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Africa’s Sustainability Mindset
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Africa’s Sustainability Mindset

Sustainability out of Africa
Model wears flower headband with denim top

Luxury and Sustainable Practice

As the fashion world becomes more conscious of its impact on the environment and it’s people, there is a greater push for the industry to adopt sustainable practices. Fast fashion production is one of the highest contributors to carbon gas emissions, wastewater, micro-plastics and toxic dyes from textiles. Global luxury brands predominantly from the West have also been found guilty of exploitative and unsustainable fast fashion practices. This has contributed to the rise of the new luxury and move to independent craft and artisanal brands. A point made by Mike Featherstone in Critical Luxury Studies: Art, Design, Media edited by John Armitage and Joanne Roberts, craft is also at the centre of new forms of value being assigned to luxury-making. He writes:

“A central aspect of luxury is value. Luxuries proclaim value: they suggest things that can readily be valued above others. Luxuries embody the promise of special things: not merely things of quality, scarcity and wonder that are beautifully made, but also eventful and sensory fulfilling experiences. Indeed, some luxury goods are deliberately made to be noticed: to embody authority and announce their experiential dimension. It is this power of luxuries to offer more, to hold out the promise of a process of familiarisation which unfolds new aesthetic and sensory dimensions. “ [1, pg.108]

The African continent is vast and it’s creative production cannot be homogenised or regarded as a single entity but what the continent has offered the world is a plethora of beautiful, bespoke, handcrafted and artisanal objects of luxury.

With a history of artisanship and slow practice, Africa has never needed a word to identify what it does naturally, but as the world shifts to more ethical consumption and consumers seek meaning and experiences in their purchasing choices, and with the power of technology, the continent is offering the world an alternative to the fast, mass produced brands and products. The continent’s cultural heritage, like woven textiles from Nigeria and Ghana, traditional Berber weaving in North Africa, bark cloth manufacturing in Uganda, and beadwork from Maasai and Ndebele artisans, not to mention the incredible story-telling, play a central role in the positioning of Africa as a continent for sustainable luxury in the aftermath of the COVID-19 crisis.

The continent has the youngest population in the world, an estimated 60 percent of the continent’s 1.3 billion people are under the age of twenty-five, with a fast growing middle class; African wealth is rising and demand for luxury goods is also being driven from within the African continent. Let’s not forget that Africa has always been a hub of luxury, what is different now is that Africa is telling it’s own stories and sharing with the world it’s dynamic creative output. At its core it frowns upon waste, values heritage and respects resourcefulness. It is an attitude born out of living in abundance and scarcity, liberation and oppression, and commitment to community. These values are embedded in their creative production: time, labour, skill, creativity and innovations, significantly, these are the same traits valued in sustainable design practice and simultaneously central to luxury-making.

The slow and artisanal are where the value lies and the Marigold beaded necklaces made by the Beaders’ of Bulawayo, Zimbabwe, a women’s beading co-operative specialising in loomed beadwork, is an example of beautiful luxury items that enables its wearers to temporarily step out of capitalism and the commodity chain of anonymous purchases. Instead, Marigold beaded necklaces have the potential to transport it’s wearer to a slow motion lifestyle and invites play with texture and colour and can act as an indicator to the outside world a notion of self through things. [2]

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Making Marigold: Beaders of Bulawayo[3].

In 2009, The Ethical Fashion Initiative was established in Nairobi, to support and strengthen social enterprises in emerging economies and to connect discerning international brands in fashion, interiors and fine foods with talented local designers, artisans and micro-producers. It also runs an accelerator mentorship program for African fashion brands that practice sustainable sourcing and minimal chemical treatment for materials.

This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.

Discussion

  • Can you find examples of more widely used sustainable practices in fashion and luxury?
  • Have you noticed a trend towards sustainability in your social group?

Share your responses in the comments below.

References:
1. Featherstone, M. (2016). in Critical Luxury Studies: Art, Design, Media edited by John Armitage and Joanne Roberts
2. Nuttall, S. (2013). ‘Wound, surface, skin’, Cultural Studies, 27:3, pp. 418–37.
3. Brenner, J. (2017). Making Marigold: Beaders of Bulawayo. Palmipsest International Ltd.

Bibliography:
1. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/travel/article/bark-cloth-textile-clothing-unesco
2. https://modaafrica.org/portfolio_page/jose-hendo-ma17/
3. https://josehendo.com
4. https://ethicalfashioninitiative.org/stories/three-brands-selected-for-kenya-accelerator
5. https://www.thefolklore.com/collections/sisiano
6. Brenner, J., & Gupta, P. (2019). Marigold Beads: Who Needs Diamonds?! In D. Posel & I. Van Wyk (Eds.), Conspicuous Consumption in Africa (pp. 214-230). Wits University Press. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/332891626_THINKING_WITH_VEBLEN_CASE_STUDIES_FROM_AFRICA’S_PAST_AND_PRESENT

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Africa to the World: Analysing the Global Appeal for African Luxury Fashion

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