ‘Papa’ Oyeyemi
Babatunde ‘Papa’ Oyeyemi founded Maxivive 13 years ago at the tender age of 15. The brand is one that is both minimalist and androgynous, turning traditional menswear around and defying the norms.
The inspiration for the label stems from a 90s documentary that looked at the flamboyantly stylish subculture of drag queens living in New York. For him, gender-fluid clothing is about trying new things and moving from the ideology of “this is what is meant to be”.
“You have to be a disruptor to encourage growth, mess up the structure of things a bit.” – Papa Oyeyemi.
His collections contain some very controversial but highly creative pieces that are fit for anyone. Some of his menswear pieces feature the fringe style with some being cinched at the waist and some others having bows on them.
Most of his pieces, including shirts, jackets, and pants, are fit for both male and female. His brand has garnered recognition in the Nigerian fashion market as a very innovative, edgy, storytelling brand.
3. Lukhanyo Mdingi
Lukhanyo Mdingi is the founder of eponymous fashion brand Lukahnyo Mdingi. The South African fashion brand breaks down gender constructs by using masculine tailoring for women and long flowing silk fabrics on men.
“When we started creating pieces that were gender fluid we were just moving with what we were witnessing in the outside world,” Lukhanyo Mdingi.
The fashion brand has a cross-cultural approach to designs and infuse traditional looks into their outfits. With his brand, he combines contrasting materials and textures in innovative silhouettes to give off a look that is appealing to either gender.
4. Fatih Oluwajimi
Faith Olujimi founded the Nigerian fashion brand BLOKE with the idea of it being “neither masculine nor feminine, and neither this nor that.” The genderless artisanal label brings together elements of traditional African culture with unique artistic expression outside of gender.
Each item in the androgynous fashion brand is hand-made with sustainability at its core. The materials the brand uses are locally sourced and are made by a small community of knitters, diverse textile artists, local artisans and design groups.
The brand employs the use of knitwear and vibrant colours for their pieces and with each piece being neither here nor there. A good number of his pieces infuse the cut-out, cropped top, and halter neck styles and are meant for both the male and female customer.
The shirts, tailored suits and pant trousers the brand makes are also meant for both male and female with a few Nigerian celebrities, including Seyi Shay, Asa, and Mr Eazi, trying them out.
5. Keith Henning and Jody Paulsen
Keith Henning and Jody Paulsen are the co-creative directors of androgynous fashion brand, AKJP. The designers focus on functional staples with few defining male and female silhouettes.
“At first it was an easy way to start making womenswear, the womenswear came from ideas that we previously established through our menswear collections.” – Jody Paulsen
The brand uses layering, boxy silhouettes and asymmetrical detailing as distinguishing styling features. Their colour palette is mostly cool to suit every type of customer and wearer and allow them to be themselves.
Though not so widely accepted and faced with a lot of opposition, these gender-neutral fashion brands are leading the way into a new type of fashion that is neither here nor there in Africa. By infusing components that traditionally pertain distinctively to both male and female outfits, these designers are able to create something unique.