People often tell me, “How brave of you to be wearing African designers! I really admire the colors, the culture and the styles, but I can never pull it off myself.” This kind of statements make me sad because of two things: (1) the stereotypes about African designers and African style, and (2) a restrictive concept of a “style” that we tend to box ourselves in.
We all know the roots of such boxes and stereotypes. I do occasionally read online style magazines and scan through articles giving advice about “what women over 40 should never wear” or “outdated fashion trends that make you look cheap” or “the colors you should never mix in your outfit”. I am sure you can name a few more recurring “style” themes. Most of such articles are not about style, they are about shopping and not just any type of shopping but rather about “fast” shopping and “fast” fashion. Next time you see an article with a title similar to one of the above – read it carefully, reflect on it and then read it again. You will see how they use scare tactics in the narrative (if you do this you would look old/vulgar/outdated/ignorant/too fat/too skinny/unprofessional/etc.) to make us lose confidence in ourselves and convince us that the only way to regain that confidence is to throw away half of our wardrobe right now and replace it with the newest pieces from one of the big brands that churn new collections on a quarterly basis.
Don’t get me wrong – I am not against established brands. In fact, for quite a while my big fashion dream had been to own 7 wrap dresses by Diane von Furstenberg – 1 dress for each day of the week. DVF has been my role model as a woman and a business person for years; her wrap dresses helped me visualize the image I wanted to project – strong, elegant, independent, cool, happy, approachable, on the go, caring, transitioning effortlessly through the day... the list goes on. I do own 4 DVF dresses -- turned out I did not need 7 to understand a thing or two about my “style” or rather about the clothes that make me feel strong, elegant, independent, cool, happy.... You get the drift – the clothes that boost my confidence and make me feel proud of who I am.
And this is it – my style is the style that gives me the confidence to be who I am and lets my personality shine through. There is no ‘fashionable” do’s or don’ts – if a total-black look makes me feel confident today, that’s what I am going to wear whether I am 30 or 50. And if somebody else feels confident sporting a pair of Louboutin’s – so be it. Confidence is the key to style. We have all seen people who are trying too hard – and this hard work of styling themselves makes them look outdated, unprofessional, unapproachable and all around unattractive. Style should make us feel and look confident and comfortable because it complements our personality it does not alters it.
But even through there are no style do’s and don’ts from my perspective, there are two things I do not tolerate: replicas of famous brands and running after the fast-fashion train. And the “why?” is simple – lies i.e., fake things and conformity are detrimental to confidence, individuality, and being comfortable in your own skin.
Now that we’ve established that “style” is what makes you feel and look confident and comfortable in your own skin, it is quite easy to see why a Russian lady like me would never be able to pull off a bold kitenge skirt, which would look very elegant on a Kenyan fashionista – I grew up surrounded by the subdued colors of the winter and would not look comfortable wearing bold colors.
But luckily for me and for all of us, African designers and African designs are so much more than kitenge, shuka and ankara in contrast with what some of the established, fast-fashion brands are trying to convince us when flooding runways and fashion magazines with what they call “African-style” collections. African designs are many; they are diverse, refreshingly non-conformist and truly inclusive. Anyone can find a great fit for a particular personal taste or lifestyle or both. And this is one of the reasons we established Glitter Trotter in the first place – to dismantle the stereotypes about people, continents, styles and cultures and to show that in all our diversity as humans, there are common threads and themes that link us together – and many of such common threads are found in the products of human creativity – art, fashion, designs, music, dance, etc.
I cannot really dance or sing (although I pretend I can when nobody sees me), but I can share my admiration for art and experiments with my personal style. I wear African designers every day, it is a genuine part of my lifestyle and my passion. I use my Instagram page @glitter_trotter to share my “looks” and talk about how I mix and match pieces. I am not a stylist and will not pretend to be one. There are professionals, who earn millions telling other people what to wear – if you want a professional advice, you will not get it from my social media. But you will get good stories about cool creatives from around the world and about ways to bring a little style sparkle into your everyday routine.