‘Black doll outsells Barbie in Nigeria’ should be the news equivalent to ‘wool hats outsell bikinis in Siberia’. In a logical world, it's a total non-story. But the tale of Queens of Africa, a line of black dolls created by Taofick Okoya, has gone viral having recently featured on the websites of the Daily Mail, the Independent, Elle, and MTV. What is it about these dolls that has captured the hearts and imaginations of so many? Is the David vs Goliath narrative fuelling the story's popularity, or the fact that a gross aberration of logic, upheld for far too long, is finally being corrected?
Not so long ago I would have stressed the importance of African artistes incorporating the English language into their music if they wanted it to break into international markets. I soon realised the flaw in my logic when I looked at my own taste in music and realised that, as an English and Swahili-speaking Kenyan, I still love kwaito music from South Africa, which is normally sung in Tsotsitaal or Zulu – this despite me having absolutely no idea what was being said! The lack of comprehension doesn’t stop me from listening to kwaito. (Although not strictly kwaito), how many of you have heard ‘Khona’ by Mafikizolo? Now, hand on heart, how many of you (non-Zulu speakers) actually understand what it’s about?
Exactly. And it almost doesn’t matter…
The African continent is blessed with ample natural resources, more so than anywhere else on earth. It is because of this that there remains a sharper focus on investing in the extractive industries. An understandable play. However, this focus often comes at the expense of Africa’s creative business potential. Even within cultural norms, young Africans are encouraged to follow careers in engineering, medicine, and accounting (the drill is now obvious), leaving the more creative and artistically-inclined professions deprioritised.
I’ve dedicated much of my life to advocating for the promotion, protection and renaissance of African artistry — its creativity, music, fashion, style, and every other element behind what truly is the genesis of African expression and image-based representation. What we wear isn’t just about looking good; what we wear is a silent (but very tumultuous) statement about one’s self, one’s heritage and one's way of life. In fact, fashion is one of the most poignant cultural storytellers of all time, innately descriptive of our nature, nurture, and state of being. Fashion is a grand ambassador that unaidedly speaks the most epic of universal languages, capable of influencing and positioning societies worldwide.
So, if fashion is a language, with a high-powered voice, whose tune is it singing in Africa?