It is said that, “until the lion learns how to write, the tale of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” I’m quite certain that Africans created this proverb after colonization, when the mainstream narrative of the hunt favored the hunter. The white man, in these tales, journeyed across the sea to this unknown land, met these savages and – out of the goodness of his heart – fed, clothed and educated them. If anything, colonialism introduced Africans to systems of hierarchy; today, we make fun of people for being “too African” and having a British or American accent places a person above another. It’s so bad that Ankara, the fabric that is deemed “African”, the one that has become a symbol of “Africanness” is not even from Africa.
But being “too African” is the new cool. When Stella McCartney unveiled her latest collection in Paris, she received a lot of criticisms. Africans on social were enraged, calling it cultural appropriation. ‘Something my mum has been wearing for years when she wants to make stew,’ somebody tweeted. Another twitter user asked, ‘how are you going to use African culture as your “inspiration” yet not even attempt to have African women represented on your runway?’ Several Africans felt that McCartney was trying to remodel Ankara by washing off its cultural odour and converting it to a fragrance that is familiar to (and hence, will be accepted by) foreign consumers.
Deborah Golan, a student of international and comparative politics at the American University of Paris (AUP), does not understand this logic. She argues that Ankara was introduced to Africa during colonization and that it’s wrong for Africans to be protective of it. Golan – who is half Israeli and half Congolese – was born and raised in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). In her opinion, McCartney’s use of Ankara is not something Africans should be worried about. To her, cultural appropriation is not applicable in this case because “fashion is a first-world problem; us ‘third world’ people don’t really have the time to dwell on such subjects when our countries are being destroyed from the core out of corruption.” Rightly said. We’re a continent filled with entitled dictators, non-existent health facilities and politicians who defraud the people on more occasions than they actually serve. But yes, let’s discuss how McCartney’s showcase of her Spring/Summer 2018 collection at the Paris fashion week is a slap in the face of local African tailors.
One African tailor and designer who is not at all offended by the show is Asma’u Aminu Garo. After obtaining a fashion diploma from Esmod French Fashion Institute in Dubai, she founded her own brand – Indulgence by Husna Garo. The Nigerian entrepreneur admits that African designers frequently use Chinese and Indian fabrics “and modify them to their own culture and produce a collection without giving credit. It’s not wrong because as a designer or an architect, I believe you have the freedom to get inspiration from other people’s culture, fabrics, buildings, places and so on.” She believes that if anything, McCartney’s line will bring more exposure to Ankara and that this can serve as a partnership opportunity between local African designers and western designers. She believes that the collaboration will benefit both parties as they learn from each other and proclaims, “the creations would be astonishingly beautiful.”
Numerous Africans were quick to speak ill against McCartney; it’s hypocrisy. Since colonisation, we have always looked up to the west for inspiration – what is fashionable and what is not; the books we read; the characters we write about; and even our school systems focus more on America’s history than Africa’s. Renowned Nigerian writer, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, explains this well during her famous TED speech, ‘The Danger of a Single Story.’ She explains that – like the typical Nigerian – she grew up reading British and American books, and despite the fact that the characters were nothing like her, she could not help but write about them. “All my characters were white and blue-eyed, they played in the snow, they ate apples, and they talked a lot about the weather, how lovely it was that the sun had come out,” she said. “Now this is despite the fact that I lived in Nigeria. I had never been outside Nigeria. We didn’t have snow, we ate mangoes, and we never talked about the weather, because there was no need to.” So why is it okay for Africans to mimic another’s culture but not vice-versa?