We, Team ATPB, are concerned about the crisis in the fashion industry during this time of uncertainty. Throughout this new series, Fashion After COVID-19, we want to follow up with independent fashion designers who may have been previously featured in our Designer Spotlight series. We look forward to sharing their unique points of view about how this will affect fashion and, by extension, their brand, in the long run. Many businesses have shut down, and small businesses are the most vulnerable, so it’s important to show up and support independent brands however we are able.
Fashion After Covid-19 With Afrikanista Designer Aïssé N’Diaye
The whole world has discovered Afrikanista on Beyoncé during her performance in South Africa in December 2018, among so many talented African designers. Launched in March 2014, the Parisian brand Afrikanista has showcased French people from multiple backgrounds. The brand concept articulates around four themes: traditional photography, African proverbs, Egyptian iconography, and the idea of “funky diva,” as a celebration of femininity. The Franco-Mauritarian designer Aïssé N’Diaye enlightens her ancestors’ history on t-shirts and sweatshirts made in organic cotton.
During the pandemic, we’ve seen designers from big brands and publishers talking about the future of fashion, and trying to find solutions for an equal society, more diverse and more respectful of nature. N’ Diaye takes a critical look at the French situation in the face of the pandemic and, in particular, at police violence and the systemic racism which remains taboo in France. Through her brand, the designer does not put anyone aside but celebrates those who have contributed to the greatness of France.
Amanda Winnie Kabuiku: When it comes to fashion, what is most important? How do you stay in tune with your values as a designer? In this time of confinement, how do you perceive this situation weighing in Paris?
Aïssé N’Diaye: For me, the most essential thing in the fashion field is to keep having fun transporting people into its universe, telling them a story, and our vision of our brand. As a designer, my way of staying in tune with my values is to offer collections around the themes dear to the brand, and at Afrikanista, there are four. I read, do archival research, look at documentaries … I nourish these values with endless inspiration.
The confinement in Paris went well overall. Even if I don’t understand that people keep going out and pretending nothing has happened. I was scared; I only went out to collect t-shirts produced by my supplier, send customer orders, or go shopping at the supermarket. It was hard because I couldn’t see anyone, not even my family or friends. Despite everything, this period made me feel good because it allowed me to refocus my life on essentials, to take care of myself, both physically and psychologically. There is a tendency to run as usual in all directions, so this forced break is timely for me. It’s like a new cycle starting.
AWK: Having to slow down has made us understand that we’re all facing a global pandemic and that our habits must change imperatively, for the future of this planet, as well as for generations to come. How do you see the future of fashion? The future of your brand?
AN: The future of fashion must be:
- Ethical, by working with cooperatives or craftsmen, by promoting their know-how and making it possible to create jobs.
- Responsible, by being respectful of the environment because, at present, our way of consuming has an impact on the planet.
- Committed, when it comes to current affairs and those who mainly concern the Black diaspora.
AWK: Can you please share the state of your business at the moment. Have you had to lay off staff? How are your online sales going?
AN: At this moment, to my surprise, orders have resumed meteorically following deconfinement; my sales are made only online. For the moment, apart from my PR, I work alone, and therefore I have no employees.
AWK: Did you offer online shopping before the pandemic? How is your business faring with retailers? How did you adapt your shipping procedures to protect your staff and customers?
AN: I have always offered my products online. During the pandemic, the screen printing workshop I work with was almost closed, only open once a week. For shipments, I depended entirely on the slowdown in La Poste’s services. Suddenly, I made shipments in a group once per week for health and safety reasons.
AWK: What is the flow of work at your design studio? How did you feel creatively considering the moment?
AN: My workflow was creative during the pandemic. I saw things and life differently; suddenly, I documented myself a lot, notably by reading books, watching films and documentaries, but also listening to a lot of music. I also practiced meditation. All this allowed me to renew my vision, to refine my creative process, to see things more broadly by pushing my limits.
AWK: Have you been in contact with other designers or retailers? How are you supporting one another and the fashion community at the moment?
AN: I have been in contact with some designers with whom I get along well. We saw each other, we talked about what to do with our creations after the deconfinement, how we saw life, the world after all. We support each other by staying positive because the most important after all is that we are alive, and that is priceless.
AWK: In your opinion, could you please describe the French position about racism? What can brands and retailers do to spread the message of Anti-Racism and support the Black Lives Matter in France?
AN: In France, racism is a taboo subject. We are still at the stage where we do not want to hear the pain of those who live it, we do not put ourselves in the place of those who suffer it. The French state is hiding behind universalism, which consists of saying that everyone is equal, except it is false. France does take responsibility for its colonialist past.
However, what we are experiencing today is only the consequence of this paternalism towards Africans. As a French woman of African descent and daughter of immigrants, we want mentalities to change. We are not looking for pity but reparations from the past. This will allow us to move forward and strive for a better life together. Unfortunately, the government is deaf to the demands of the black community for fear of offending the supporters of the extreme right but especially the police. I think that as a designer, it is essential to be committed to the issues of racism and to fight it in a fun way through our creations. As a Black woman, I could not remain indifferent to the question because, like many Black people, I have suffered from racism, and it must be explicitly condemned. For us, our parents before us, and especially for future generations.
AWK: Have you seen the open letter that spearheaded? What do you think, did you sign?
AN: Yes, I read it. I agree with Dries Van Noten, we must rethink the calendar of shows and sales. All this is stressful for creators, brands, and besides, there is nothing positive about the environment. I didn’t sign it, but I should have. Fashion needs to be completely redesigned.
AWK: How many collections did you show a year? How many do you expect to do now?
AN: I make one collection a year. I work at my own pace, but starting next year, I would like to do two a year.
AWK: If you had to create only one piece, which would it be and why?
AN: If I had to create a single piece, it would be an oversize jacket with broad and square shoulders. I love oversize cuts, and I like the masculine/feminine side of a jacket.
See more of Aïssé N’Diaye and Afrikanista on Instagram!