Atelier Fifty Five Turns 7 As African Design Enters A New Era
Today marks seven years of blogging! Seven years ago today I made a career shift and started a blog with vague ideas of what I wanted to do as a career, and no real idea of how I was going to get there. From the moment I created my first blog post to now when I have not only been privileged to witness the development of an industry -part of what I collectively refer to as the ‘golden age’ of contemporary African creativity- but to also create a career alongside it. The journey to this point has been a long one.
On this journey, I have seen Africa’s design industry grow from a handful of names from a handful countries to a continent wide-reach. Some names that were just starting out have become internationally respected leaders in their field, whilst behind them, a new generation of names are coming up and claiming their place in the industry.
At the time I wrote my book Contemporary Design Africa the products tended to be one-off collectibles predominately targeting high-end international based audiences, but in two short years the industry is moving into a new era, one that embraces greater inclusivity in terms of wider product reach through pricing. No longer just catering to the high-end markets designers such as Sarah Diouf founder of the Senegalese fashion brand, Tongoro are turning their attention to developing affordable luxury collections that bring African design to the continents ever-expanding middle-class consumer base. And the anticipated IKEA collaboration with designers from across Africa will bring affordable African design to a global mid-market consumer audience. And as local and pan-African demand for African design grows, alongside international demand, those in the industry are having to consider how to scale production without compromising the unique qualities of artisanal craftsmanship that make their products distinctive.
Another key development is the growing influence of technology in design and shaping our purchasing habits. From increasingly personalised apps that suggest products based on what we have in our wardrobes to smart lighting that adjusts to our moods or hence power saving capabilities within our environment Africa’s designers are exploring the possibilities.
And whilst the industry has had an impact on job and income generation for local communities through designers collaborating with their local artisans, the artisans themselves are recognising the power of design in developing products for different markets and are increasingly requesting design training to help them to do so.
To say that it is an exciting time for African design and creativity would be a gross understatement! We are in a time of rapid advancement and unbridled creative expression, that is setting the foundations and standards for future generations to build on. And like many other emerging industries in Africa is opening up opportunities to those who are willing to seize them. And seizing them designers are!
– Tapiwa Matsinde
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