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Do we really need a Vogue Africa?

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African Instagrammers worldwide went berserk this week when Naomi Campbell – her love for the Motherland reawakened surely, following her recent trip to Nigeria for Arise Fashion Week – decreed it was time for Condé Nast to launch an African edition of Vogue.

Campbell, who is British Vogue’s contributing editor, explained that she believes the launch of an African edition of the style bible would be an appropriate way to recognise the continent’s contribution to the global fashion industry.

“There should be a Vogue Africa. We just had Vogue Arabia — it is the next progression. It has to be,” she said, referring to the new edition of the magazine which launched in the Middle East last year.

“Africa has never had the opportunity to be out there and their fabrics and their materials and their designs be accepted on the global platform… it shouldn’t be that way,” she went on. “People have come to realise it is not about the colour of your skin to define if you can do the job or not.”

While lauded by many on social media, Naomi’s call for Vogue Africa has raised a few eyebrows and some heckles too. Nigerian-born fashion designer Ikire Jones tweeted, “We gotta stop asking folks to let us into their parties when we can throw better ones.”

And hey, if our owambes are anything to go by – or if in Banky’s words, “there ain’t no party like a Lagos party” I am totally bagging some invites when that party is finally on.

British-Nigerian designer, Tokyo James, who earlier in the week showed his collection at Arise Fashion Week, took issue with the restrictive nature of one Vogue representing an entire continent. “Why does it have to be Vogue Africa?” said Tokyo James in a statement to Teen Vogue.

“Have you ever heard of Vogue Europe or Vogue Asia? We are a diverse continent, we all have different identities and different cultures. Each African country should be given its own opportunity to stamp its identity on the Vogue brand.”

While I firmly agree with both views, I am mainly exasperated by the fact that we have not moved an inch from the debate a decade ago.

In 2008 when photographer Mario Epanya created the faux Vogue covers some were clamouring for Condé Nast to start Vogue Africa.

In 2009, born from the roots of the frustration I felt with what I considered many Nigerians’ post-colonial need to be validated by a Western institution, was FAB Magazine. I was fortunate to meet a like-minded visionary in my then business partner Familusi Akin Babajide. The time was right, the stars were aligned, through mere coincidence two people driven by a passion to show the world Africa’s talent, beauty, diversity and creativity.

FAB magazine was born out of the frustration of a few who said we can do it “for us by us”, we did not need Condé Nast to tell us what was “African” coupled with the fact that “African” was such a nebulous notion on a continent of diverse people, cultures and fashions. Do you see “European” Vogue or “Asian” Vogue so why treat Africa like a country?

Shortly after our launch in 2010, we changed the game; all who contributed to FAB were African and black creatives from all over the world rarely ever recognised by Western publications.

There was an unspoken rule: Almost 98% of the magazine content was created by Africans for Africans, albeit that the editor was an oyinbo (That’s Afroyinbo to you!) We wanted to turn the tables on Western publications and their ‘tokenist’ approach to non-white talent.

We wanted FAB to say, “If you are not African, you may just about get invited to the party, but you have to be twice a good and work twice as hard. Even then, don’t assume you’ll get in.”

We showed the world – certainly the eight countries we sold in for two years – Africans can create beauty, fashion and art that can rival their publications.

We also showed the continent it was possible and inspired our contemporaries to up their game resulting in a renaissance of fashion publications at least out of Nigeria.

Despite becoming a household name for many industry insiders though, it was the Africans who were reluctant to RSVP to the best bash in town. “What exposure could you guarantee my brand?” would ask the advertisers who wouldn’t think twice about getting their ads in Vogue Africa for ten times the rate.

“What should I buy FAB instead of GQ?” an upstart Afropolitan would ask a team member? “I would never advertise for more than £300 a page in a black publication,” would boast the owner of an Asian beauty brand made rich by the very people he turned his nose up at. Ask any publisher of a black African publication and you will hear similar tales of woe.

Once we hear the wealthy expat may jump on the bandwagon and throw a party, we are all there in our Lanre da Silva Ajayi gowns and Louboutins like starlets desperate to make it into the style pages of tomorrow’s supplement.

But when it’s the Nigerian folk down the street throwing the party, we turn up five hours late, if we do at all; or worse still throw our own party together sharp sharp because “better pass my neighbour”.

Sadly, the party was over all too soon for FAB. Yet it brings me joy to see its alumni are out there doing amazing things in fashion, culture and editorial; some of our readers who were saving pocket money to buy copies back at UniLag are now at the helm of their magazines.

What’s more we converted a few of those who wondered why they should buy FAB over GQ. Hence, it’s time to bin this conversation served up cold and instead of clamouring for Vogue to show us how’s it’s done, to show the world how we do it.


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