SUPREME NYC and that Obama hoodie
My Mum travelled to Zimbabwe when I was around fifteen years old and she brought back this amazingly beautiful, crazily patterned African fabric for me as a gift. It was so that I could make some clothing from it as I was pretty handy with a needle and thread, even back then!
This was mainly because hip-hop style, circa 1990, was colourful, big and baggy with an Afrocentric twist. Many of my rapper idols at the time (Monie Love, Queen Latifah, A Tribe called Quest, De la Soul et al) wore pill-box hats and head-wraps - and heavy gold jewellery had been replaced by chunky beads and leather pendants of the 'motherland', worn with brightly patterned dashikis instead of Dapper-Dan suits and designer sportswear. I was lovin' it, and it suited my pocket money budget better, too!
Anyway, Topshop definitely wasn't catering for my sartorial needs back then, so I had to make my hip-hop outfits my damn self!. I'd buy lightweight denim and make harem style, low-crotch trousers (or so-called 'Hammer' pants ha ha) and a matching loose-fitting top, edged with an African print or Kente -type fabric and then use the rest to wrap around my head in a turban-like fashion. Mm-hmm. Yes. In a small market town. In drizzly Gloucestershire. I was definitely brave. And absolutely unique.
And that's when my love affair with bold, colourful prints started.
Fast-forward to 2017 - and NYC-based streetwear brand Supreme have got a Barack Obama commemorative African textile hoodie and matching baggy pants in their SS17 collection! The print is actually their 'take' on a design originally made to commemorate Obama's visit to Ghana back in 2009. (My dready skater-boy is rocking the green colourway). Textiles in West and central parts of Africa often feature colourful, kitschy graphics to celebrate major events or visits by VIPs and are especially created for the occasion. In their Obama print, Supreme have replaced the 'akwaaba' ('welcome' in English) graphic with their 'Supreme' logo, leaving everything else the same, including the original adinkra symbols that are steeped in cultural meaning and tradition.
Not surprisingly, Supreme's use of this print has proved rather controversial, with comments of 'cultural appropriation' being thrown in their direction across many a social media channel. Others argue that Supreme have always been pushing the envelope with their ironic 'repurposing' of popular logos and imagery and are just paying 'homage' rather than stealing! What do you think?
I think maybe a collaborative approach might have worked better here. Dutch company Vlisco are the main importers of the original 'Dutch wax' fabrics, highly favoured by African women and men. AND they've collaborated with a number of brands and designers in recent years. . . .
The company has been trading with West Africa for over a hundred and fifty years and their bold, wax-resist textile designs are deeply embedded within African culture. The designs are actually named by local traders and their customers, thus giving the local people much greater involvement and a personal meaning for the wearers.
I've always been fascinated by these wax prints, but only more recently learnt that a lot of what I had seen or owned in the past would have been the cheaper, digitally printed copies rather than the real thing! I love the more pictorial designs and how deliberately 'representational' they are. Many of the classic Vlisco designs illustrate all manner of random, every day objects such as shoes, electric fans, cameras, mobile phones. . . but in Africa these items were often seen as luxury items or status symbols. Check out the tap and running water design!
As always, it's important to understand the stories behind the textiles - and a deeper insight can be found in Vlisco's stories section of their website, where customers are invited to share their personal stories and experiences of wearing certain designs. Don't you think more overseas manufacturers should take a leaf out of Vlisco's book?
So, any wearers of Supreme's 'Obama' print, share your story below. . . !