Interview with Jacqueline Shaw

Teleica Kirkland

Jacqueline Shaw is the Founder and Director of the Africa Fashion Guide and author of Fashion Africa

What is the Africa Fashion Guide?

The Africa Fashion Guide is an information based platform which promotes and supports the full supply chain of African fashion and textiles. So it’s a one stop shop, it’s a somewhere people can go for researching textiles, production from fabric cultivation through to manufacturing units throughout the continent.

What caused you to develop the concept?

I’ve been working in the industry for the past 10 or 11 years (currently working at Puma for the past 7 years) and I’ve developed an interest in the work that goes on behind the scenes of the design side. From visiting factories to looking at sourcing I’ve grown an interest in ethical fashion but I think I’ve always had an interest in ethical fashion. In my final project for my honours degree I used natural fibres and material; hemp, cotton, silk and things like that so I’ve always been interested without knowing it and as time has gone on I felt inclined to do something a bit more important that makes more of an impact on the industry. Generally, I’ve been sewing African fashion for friends and family for about 7 years and just love textiles and fabrics so I just combined the two interests’ ethical fashion and African fashion.

How long did it take you to put the Africa Fashion Guide together?

Well I created it as my final project for my masters so I spent a year on it researching doing interviews, going out to Ghana mostly conducting interviews via email and doing email reports, so it’s been a year doing the research and putting the site up but it’s been in development and growing over the past 6 years.

Has the Africa Fashion Guide been well received by the people you connected with in Africa?

Yes, looking at a lot of my followers on the Africa Fashion Guide Facebook page, they’re quite international. The African followers tend to be aspiring or established designers or just anyone who has an interest in African culture, they’ve received it very well but the ones that I’ve been trying to get on board are the ethical organisations the NGO’s, the fair trade foundations, Oxfam, those sorts of organisations to let them know what I’m doing because they have projects that I could work with them on. So it’s not just for Africans it’s for the global fashion industry and anyone who interested in making a difference.

And have you managed to make any headway with the NGO’s or people in these organisations?

Well over the past year there’s been a lot of networking, a lot of communication, emailing going to events and meeting people. I’m becoming recognised as an expert in this field, but I feel like it’s ongoing, I’m learning a lot but it’s ongoing. I’ve been invited to events and I was doing a talk at the House of Lords in December 2011, I’ve had an Italian company a trade show organisation contact me about working with them on quite a big project with them doing consultancy work, and designers are always contacting me asking where they can source, where can I do this in Africa, so it’s starting to grow now people are recognising it as a reputable platform.

How has the Africa Fashion Guide been received in the UK?

It’s becoming recognised the Guardian are doing so many reports on it, Drapers Record another business magazine for fashion is recognising it, Vogue tends to feature particular brands, the fact that there is that recognition shows that they’re noticing it. I was working on a show that was hosting African designers during London Fashion Week, Vauxhall Fashion Scouts, it shows that there is an understanding because that show brought together African designers as a collective on the catwalk, so things are happening and it is being recognised. Music, film, food everything African is coming up there now.

How did you make connections with designers and artisans in Africa?

A lot of the connections are through emails and phone calls when I can or when I do visit; meeting people, researching and speaking to trade organisations and people who may already have listings or connections. Articles that I see I take note; I’m currently building up our directory as well for all those who want to source or produce in Africa. It literally is just emailing people and letting them know what I’m doing because I have my book as well (Fashion Africa) which launched in September which showcases 48 designers from around the continent and the Diaspora who source, produce or originate from Africa. Things like this help people recognise that I’m doing something which is quite serious.

How do you see the Africa Fashion Guide developing in the future?

There are a few areas that I have for the organisation. It is a social enterprise, a not for profit company but there are the business aspects of it such as the sourcing directory, the consultancy, projects, we will be developing voluntary programmes as well for those who want to work with us in Africa, its vast and I’m trying to pull in back a little bit but right now it’s just building the consultancy, continuing the articles and continuing to get the word out.

You can read a review and make a purchase of Jacqueline’s  book Fashion Africa here