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Ruby: A Day in Africa Utopia

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What a busy (but thoroughly enjoyable) weekend I had last week! One of many vibrant clothes stalls at Africa Utopia's marketplace, sporting almost every print and colour imaginable!

Last Saturday I was lucky enough to be sent up to London’s Southbank Centre for a day at Africa Utopia. Africa Utopia, now in its third year, is a vibrant and exciting festival that celebrates the arts and culture of Africa, hosting a marketplace for independent artists and fashion designers to sell and showcase their creations, a diverse street food market and a range of fun activities for visitors to spectate and take part in. This miniature festival is curated by journalist and author Hannah Pool, who is also a consultant for our upcoming Fashion Cities Africa exhibition.

I began my visit mooching around Africa Utopia’s marketplace, marvelling at the unique and colourful jewellery, accessories and clothing on show around me. Many of the pieces on sale were hand-crafted by the designers themselves, the workmanship, level of quality and attention to detail blowing me away. Particular favourites of mine were AfroRetro’s earrings created from upcycled envelopes and Jekkah’s fabulous traditional prints.

Next, I headed down to the Clore Ballroom to watch beautiful women of all ages, from anywhere from Morocco to Sierra Leone, strutting their stuff down the People’s Catwalk, a fashion show dedicated to showcasing African influences on London fashion. It was amazing to see so many people championing their cultural backgrounds through their clothing, combining high street with heritage, traditional African designs with modern-day western trends.

Following some imA model strutting her stuff down the People's Catwalkpeccable bows from the models and a huge round of applause from all of us at the end of the show, the Clore Ballroom emptied out, leaving me to head back up to the marketplace and check out tiata fahodzi and their pop-up hair salon. tiata fahodzi are Britain’s leading African theatre company and are currently working on their latest play, aunty, aunty, let me do your hair. Visitors of Africa Utopia were invited by the group to take seats in the hairdressing chairs of their mock hairdressers’ to share their wildest and wackiest salon stories. Sadly I have none of these myself, so opted for hovering at the back of the crowd and earwigging in on other people’s!

Finally, after another round of the marketplace, mustering up every ounce of willpower I had not to spend all of my money on beautiful jewellery and clothes, I hurried back down to the Clore Ballroom in time for AfroRetro’s fabric printing workshop. AfroRetro, a duo made up of Ugandan-British sisters Lilly and Anna, are best known for their fun fashion line which celebrates and promotes upcycling. Throughout their printing workshop, AfroRetro welcomed us into their world and encouraged us to get creative with the tools, techniques and materials of their trade. Sadly my print didn’t quite go to plan in the end (a disaster, to say the least!) but learning some new skills and losing myself in a world of paint and patterns was brilliant fun!

From my point oPartway through creating a fabric print with AfroRetrof view, I found it really valuable to get a feel of Africa Utopia and come back to Brighton with feedback and ideas for the rest of the team that we may be able to feed into our own Fashion Cities Africa exhibition. Overall, I had an excellent day and absolutely loved spending time surrounded by people who were so proud of their heritage and so excited to celebrate their culture. The vibe was energetic and fun from the beginning to the end, and I left feeling invigorated (and extremely hungry, thanks to the amazing smells wafting from the African street food market!)

Thanks for reading, everybody! Don’t forget to keep your eye on our Tumblr page for more news, stories and photos about what we’ve all been up to as Fashion Cities Africa draws ever closer!

Until next time,
Ruby McGonigle, front of house team member at the Royal Pavilion