The second annual Ankara Miami Swim show took place on Saturday, July 22 at 380 District in Miami. The empty warehouse space was transformed for the fashion show, adding traditional African vendors, a bar, and, of course, a runway and seating.
The Ankara show featured six designers from Africa or the African diaspora who drew inspiration from African culture when creating looks for their men’s and women’s swimwear lines.
Fort Lauderdale artist Nzingah Oniwosan of Nzingah Designs made handmade jewelry for the show, while South Florida-based hair-care center Natural Trendsetters provided hair and makeup for the 12 models.
“A lot of times, models of African descent don’t have the opportunity to be seen on a mainstream platform,” Oniwosan said backstage while using small pliers to close clasps. “[Ankara] was created to provide that platform so that our work can be seen and not be dismissed.”
Oniwosan said it’s not common to see designers using traditional materials, so Ankara aims to showcase that style with every show.
“This is a really amazing platform for us to show cultural beauty, because it’s [Miami Swim Week] and there’s not a lot of representation whether it be the clothes, the makeup, the hair,” said Simone Hylton, owner of hair-care center Natural Trendsetters.
“We kind of went with a tribal look because it’s Ankara, and it’s a lot of Africanwear. This is actually our second year doing [the show] with them” — Simone Hylton
“[There are] a lot of natural hairstyles and culture cornrows and … Zulu knots.” — Simone Hylton
The Natural Trendsetters team prepped the models’ hair the day before the fashion show, then finished the looks on the day of the show. They added hair extensions, cowrie shells and golden charms to enhance the looks.
“The makeup is a little tribal, as well,” Hylton said. “They used a lot of colors because there’s a lot of prints, and they have tribal markings to kind of be more like how it is, our original beauty, what we used to do years ago.”
“We did braids last year, but it was more updos, kind of top-knot-braids. This year, we kind of went with more long, beaded, tribal looks.”
Nzingah Oniwosan, Nzingah Designs
“Most of my pieces are inspired by traditional culture and clothing and fabric,” Oniwosan says. “I do a lot of repurposing of things, so a lot of times after these designers make stuff, there’s fabric left over so I’m able to then create my line of fabric earrings though that. I’m always looking at sustainability.”
“My overall inspiration is that the body is a canvas and I want to use the jewelry as my paint to adorn it,” Oniwosan says.
Sylvester Ndhlovu, RuvaAfricWear
34-year-old Sylvester Ndhlovo moved from Zimbabwe to Minnesota 15 years ago. His fashion career began in high school, when he would print designs on T-shirts. Two years ago, he started RuvaAfricWear, an art and fashion line focusing on everyday clothing for men and women.
Ndhlovo said he designs clothing for any occasion. “Traditionally, African fashion has been about three events: church, weddings and funerals. So my brand is you can wear it swimming. You can wear it to the gym. You can pretty much wear it to work, as well,” Ndhlovo explained between model fittings.
“I use a lot of the kente print, which is based in Ghana,” Ndhlovo said. “It’s a very traditional cloth in Ghana. It’s a cloth designed for royalty.”
Ndhlovo said he gets ideas for cuts and styles by looking at current trends and then making them his own. Ndhlovo said when he was younger, he focused on name-brand clothing but is now focused on clothing with cultural or historical impact. “I’m trying to build a lifestyle around celebrating African history and heritage through fashion,” he said.
Pieces in the swimwear line cost from $30 to $65.
When it comes to cultural appropriation, Ndhlovo said, “[Fashion] is about celebrating. If somebody wants to celebrate with you, as long as they’re not mocking it, as long as they’re not doing it in bad taste, it’s really about celebrating that African print or African culture. If you’re white, if you’re from Europe, if you’re from Jamaica, it doesn’t matter as long as you want to celebrate African fashion and you enjoy actually wearing prints. I’m really down with that. In fact, I welcome it. … It’s another form of art that should be appreciated by anybody regardless of where they come from.”
Benita Jebose, Fabian & Mom
Benita Jebose moved from Nigeria to Miami 15 years ago. Her line, Fabian & Mom, emerged after her son Fabian was born in 2006. She left nursing school on maternity leave and ended up taking a fashion course at home. She goes to Nigeria to gather fabrics and makes her clothing there and in Miami Gardens.
“Fabian & Mom is more about African fabrics,” Jebose said. “We do mostly traditional African, and right now we’re going into more modern swimwear with African fabric, trying to expose more of the African culture ... more [people can] be aware of it.”
“All the fabrics are from Nigeria,” Jebose said. “They’re handmade.”
She said she uses various types of handmade fabric, including Ankara, a wax fabric with African prints; dashiki, an oversize shirt with Nigerian origins; and batik, which is similar to tie-dye.
“They are different, unique cultures because in Africa we have different cultures and tribes,” Jebose said. “So if you pick up a fabric, it would tell you what culture that is … If it’s the Western or Eastern or the Northern.”
Headresses were worn to add flavor to the swimwear looks.
Monique Thomas, Jama Collections
Three friends came together to create Jama Collections. This is the first year the Fort Lauderdale-based brand showed at Miami Swim Week.
“It’s my best friend and her sister,” co-founder Monique Thomas said. “We came together and decided to do a line that is for the modern, eclectic woman.”
“We want to bring African fashion to the forefront,” Thomas said backstage before the show. “It’s not just something that’s traditional. It’s something that everyone can wear. It’s fun. It’s beautiful. It’s bright. It’s bold. We just want everyone to enjoy it.”
“It’s the prints that actually help to bring out the different styles that we do,” Thomas said.
Thomas said the looks are playful, trendy and versatile. Jama Collections draws inspiration from Sierra Leone and the Virgin Islands.
“Our greater purpose,” Thomas said, “is to bring the diaspora from America and Africa together as one.”