All someone like Queen Bey needs to do is glance at a brand and it blows up. Remember when the first images of her sportswear line Ivy Park went up on Instagram? You probably shared it, and then posted a picture of yourself in a sports bra you think Beyoncé actually wears after your order came in the mail two weeks later. No one's judging you, but Evelyn Onyejuruwa thinks your money could be used for something slightly better.
"When Beyoncé puts out Ivy Park, people are constantly sharing and buying," she says. "But she doesn’t need it."
Onyejuruwa is the founder of Ankara Miami, an events company that focuses on fashion from Africa and the African diaspora. While Ankara organizes networking opportunities and pop-up shops year-round, its largest event since its inception in 2012 has been African Fashion Week, a four-day showcase that includes two runway shows and a fashion market. By featuring both emerging and established designers from Africa, the Caribbean, and the U.S., Ankara hopes to demonstrate the diversity of the fashion industry. And during events like Miami Swim Week, that diversity can be hard to find.
There are the obvious reasons: The industry has been dominated by European designers for as long as anyone can remember, mainly because names like Versace and Louis Vuitton are synonymous with luxury. But practical concerns also plague African designers looking to attend events like the Swim Show or Hammock Show. Onyejuruwa cites connections and networks as half of the conundrum, but cost effectiveness is also a concern.
"For the designers that aren’t as established, it’s a matter of deciding if you're going to take the risk to get flights and hotels and merchandise together," says Onyejuruwa. "I would love to be able to find a hotel to sponsor the events enough so that we’re not having to charge so much, but that hasn’t happened yet."
Even without those sponsors, Ankara and Onyejuruwa have accomplished a lot for African fashion. After four years of growing African Fashion Week, Ankara hosted its first Ankara Swim Week last year. The summer event is a truncated version of its winter counterpart, with a focus on swimwear and resort wear. Unlike official Swim Week events, the runway show on Saturday is open to the public and the pop-up shop is free to attend. It's all part of Onyejuruwa's original mission to make African fashion accessible.
"I feel like when people hear African fashion they feel kind of overwhelmed, and it shouldn’t be that intimidating," she explains. "I was born in Nigeria; I came over when I was very young. As a kid I always wore our clothing. I would go home every so often, bring back fabrics and outfits, things like that." Onyejuruwa would often put a Western spin on clothes using traditional fabrics. "It was something that was kind of natural — it was just part of our culture, so we did it. People were always asking about my clothing."
Of course, the richly colored and densely patterned designs are eye-catching, but supporting brands at the source has other perks. Not only can you find unique fashion that is often affordable, you're also buying from entrepreneurs and independent businesses that actually appreciate the patronage. For Onyejuruwa, the most important part of Ankara Miami's events is the opportunity for brands to find new customers from across the globe.
"It’s one thing for designers to have their work seen on the runway, and it’s another thing to support them financially," she says. "It doesn’t stop just with Fashion Week."
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If Beyoncé's long-documented history of rocking wax print isn't enough to sell you on African fashion, come to Ankara's Swim Week and see for yourself. Seven designers hailing from seven different countries — Sierra Leone, Jamaica, Panama, and Haiti among them — will be bringing natural hair and African flair to Miami's long- established summer sneak peek into all things wet-wear. And once you're convinced of their brilliance?
"Just follow up with the brands," suggests Onyejuruwa. "If you like something, then share it."
Ankara Swim Week. Begins Saturday, July 22, with Africa Meets the Runway Showcase at 7 p.m. at 380 District, 380 NE 59th St., Miami. The Ankara Delights Pop-Up Shop is on Sunday, July 23, at 2 p.m. at the OPAC, 1074 NW Third Ave., Miami. Visit ankaraswim.com.