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Fashion is embracing new fabric trend from Africa: Kente

Fashion

By Sharon Camara

13 Apr 2021

A 15-minute exclusive show revealing the 2021 autumn-winter men’s collection from Louis Vuitton. Shown via a video shared on YouTube in particular, the collection is composed of several original styles but some of them drew more attention. These were the designs in Kente, which have very rapidly become the subject of debate on Twitter. On the internet, there are two opposing camps: those who praise the creative genius of Virgil Abloh, the artistic director of men’s fashion at Louis Vuitton and those who criticise the appropriation of Ghanaian culture by Louis Vuitton.

“Virgil Abloh comes from Ghana and he is also the artistic director of a major clothing brand, so the use of Kente permits him to make reference to his own African origins. I think it’s entirely legitimate to use a fabric that belongs to his culture, to his African identity. I think it’s important that Virgil Abloh is doing this to introduce our culture into this pantheon of international fashion”, explains Aristide Loua, the founder of the Ivorian Kente Gentleman brand.

However, the controversy is nothing compared with the popularity that these items of clothing are enjoying. It leaves room for the real subject: fashion beyond borders. The ultimate accolade for the designer is that one of his items in Kente is being worn by the Afro-American poet and new sensation Amanda Gorman on the cover of the May edition of the very powerful Vogue US.

One year before, Kente was worn by members of the American Congress to denounce racism in American society following the murder of George Floyd by a white policeman. For Afro-Americans, Kente is a symbol of their “African identity”.

But what is Kente and why is this fabric creating such a stir? To understand the symbolic and cultural value of Kente, also known as Kita, you have to go a long way … To travel about 6,000 km from France, to Ghana and Ivory Coast! It’s there that the story of this pagne began among the Akan and Kru people, for whom Kente symbolises power and nobility. This is a fabric once worn by the bourgeoisie at grand ceremonies. It’s usually men who weave Kente, mixing several threads of silk and cotton of different colours. Methods of weaving vary from one region to another. Take care when choosing Kente. The colours are significant! Yellow stands for money and wealth, green for prudence and white represents peace and purity.

“Traditional pagnes are seen as those that are only worn at traditional ceremonies or events. It is precisely this assertion that I reject with my brand by offering modern clothing made with our traditional pagnes”, confides Marthe N'Guessan, the founder of the Céchémoi brand. “It’s our identity, it’s our culture and we owe it to ourselves to promote and make the most of it now by offering modern clothing with these traditional fabrics. Céchémoi has existed for almost four years and today I can say that fashion is changing, demand for clothing made with traditional pagnes is strong and we can only be glad about that”.

Kente, an emblem of local culture?

“We are continuing to promote it since one of our aims is for public administrators and even their agents and official representatives of the country to wear this clothing in service,” explains Marthe N’Guessan. This is a goal that might be realised in Ghana well before Ivory Coast. In August 2020 the Ghanaian government announced the creation of a Kente handicraft village so as to boost production of this fabric and so as to better serve the local and international markets too. This project, managed by the Royal Kente Weavers and Sellers Association, is still in progress.

An ambitious initiative that recalls the one set up in Burkina Faso in 2019. The Faso Dan Fani (“traditional national woven pagne” in the Dyula language), a traditional Burkinabe pagne, was labelled by the Minister of Commerce and Handicraft. This is one way for the country to exploit this fabric made from 100 percent cotton and at the same time to combat counterfeits and to also better control a market that brings in over 50 billion CFA Francs (or over 76 million Euros) a year.

This article was originally published on FashionUnited.FR, translated and edited to English.

Crédit : Louis Vuitton/ Facebook Kente Gentleman, site Vogue US, Facebook Céchémoi