In the regional fashion sector, technological enlivening has begun. Online retail is becoming a defining aspect of the industry’s sales channels, connecting international buyers to brands via e-commerce sites. In the wake of the global pandemic, navigating the crisis as an industry was informed by digital initiatives. However, we are witnessing the establishment of a permanent digital culture in its wake.
3D artwork by Jessica James. Photo: via @jessicajamesstudio.
As the creator economy settles into a digital world, the uptick in 3D fashion artists in Africa can only mean one thing: the readiness to adopt the technology. In this capacity, a number of new creators are beginning to form the bedrock of the emerging landscape, infusing their ideas into fashion to reflect their creativity, independence, and perspectives.
Percy Okine, a self-taught Ghanaian 3D visualizer, wants to expand his portfolio with more services catered to brands. His rendition of kente fabric in 3D is impressive, confirming how local textiles can still look recognizable in digital parallels. Nigerian 3D artist Idiat Shole, who goes by the creative label HADEE ART, also introduces ankara textiles into digital dimensions. From designing accessories and footwear to dresses and more, Shole acknowledges that technology can help the African fashion industry reach its potential. Nigerian designer and 3D artist Jessica James has released 3D collaborations and standalone items using software like Adobe Substance and Procreate. James’ style predominantly works in fashion through product design that combines photorealism with Afrocentric elements.
With an estimated value of $31 billion, the African fashion ecosystem is showing it can take digital risks. And while there’s still so much ground to cover, from improving its technological access and upskilling, to creating opportunities for cross-border collaborations and knowledge transfer, the industry has already begun natively producing its own mascots.
From the duo using facial recognition software to fit glasses to the designer using tech to revolutionize storytelling, these platforms have welcomed innovation and turned to digital techniques to create a brighter fashion future for the continent.
Launched in 2020 by Ghanaian CLO3D expert Baboa Tachie-Menson, BalmLabs is a company ushering in the digitization of African fashion through 3D technologies. It has positioned itself as a crucial link in the digital value chain within the African fashion market. From offering 3D campaigns and visualizations, to digital showrooms and consulting, its services are flexible enough to assist brands in actualizing their goals. BalmLabs has worked with Ghanaian streetwear label, Free the Youth, nudging it towards adopting 3D models for its capsule collection last year. For Senegalese brand Diarrablu, column wrap skirts, two-piece swimwear, and wrap dresses were rendered in realistic 3D imagery. While the creation of BalmLabs coincided with the advent of the pandemic in 2020, the agency is leveraging on current digital appetites and shifting marketing channels. For more digital disruptions to occur in the African fashion industry, the agency believes in technological education, so they offer courses on 3D utilities on their website to democratize education for the masses.
Searching for the perfect eyewear rarely proves a straightforward process, especially for the Black and African demographic, whose facial profiles, including low and wide nose bridges, don’t necessarily fit the global Eurocentric standards. Enter Reframd, the inclusive eyewear brand using frame-generating algorithms. The brand was founded in 2020 by South African Ackeem Ngwenya and Shariff Vreugd, who had experienced difficulties in the past finding glasses that fit. By incorporating major changes to frame design combined with great aesthetics and material finish, Reframd glasses are 3D-printed in nylon and premium cellulose acetate. The algorithms are run into a 3D program that captures unique specifications and adapts frames in response to different inputs, such as head width, bridge height, nose shape, etc. Furthermore, their product development framework easily and quickly adapts to changes in consumer choices for a tailored digital experience. This is how Reframd became not just an instant solution but a pioneer of inclusive eyewear.
Thebe Magugu is a South African fashion designer who has made tremendous strides on the global fashion stage. The 2019 LVMH Prize winner contextualizes his South African identity through his eponymous label, linking historical political struggles to the present. His pieces, characterized by precise tailoring and sophisticated cuts, are fashioned with cultural and social messages. When it comes to using technology, Magugu has shown considerable initiative. For the brand’s SS’20 collection titled Prosopography, he partnered with Versium to make garments embedded with microchip technology. The collection excavated South African history, where a group of white women known as the Black Sash used their position to amplify anti-apartheid struggles. All the interviews and research findings Magugu made were stored in the microchip fixed to the Thebe Magugu label. To unlock the information, consumers had to tap the Versium app on their smartphones. This piece of wearable technology signals an exciting and forward-thinking approach to storytelling and heritage preservation for African designers.
REFRAMD Fit App. Photo: via @reframd.
3D rendering of a Versace gown by Percy Okine. Photo: via @nii_king_.
Àwèlé by HADEEART. Photo: via @hadee_art.
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