The Edit: The Designers Leading Africa’s Gender Neutral Fashion Movement

Words by The Folklore Team

Rich Mnisi

Today, many designer brands are evolving their design ethos to embrace a modern world where traditional gender lines are increasingly blurred. In fashion world, this change can be seen in unisex or genderless clothing that are designed to be worn by anyone. The idea isn’t that common womenswear items such as dresses or skirts are now being designed for men to wear, instead, fashion designers are now creating considered pieces that have simple shapes, relaxed silhouettes and bold colors that do not signal any particular gender identity.

Gender-inclusive fashion makes it easier for people to explore styles and trends outside of their comfort zones without worrying about fitting into sartorial stereotypes. Designer Adebayo Oke-Lawal of Nigerian brand Orange Culture has always described his label as a “movement” that seeks to create garments for “just about anyone who’s interested in telling a story with the way they present themselves”, believing that gender or sexuality are not meant to define the type of clothing one should or shouldn’t wear. Likewise, Ivorian brand Kente Gentlemen’s signature Baba and Soke pinstriped suit has been presented on men and women alike.

This is notable because of the often conservative culture present in many African countries. Traditional gender roles and conventional ways of dressing are still expected of both men and women, leaving little room for style explorations and experimentation. By defying gender norms and defining their own takes on what modern design means for an ever-changing society, African brands are showing that they are willing and able to join a relevant global movement that continues to grow.

Below are some African brands leading the charge at the intersection of fashion and gender inclusivity that you can shop now on The Folklore Marketplace.

Ajabeng

Fashion has no gender for Ghanaian designer brand Ajabeng. The pieces in its collections expertly combine both masculine and feminine aesthetics to create experimental yet classic designs. Each season, the brand expands on its signature neutral colour palette to introduce pops of color ranging from lemon yellows to pale pinks. From long-line tunics to tailored coordinating sets and wide-leg pants, Ajabeng’s designs are designed for comfort and considerably made from sustainable fabrics.

Orange Culture

While it initially started as a menswear line, Orange Culture quickly garnered a following of women clients who wanted to wear the pieces, too. The brand’s combination of Nigerian craftsmanship and contemporary streetwear results in androgynous pieces that play with unexpected shapes, colors and details such as cut-outs sweaters, knee-high boots and sheer fabrics. The traditional Yoruba “agbada” garment has also been reimagined with a modern button-down version that appeals to today’s generation.

Good Good Good

Inspired by workwear staples and classic wardrobe essentials, Cape Town-based brand Good Good Good offers its own colorful take on utilitarian style, designed for “every body” of all sizes, shapes and ages. At its design core sits the classic T-shirt, which is then rounded out with functional pieces that are created to be worn season to season, all year-round. Each Good Good Good piece is made in its family-run factory using sustainable materials sourced from textile local mills. Having its own manufacturing facility also allows the brand to make garments to order, which means clients can have their clothing cut and fitted to their exact liking.

Rich Mnisi

South African brand Rich Mnisi takes an irreverent and experimental approach to its designs, pushing the boundaries of conventional style. Silhouettes are cut to show off the human form and multiple colors come together in a maximalist aesthetic that defies categorisation. Corset-style tops, 1970s-inspired flares and one-piece tube jumpsuits are all examples of the brand’s unique perspective on fashion design and how people do not fit into boxes.

AKJP

Oversized fits, boxy shapes and layering separates are all part of Cape Town brand AKJP’s minimalist aesthetic, which makes the pieces easy to wear and style. Consciously crafted in South Africa, its unisex timeless pieces, such as T-shirts, denim jeans and polo shirts, form the foundational basics of every wardrobe, and are made to transcend the seasons and last for years to come.

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