Updated: Jul 7, 2020
By Dami David
Against the backdrop of the Black Lives Matter movement and global drive for diversity in many industries, the Vogue Cover Challenge was one of the more novel responses to arise. The challenge saw many Africans imagine themselves on the cover on the famously unrepresentative publication. (British Vogue Editor In Chief, Edward Enniful's favorites were compiled for a post on Vogue's website; the actual August Vogue cover went to a range of landscapes instead.)
Just last week, Naomi Campbell posted on Instagram an old article by Reuters with the Headline Supermodel Naomi Campbell urges Vogue to launch African edition (published back in 2018) with a caption "I spoke about it then, let’s make it happen". The post received over 100k likes and many supportive comments.
Like many I've grew up with respect and love for the institution/authority that is Vogue magazine. Rachael was subscribed to UK edition and I spent most of early teenage years admiring her collection which included a copy from her year of birth and several international editions. My other sister used to buy foreign editions as gifts from her travels around the world. Whilst in recent years I have been impressed and excited with both Naomi Campbell's presence in Africa and British Vogue’s coverage of African fashion designers, culture and music. It have covered events such as Lagos Fashion & Design Week (LFDW) and spotlighted many African designers including Nigerian Kenneth Eze.
However, my reaction to Naomi's post was one of sheer disappointment. I felt confused that Naomi Campbell would still be advocating for Vogue Africa especially considering her close engagement with the African fashion industry over past three years. Surely, Naomi should be familiar with the industry's problems? Just last year, I was in the audience at Arise Fashion Week by Naomi Campbell in Lagos, Nigeria, where the Nigerian fashion industry veteran Deola Sagoe was crowned “Designer of the Year" and presented with a N10m cheque for her outstanding presentation. The couture designer expressed her gratitude and said the prize would go towards growing her business, mainly towards manufacturing and production which are both known to be one of the key areas African designers have said they need support with.
I felt someone needed to sit her down and explain the many reasons why a Vogue Africa is problematic and what else she could do to achieve her aim to 'put Africa on the fashion map'. Another immediate desire was to find out what people in the industry thought about Naomi's post and the idea of an African Vogue. After my review of the comments on Instagram, I jumped into few DMs.
"... this is not the best way for us to start building black wealth. How would Africa benefit from this?"
Many agreed with my feelings that Vogue Africa would be at the best unhelpful, and at the worst highly problematic. Here are the key reasons why:
Africa, like Europe where there is a different magazine for most large countries, is not a single market. There are more countries and far more different currencies, distinct cultures and societies than Europe.
Whatever the benefits might have been of having African Vogue when Naomi Campbell first suggested it surely are null and void now as African's fashion industry has expanded massively without it.
Print is dying. Many formerly popular magazines (think about Glamour, Look and NME) no longer exist in print form. Africans are fully engaged with digital media and are served by many indigenous online publications such as Bella Naija, which has also been highly influential in exporting African fashion and culture to an overseas diaspora audience. Part of the reason I know so much about African brands, celebrities and politics is from reading Bella Naija daily since 2011.
Having an non-indigenous publication dictating trends, style and beauty to Africans doesn't sit well with me or many people who commented. Grace Ladoja MBE provided a view in the comments (under @theshadeborough's post) “Vogue is owned by Conde Nast which is owned by Advanced publications, look them up and you’ll know this is not the best way for us to start building black wealth." How would Africa benefit from this?” Some also believed Naomi's rationale for supporting this was more to do with her ambition to get a key position at the magazine than her actual belief that it is what the industry needs.
There are many African-owned and led publications on the continent. I reached out to Simi Esiri the founder and editor in chief at Schick Magazine, who published an open letter to Naomi Campbell in response to my questions.
In the letter (above) she acknowledged the work of existing African publications - who have collectively built a reputable industry whose work the establishment of Vogue Africa could easily undermine. I admired how she closed the letter with an open-end, essentially inviting Naomi to support the industry in a different way. She expressed her desire to continue the conversation about empowering African fashion and publishing industries in a sustainable way. There are so many options people like Naomi have to support including raising investment in existing publications, mentoring fashion and media leaders or even supporting global distribution to get existing magazines on newsstands worldwide. But we'll just have to wait and see.
So, do you still want a Vogue Africa?
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