For many years, African fashion has influenced and has been influenced by other cultures. Over the past decade, contemporary styles of African fashion have evolved from the mixture of African and western cultures.
However, it has been only of late the African fashion has been able to break into mainstream markets. Even though popular western fashion houses like Victoria’s Secret use African models, there has been no attempt to develop authentic African fashions lines for a contemporary African consumer.
The rising demands for contemporary African wear reflects a growing population of young African middle class in America looking to connect to their continent. Many young Africans in colleges realized the demand and have started selling lines of graphic t-shirts that are customized to reflect different African cultures. Among them has risen Jamhuri - an African fashion powerhouse based in New York city.
Jeffery Kimathi the manager of Jamhuri Wear says that his designs are “ inspired by the language and landscape of the continent that the brand strives to represent in the fashion industry” The word "Jamhuri" translates from Swahili to mean "Republic" or "Free State." It describes the 53 vast nations of the company’s main focus.
He says that even though they have been in business for less than four years, the huge market response signifies that “ we have something unique to offer.”. Already influencial names in entertainment like hip hop mogul JayZ has endorsed Jamhuri’s fashions. “Its about a soul…a belonging,Jamhuri wear is spiritual belonging to something…African is full of abundance and we are trying to represent it.,” he said.
He said that since western fashion houses are not willing to produce African designs, the onus is on young entrepreneurs like him to play their role “we feel like we have something to offer…a void to fill” he adds.
Jamhuri Wear creates fashions that blends western ideals with a traditional African significance. The distinctive designs have been embraced by young urban demographics from all races.
Kimathi stresses that his company’s primary goal is “ to promote pride and empower the youth of Africa, playing a proactive part in the future image of "Mama Africa." He recognizes that the challenge is big but he takes it on with pride. He says that it is time that the West embraced African fashion and the role of designers like him is to “ offer them something from Africa to consume and enjoy.”
Kimathi sees a bright future for Jamhuri as part of this emerging market, “ we want a Jamhuri to be powerhouse and representer of African culture”.
Jamhuri’s collections showcase a mix between the contemporary and the traditional aspects of African society, heritage and cultures. Included in the collection is the "Badge of Honor" – a piece that evokes a Swahili prayer (and Kenyan national anthem) for peace that promotes tranquility and the growth of a nation.