Fusing African and Western culture in her menswear collection has earned Abisola Akanni a coveted catwalk space at a global platform for African-inspired designers.
Abisola, a Fashion Design graduate from De Montfort University Leicester (DMU) showed her designs at Africa Fashion Week London last month, alongside emerging talent from around the world and in front of buyers, retailers, influential industry professionals and the media.
She was one of 13 De Montfort University (DMU) students to show their full final-year collection, named in the top 25 GFW finalists and interviewed for the Christopher Bailey Gold Award.
Born to Nigerian parents, the 21-year-old from Romford in East London, said: “I was really shocked to have been picked for Africa Fashion Week London, but I’m so honoured.
“I got to show my designs next to some of the best African talent out there, including a designer who comes from the same place my parents are from, which was really cool.
“Seeing my culture represented in such a visual way was very inspiring. Also, it was really interesting to see how African people celebrate fashion and their impact on the industry.”
Abisola’s colourful Back to School collection – a play on merging Western and African school uniforms – is made from Ankara, a traditional African cotton fabric with vibrant patterns.
“When it comes to professional-wear, Africa emulates the Western way of dressing to demonstrate a sign of social and economic progression, but in turn has lost the cultural background. My collection celebrates a modern interpretation of school uniforms with a traditional twist,” she said.
“My mum was really proud coming to the show. It was especially nice for her to be there, because she took me shopping for Ankara fabric on London’s Liverpool Street when I was at college and that’s where I returned to source fabric for my final-year collection.
“She was surprised that I wanted to use Ankara, because to her it’s a casual fabric used for everyday clothes, but I’m glad she’s seen my vision come to life.”
Abisola is putting everything she learned at DMU to good use with an internship at Josh & Nicol, a luxury womenswear label creating minimalist designs.
She said: “The skills I developed at DMU are skills I’m using every day. The fact that working in the industry hasn’t come as a shock to me proves how good the Fashion Design course is.
“I feel I’ve been well prepared for the world of fashion and it’s given me 100 per cent confidence for the future.
“Also, working with a small brand is proving very rewarding. Not only am I involved in technical aspects like pattern cutting and designing, I’m also learning a lot about running a studio and developing a brand.”
Once she has some industry experience under her belt, Abisola plans to do a master’s in pattern cutting, which is where her true passion lies.