Weaving contemporary design into a traditional West African fabric, Nigerian Tsemaye Biniti is creating fashion that he hopes can also bridge the gap between luxury and everyday.
His preferred material is Aso-oke, a hand-woven clot indigenous to the Yoruba people and historically used on special occasions. Binitie, who rose to prominence as a design assistant with Stell McCartney in 2005, began wearing the fabric in 2017. She infuses the yellow dresses that are her signature creations with cotton and silks for a post-modern touch.
“We started to use contemporary African art and culture within the threads of the collection, so you see hints of it very … obviously (signals),” said Binitie, who divides her time between Lagos and London.
“It’s kind of informed fabric, informed color, informed style.” Priced between $ 300 and $ 4,000, his custom TB12 collection features Aso-oke, which means “superior fabric” in Yorub, in seven different shades.
“We’re preserving the culture, you know, that we’ve seen our whole lives in front of us … and teaching the younger generations that it’s something to be proud of, something to want to wear,” he told Reuters.
Lagos designer Lisa Folawiyo specializes in different traditional fabrics, the wax prints from West Africa known as Ankara, and her hybrid collection, called Batkara, incorporates Batik designs adorned with beading and sequin embellishments.
“We have merged what is indigenous to us with what I knew in the West and we have made it our own,” he said.
That same synthesis informs the aesthetics of Alara, a Lago store dedicated to showcasing contemporary African fashion for the Nigerian and diaspora markets.
Its director of associations, Arinola Fagbemi, says that more and more people think of African luxury “in terms of how we live from day to day … not just for moments of celebration.