African Fashion in Ohio Fashion Week
by Chioma Onukwuire
In the fashion industry, where more people are wanting more options in their fashion, African fashion seems to be leading in that regard. Celebrities from Janet Jackson to Beyoncé have been wearing African wears. In the US, where most of the population is White, it seems that African fashion is sweeping the nation. As long people want more diversity and people raise their voices for more inclusivity, then African fashion is not a trend. It is a movement that’s just getting started.
Jackie Bertolette, who runs Haute Ohio Magazine, put on a spectacular fashion show in Mentor, Ohio on September 22nd. The show showcased designers from all over the globe and has been applauded for its diversity. Not only was it announced that the magazine would be doing covers for plus size models, older models, models with disabilities, and children models; but models of all shapes and sizes were represented in the showcase. While people applauded Jackie for her diversity, Jackie did not do it for publicity. In fact, she was not thinking of diversity when she organized the show. Jackie believes if you can model, then you are a model. It just makes sense. Now if only the rest of the fashion industry can follow her lead.
Jackie started with a degree in Commercial Photography and started designing clothes for herself when she realized many brands did not make clothes for six-foot women that were a size one. As she started wearing her designs it eventually led her to create designs for music bands which is how she became a designer. She got a degree in Commercial photography. She saw that there was a gap in the Midwest for commercial photographers that didn't just do portrait photos. One day, she and her colleagues joked about how she had all these skills and should create a fashion magazine. However, this “joke” became a reality. Jackie created a fashion magazine, especially when she believed that she could train minors into becoming New York level models and give them the know-how of the fashion industry. She considered this an untapped market in the Midwest and till this day, it is. She later created Haute Ohio Magazine and the rest was history.
The first show she put on was supposed to be a one-time thing, but they got so much positive feedback that they had to have more. Jackie wanted the shows to match the purpose of the magazine, which is to uplift people. If doing the show , then it had to be part of the magazine’s mission. “It can’t just be in Ohio.” “It cannot be just one designer it has to be a collective.”
Fast forward to her third show, called Haute Couture Upper Echelon Runway in Mentor, Ohio. Mentor is a town made up of 95.9% white residents. However, this town saw an explosion of African fashion at the show. The countries of Nigeria, Ghana, and South Africa were represented. A whole segment of the show was dedicated to African fashion. There were three African designers: Chimu(America), A.K. Classik(Nigeria), and Saplinks(South Africa).
The models walked to African music by Ibaaku, Wizkid, and many more. They even finished off the segment with African dancers dancing to mainly Nigerian music. The music was African and so were the clothes and the dances. This show was the first time that they had a global segment, even though Saplinks has worked with them before. The crowd was very receptive to it judging by the claps each African designer received. When I saw this I was happy, yet surprised. Living in Ohio, people have given off the impression that since it’s the Midwest and many people are white, African fashion would not take hold there. So, to see Africa nicely represented in Mentor Ohio, it was good to see how receptive people were to the clothes. So much so that people came backstage after the show to inquire about and praise the pieces. I wanted to check my assumptions, so I asked Jackie if it’s true that white people do not like African fashion. She said that there is not a cut and dry line. There is good mix of white people who love African fashion and black people who do not like African fashion. The Midwest has a lot of more progressive people than people give them credit for. However, the conservative’s voices are louder. When you get into the group of people who are open to the art of fashion, those group of people are more open to any style. I had to agree with Jackie, because given my experience selling African wares in Ohio, there were white people who were interested in the fashion yet were careful to not get an item that would have them culturally appropriate the culture. I also had many African Americans who couldn’t care less.
Jackie told me her future vision for OHFW. She wants it to be more than a day. It should be weekends and it should be a high-end event yet accessible to everyone. Also, she wants it to be more than a show. There should be workshops, multiple fashion events, and more changing rooms. Knowing Jackie this will become a reality especially as more people are looking toward the Midwest for fashion.
All pictures were taken by Alex Belisle.