Gender & Identity, Life

Stop making my Africa your fashion statement.

I am someone who enjoys fashion. I enjoy clothing and the way one can create their own personal branding and identity through a piece of a clothing.

I don’t have to wear a brand to be a brand. I am Naila and that shows through the way I carry myself as well as the colours on my sleeves.

Wearing clothes that reflect in their nature my ties and roots to my cultural heritage are of great importance to me. Many find solace in always having a khamsa tied around the neck; while others adorn a bindi. For me, I always find fascinating the relationship that many women share, predominantly in (what we consider) a multicultural Britain, with their roots back ‘home’ so to speak, blended in with their identity as British.

As a British-Algerian, I have found myself more and more inclined to share my culture, my identity, my religion even through my dress. It has become common show to see women wearing beautiful jewellery, silk scarves and other garments that traditionally, are not attire that are sought after in Britain or in the Western world. Rather, they belong to different countries and cultures that hold sentimental value for these women. I, for one, do similar gestures by wearing items on a day to day basis that link back to Algeria.

For me, it is a pair of Africa earrings. These earrings may look huge and have a personality of their own, and many may see me wearing this and think, “Is she African?” and it’s questions like these that make me wear the earrings. As a North African, a Muslim and also an Arab, I can come under fire for not choosing an allegiance with one of these sub-identities. We are inundated with images of the Muslim woman, or the Arab woman, and of course the depiction that Africa is all black. This realisation came as I a grew older, more acutely in tune with my Algerian-ness, and realising that my Algeria was not a part of the Middle East; but rather a very important African nation with strong ties to Colonial Europe, Islamic Middle East and the Mediterranean. If my country was a mish-mash of identities, then so was I.

From the Amazigh predecessors, to French and Arab invasion, I am an amalgamof this history. My country is not simply black, or white. We are a mixture, and this is shown through our dress. Each state in Algeria has its own traditional garments and jewellery, for men and women alike. I wear my Kabyle necklace one day, followed by the traditional Algerian Karakou on my wedding day.

The Africa earrings symbolise more than just a fashion statement: they are an identity influx. Constantly changing, constantly evolving just like the continent itself. The continent possesses languages upon languages, colour upon colour, just like myself.

With the world becoming such a globalised village, sharing ideas and cultures has never become easier because of the internet. However, there is a phenomena that seems to have hit high streets everywhere. From TopShop to Zara, there isn’t a store that hasn’t appropriated some style or design from the corners of the earth. As women who use these items as values of sentiments; should we be bothered?

Just because it is fashion, doesn’t mean it can’t be in touch with the audience on a cultural and global level. How many times do we see labels promoting the fact they will donate any proceeds from their collection to the woman who have sewn their dresses? Or that for every pair of shoes bought, a child in Africa will be bought a pair for themselves? Intelligence and fashion are not mutually exclusive. Yet, many stores also seem to miss something that the original wearers want: authenticity and acceptance.

But sharing and plagiarising are worlds apart. Many fashion houses either don’t bother to do their research properly, or they genuinely do not care. Sentimental value becomes lost, and instead, it becomes a part of a huge mass (and money making) production.

Of course, there is the other side to the debate which renders that in order to carry on creating a beautiful and multicultural society, one must be willing to share, as well as embrace other cultures. Intercultural communication is key in such actions; and fashion, like many other forms of art, is a physical expression of one’s identity. If we are able to explain to people the meaning behind certain emblems and signs, surely this makes for a more tolerant and accepting society.

Fashion is a lot more than just wearing something to get a compliment, and go. Fashion allows for people to tell their story, cultural, religious and more. Allowing people to understand it is far more beautiful and meaningful in the long run, than mass producing a reincarnation of an item of clothing that traditionally, means a lot to someone else in the world.