Showcasing Aso-Oke will help project Yoruba culture - Ronke Ademiluyi

Date: 2020-09-20

Fashion enthusiast and the founder of the African Fashion Week, Ronke Ademiluyi, tells TOFARATI IGE about her love for Aso-Oke, African fashion and other issues

Why did you decide to start the African Fashion Week?

My heritage is cross-continental. I grew up in London (United Kingdom) and Lagos (Nigeria), so this allowed me to develop an interest in both traditional and western fashion. Growing up in London in the nineties, I was able to identify the lack of inclusion of black and African designers in the UK’s mainstream fashion industry. So, AFW was borne out of a moral obligation and an urgent need for a platform that showcased black and African designers, and promoted African culture and business opportunities. African designers have benefited immensely from the platform and most importantly, I educate the public about the importance of sustaining and preserving our heritage through fashion.

What have been your major achievements with AFW?

I am grateful for being able to sustain the platform for 10 years against all odds, working with over 1000 African brands. The launch of our fashion future education programme in June, in collaboration with the Parson School of Design New York and Henleys Business School (UK), and the start of our mentorship programme with black fashion students in the UK are also things I’m excited about. The mentorship programme will help in identifying the social and economic barriers that prevent young black creatives from becoming leading designers in the UK fashion industry.

When did you have a breakthrough in your career?

I actually studied Law, so fashion is not my background. My parents didn’t see it as a lucrative profession for me to study back then, so my breakthrough would be when I opened my first fashion retail store in 2001 in Ikeja, Lagos.

Also, I started a sister event in Nigeria― the Africa Fashion Week Nigeria in 2014. It is a platform that supports up-and-coming Nigerian designers.

What are the other highlights of your career?

One of them was when I hosted the first Africa Fashion Week London against all the odds. Almost everyone I approached about the idea said it was not a good concept, but I stuck with my gut feeling and spent my life savings to organise the event in August 2011. And over the past 10 years, we have showcased over 1000 African fashion brands in London, which is one of the fashion capitals of the world. Right now, we are at the forefront of promoting black excellence in the United Kingdom and globally.

What improvements would you like to see in the African fashion space?

I would like to see global inclusion and not just appropriation of African designs by western designers. Due to the popularity of African fashion, luxury fashion brands started incorporating African themes in their designs. I would like to see collaborations between some of these luxury brands and African designers.

What stirred your interest in Aso-Oke?

I admire the way the First Lady of Kwara State, Dr Olufolake AbdulRazak, constantly wears and promotes Aso-Oke, also known as Aso-Ofi. During her speaking engagement at the AFWL in 2019, she shed light on the weaving industry in Kwara State and the weavers behind the industry. She also brought the weavers to showcase their designs at the Africa Fashion Week Nigeria in December 2019. Prior to that, I didn’t know the state had an Aso-Ofi industry, so she has opened this to a global audience and is at the forefront of showcasing the state’s weaving industry.

What do you aim to achieve with your renewed interest in Aso-Oke?

The AFWL is not only a showcasing platform but also an educational one. We are currently working with international universities and institutions such as the Parsons School of Design New York (United States of America), Henleys Business School (United Kingdom), The London College of Fashion (UK), The North Hampton University (UK), and we are in the process of developing a historical discourse surrounding the African art of weaving. Also, the First Lady in collaboration with AFW, is in the process of creating educational contents on Kwara State’s Aso-Ofi.

In addition, we have just finished the filming of a fashion documentary that showcases the weaving industry in the state, which highlights the weavers, the weaving process, the designs, some of the communities that have engaged in this artisanship for centuries, and how is has been passed down from the older generations to the new generations. It also showcases female weavers and my organisation will show this to a global audience during the Global Sustainable Fashion Week in New York (US) and this in turn will promote Nigerian culture to the world.

A lot of young people don’t seem to be interested in Aso-Oke. What do you have to say to such people?

The situation is different in Kwara State as many young and educated people are into the weaving business. They work with sophisticated equipment and are doing a lot of great works.

Showcasing the Aso-Ofi will further empower and develop communities and encourage the revival of the dying art of weaving across Nigeria.

In what ways do you think Aso-Oke can further project Nigerian, particularly Yoruba culture?

As a princess from the Yoruba tribe, I understand the importance of sustaining our culture and heritage through fashion. At AFW, we highlight the importance of using fashion to preserve our heritage, so I ensure that we encourage our designers to showcase their heritage through their designs, as it allows them to promote their different cultures on the runway and tell stories of its origin, relevance and importance. Showcasing the Aso-Ofi during the Global Sustainable Fashion Week New York will certainly project the Yoruba culture to the world.

What are your hobbies?

I enjoy researching and writing history. I am also the global ambassador to the Queen Moremi Initiative of the Ooni of Ife, Oba Adeyeye Ogunwusi. In Africa, storytelling is part of our culture, so it is important that we continue to tell our stories, but in a way that attracts the millennial generation. Meanwhile, I will be starting the first series of my cultural conversations with the Black Fashion World Foundation. The conversations will be based around how our clothes are more than just fashion statements, viz their meanings, historical symbols and spiritual significance.

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