On April 5, the fashion department of Montclair State University organized a fashion show titled “Forgotten African Queens” by former Safiatou Akondo student.
At her home in Togo, West Africa, designing toys and paper dresses as a child, Akondo dreamed of becoming a fashion designer, in a place that deprived her of that opportunity. The former major in fashion studies reflected on the stories of African queens but also on the lack of representation of African models in the fashion industry.
Akondo explains how flea markets in Africa are filled with traditional Western items that have made traditional African clothing not so accessible. Mass production has knocked out shops selling African clothing. Akondo argues that this deprives the unique garments from being seen around the world.
Making the traditional African dress takes more work, which leaves Africans with more affordable options.
“I think Africa is just the last place they dump all those unnecessary used clothes – it looks like it’s a fashion dumpster,” Akondo said. “Someone has to do something and I think I’m willing to do it.”
She created her collection, “Forgotten African Queens”, when she attended Atlantic City Fashion Week (ACFW). During fashion week, designers were provided with upholstery for furniture and fabrics to use in their collections. Akondo’s mission to keep the African heritage alive motivated her to create models that mirror African queens. The queens range from Nefertiti the queen of ancient Kemet to Kandake the empress of Ethiopia.
“I did research on queens in Africa that I myself didn’t even know about,” Akondo said. “I learned such good stories about them [which] inspired me to make this piece “.
He further said that inclusiveness in the industry can solve the overwhelming problem of African garments needing more than one platform in fashion.
“It doesn’t come out of Africa much,” Akondo said. “If there’s a fashion week going on, that’s it [are] only those very few people from Africa who can show what Africa is about. “
Despite Africa’s lack of representation in the fashion department, she received her Associate of Science in Business and Marketing in Togo, West Africa. She then traveled to America to receive an education in fashion, which led her to Montclair State, where she graduated in the fall of 2021.
Since receiving her education at Montclair State, Akondo points out that she has spurred her desire to help people in Africa who want to receive a fashion education. He empathizes with the situation they are in, but also recognizes where they might be.
“After high school, there are people [in Africa] who want to enter fashion but [find it] It’s hard to look for those opportunities, “Akondo said.” They really want it, but they don’t have the opportunity. “
Akondo said that educating aspiring African designers reinforces the diverse perspectives the fashion industry needs. He forces the mass production of Western clothing to take place so that traditional African fashion can show. Akondo argues that this allows future designers to see themselves on the platforms.
“African clothing isn’t really out there in the fashion world,” Akondo said. “So I really want to lift Africa [and] the beauty of African stylists. The idea of having Africans, like the way we make clothes, especially our colorful fabric, is essential [for] the world to prosper “.
From working 11 hours a day at work to returning home to take care of her children, she has saved time during her busy schedule to make her visions a reality.
“We hope that people who look at my projects see something in me that I myself can’t see,” Akondo said. “Sometimes it’s hard to believe I’m that good and hopefully people will see something good in the projects I have.”
May Chae, Akondo’s professor and mentor in the fashion studies department, was very pleased with her work and says she was one of her hardest-working students.
“She’s very creative and smart when it comes to developing her ideas and building projects, so I knew she was going to have a great collection,” said Chae. “I’m very proud of her and I know people will appreciate her creativity.”
Nayana Sturzeneker, an animation and illustration student for kids, said she loved the leopard print garment.
“I’m a fan of gradients,” Sturzeneker said. “If you give me a nuance, I fall in love with it right away. Minimalist colors really do it because they’re all neutral, but I love the pop of color. “
Allison Castillo, a sophomore in visual arts, said she loves the red piece with the hat that ties it all together.
“Remember a lot [because] I’m Hispanic, so the bright colors remind me a lot of my Latin culture, ”Castillo said.
The lack of inclusiveness in the fashion industry and the powerful stories African queens possess motivate Akondo to keep their legacy alive and challenge the fashion industry through her collection.
“We may be forgotten, or we may be behind, but we are moving upward in the world and the motherland has something to show,” Akondo said.