African Fashion Magazines On The Rise

Arise, True Love, Haute, and Helm are among the titles leading Africa's entrance to the world of fashion glossies. An article in the New York Times takes us inside this emerging market and illuminates the growing sartorial scene.

Arise occupies a unique position among magazines in English-speaking Africa as it alone packages both pan-African and global content, producing a provocative blend that Ms. Jennings calls "afropolitan."

With a reported circulation of about 60,000 and averaging about 140 pages a month, the magazine is distributed to seven other African countries and around Europe and North America. In its no-expense-spared fashion shoots, clothes by African designers are paired with global brands like Yves Saint Laurent, Loewe and Ralph Lauren using popular black international models like Oluchi Onweagba and Rahma Mohamed.

In addition to the drool-worthy photography, Arise also features commentary about subcultures and current events:

A recent issue included a saucy exposé of African WAGs (the British acronym for wives and girlfriends of soccer players) that appeared alongside quirky items about Ugandan skateboarders, a multimedia prodigy from Ivory Coast and the leather-wearing biker subculture that grew up in Soweto after apartheid.

However, targeting a magazine to a global audience while focusing on the continent does require its fair share of compromises:

Arise, for example, operates out of London while Helm, an Ethiopian quarterly edited by Rahewa Yemane, is based in Washington. Although these locations help editors produce quality content, they also drive up cover prices as the finished magazines must be shipped to African newsstands. (The cover price for Arise in global distribution is £4.95, or $8; 1,255 naira in Nigeria.)

While a financier's deep pockets can be all that's needed to start a magazine, several factors - including market size, literacy and wealth - are needed to sustain it. Most of sub-Saharan Africa's statistics in these categories are poor, but they sometimes belie the real potential.

In addition, questions swirl about the income disparities inherent in creating a set of the population which has the time, money, and leisure to peruse a luxury goods magazine:

"In most sub-Saharan African countries, only 5 percent to 10 percent of the population is at the top of the income pyramid," said Sakina Balde, an analyst for Africa and the Middle East at the market research firm Euromonitor International. "While this might seem insignificant, in highly populated countries like Nigeria, for example, it represents a large number of individuals." [...]

The continent's wealth, though disproportionately concentrated, already is being spent on luxury goods by affluent Africans who shop in cities like London, Paris, Johannesburg and Dubai. Several luxury retailers and stores in London, for example, already count Nigerians among their top five spenders, trailing only Chinese, Russians, Americans and Arab tourists from the Gulf. And in Lagos, new boutiques like Temple Muse and Leila Fowler are catering to the elite locally by stocking both international and African designer labels.

Still, income disparities aside, it is encouraging to see such creatively flow from various nations underrepresented in the global fashion scene. Fashion magazines based outside the standard beauty ideal promoted by western nations are difficult to come by, and these magazines do more than just provide entertainment: they help assert a new narrative of life in other regions of the world.

Putting African Style On The Page [NY Times]