African-inspired fashion on show in Vancouver

Show strengthens fabric of local Black community


Reported by Rena Medow

In the largest African fashion show in Vancouver, models couldn’t help but dance down the runway while showing off the vibrant colours and patterns created by local African-inspired designers.

A model, wearing a dress by Touch of Africa, strikes a pose on the runway. Photo by Rena Medow.

The bi-annual fashion show, hosted by African Fashion and Arts Movement Vancouver, is held in February as part of Black History Month, and again in August. The show was held at South Vancouver’s Scottish Cultural Centre.

“What we’re doing is more than just showcasing African fashion, we’re showcasing our culture. We are here in the West Coast to merge cultures and learn from each other,” said Emmanuel Okee, one of 10 designers who presented at the Feb. 16 show.

AFAM aims to promote African fashion and arts by establishing a platform for entrepreneurs to showcase their work and build connections, said Lisa-Jane Hayfron, the event’s public relations coordinator.

This month’s show featured performances by local singers and dancers interspersed between showing the fashion lines. Guests were encouraged to mingle, dance, take photos and participate in AFAM’s silent auction to support children’s education in the West African city of Lomé, Togo between fashion shows.

What we’re doing is more than just showcasing African fashion, we’re showcasing our culture. We are here in the West Coast to merge cultures and learn from each other.”

-Emmanuel Okee, fashion designer

Although the AFAM fashion show is advertised as being for anyone, regardless of ethnicity, volunteers and designers agree that events like the show can help unify and strengthen the African community in Vancouver.

UBC-based dance group Sin-Birds gives a lively performance at AFAM’s Feb. 16 show. Photo by Rena Medow.

Building community 

For Okee, events like AFAM are an important step for building culture.

“It’s important to come out to events like this, you know we have times where we talk about important things and the deeper issues, but sometimes it’s good to just revel in the spirit of fun and excitement,” said Okee.

AFAM model-turned-designer Ebru Pinar was inspired to create her business, Marbling Creations, after taking a volunteer trip to Africa last year.

While there, she was influenced by East African handmade accessories and the plumeria flower which is local to that region and created her line to help share African art with North America.

“In Vancouver, the African community is not so big and the one that we have is not sewn together,” said fashion designer Ebru Pinar, “so I think this event brings everybody together, African or wherever you are from in the world. We are all human beings.”

Pinar, who is Turkish-Canadian, debuted her line at February’s show.

Both Pinar and Hayfron are encouraging more artists in the African community in Vancouver to get involved.

“We would absolutely love more people to know about this amazing movement, to have more support and love as well as more artists in the African community to partake in our annual fashion show,” Hayfron said.

Designs draw inspiration from several of Africa’s 54 countries

According to African-inspired designers sharing their collections at African Fashion and Art Movement Vancouver’s Feb. 16 fashion show, African fashion is all about eye-catching prints and vibrant colours.

The designs shown at AFAM reflected the diversity of culture and tradition within Africa’s 54 countries. Some of the designers drew inspiration from plants and nature, and others from their childhood memories and native cities.

One Ethiopian-style brand that walked the runway, Ethio Fashion House, used hand-woven cotton fabric to create diaphanous gowns that twirled as the models walked.

A model shows off a dress and cape designed by Ethio Fashion House. Photo by Rena Medow.

AFAM’s fashion designer of the year, Safari Kabumbe uses African fabric to create western-inspired pieces, drawing his inspiration from nature.

Unconditional Love

Influenced by the fashion and accessories she admired during a trip to Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania last year, designer Ebru Pinar decided to introduce those local styles into her line.

“When I was there, actually, I [saw] these beautiful sandals, so colorful and fun, and accessories and jewelry,” she said. “I was like, oh my gosh, these are amazing.”

In her debut line “Unconditional Love,” she used the motif of the heart as an accent on her sandals and jewels.

Udamma Fashion

Emmanuel Okee’s brand, Udamma Fashion, utilizes ankara fabric, a print style made by using wax on cotton to create bright patterns traditionally worn for celebrations.

Ankara wax prints are often named after well-known people, places or things, conveying messages through its motifs.

Okee often collaborates with his sister in Nigeria to create Udamma Fashion. The fashion line was inspired by his trips home to Lagos, the country’s largest city, to visit family.

“I just couldn’t ignore the fashion, it was really popping,” said Okee, who has lived in Canada for over a decade. “It reminded me of where I came from, and how we had different fashion designers and different colours and it was very much more expressive and vibrant, even in our clothing.”


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