Monrovia Fashion Week and Opportunities Missing From Liberian Fashion
If you’ve been following us this holiday season, you are no stranger to our list of countless parties and other events lined up for the Liberian dry season. With so many diverse events lined up for the holiday celebration season, what remains missing, is the Monrovia Fashion Week events.
According to Fashionweekonline.com, the tradition of Fashion Week began back in New York City in 1943, when its creator Eleanor Lambert created a “Fashion Press Week”. The goal of the event was to create a cluster of fashion showcases where designers could share with the press and public their latest designs, which went on to shape fashion trends around the world. At these showcases, designers were able to gain widespread popularity, which brought huge financial gains to their brands and the city of New York.
When they saw how successful the fashion industry in New York became as a result of the NY Fashion Week, France adopted the tradition with its first Paris Fashion Week in 1945. Then, Italy adopted the fashion week tradition and hosted its first Milan Fashion Week in 1958; then it moved on to London Fashion Week in 1984. Many other cities around the world have since adopted the fashion week tradition, thus shifting and shaping the fashion industries in their respective nations.
At its first initiation back in 2013, the Monrovia Fashion Week, founded by Marjean Sherman, was the event of the holiday season in Liberia. The 5-day event series consisted of a model showcase, a fashion night out where attendees brought out their best looks to the club for the night, designer meet/greet, a fashion show, and a shopping event for the designers to sell their clothes after the show. It was the most anticipated event of the season, as it opened up the Liberian fashion industry to new perspectives, creatives, and opportunities.
For the first time ever, play-makers in the Liberian fashion industry, including models and designers, got a chance to showcase their works and share their talents with the world through such an approach to the fashion industry. Top companies in the country even lined up to sponsor the event, which saw designers like Monsio Saba, of Monsio Couture, Tianna Sherman Kesselly of Afropolitan Monrovia, Archel Bernard of the Bombchel Factory, then Mango Rags, Whilmena Cooper of Myeonway Designs, among others.
While investment in the Liberian fashion industry has since remained stagnant, Chinese companies are side-lining locally made clothing and textiles by plagiarizing popular local designs like wax print, batik, and country cloth, then importing them into the country for cheaper sale. These practices from the Chinese are met with little scrutiny from consumers, or the government, even though it places local designers at an even greater disadvantage in the market. Although these criminal practices from the Chinese are not advised, nor are they uplifting or beneficial to the Liberian fashion industry, it highlights some significant opportunities available for the advancement of the industry, if given the right attention and investment.
The Liberian fashion industry, like all others in the country, is a growing industry, ripe and ready for investment. Major streets in Monrovia are lined with ready-made African clothes, tailors, boutiques, and second-hand American clothes. Despite the average Liberian reportedly living on as little as USD1.00 a day, streets around the city are constantly buzzing with shoppers, especially during the holiday season.
In its prime, it appeared as if the Monrovia Fashion Week was on its way to revolutionizing the Liberian fashion industry. Rather, it saw a decline as the years went on, bringing on issues with sponsorships, which showed in the lack of momentum and involvement in the preceding events in 2014, when they hosted the Ebola charity fashion week.
As such, the last Monrovia Fashion Week event was hosted in December 2016 by Vannette Tolbert and Serena Cooper. Despite it being carefully crafted and planned, the event was overshadowed by a public feud within its leadership, when Tolbert and Cooper publicly dissociated the brand from its original owner, Marjean Sherman — citing broken relationships with sponsors and public distrust of the brand. The two, however, were able to get the event widely covered by both local and international media, including VICE news. Although, uncertainty still looms as per the fate of the Monrovia Fashion Week brand.
On the other side of the world in the USA, there is the separately owned brand, Monrovia Fashion Week USA (MFWUSA), which also carries a similar story of a momentous beginning full of promise. The first MFWUSA event was hosted in Philadelphia, back in 2017. The event was well planned, and showcased many incredible Liberian designers from around the US, with Project Runway veteran, Korto Momolu, also in attendance. The 2018 MFWUSA saw a little less momentum though, as it coincided with another popular fashion show in Baltimore, USA, Runway Liberia. This holiday season however, there is no major Liberian fashion event happening in the USA that brings together designers, bloggers, and other key players of the Liberian fashion industry .
The Liberian fashion industry in the USA is also one full of promise, with many incredible designers situated around the country. From the carefully crafted, Suakoko Betty, to the bold and daring Precious Pieces Couture. Other Liberian designers dominating their craft in the USA include; Melody Asherman of EveRRything RRouge, Zoe Arku Designs, Pauline Kolubah of Aryea Kolubah & Co., Telfar Clemens of his self-titled brand, including many others. What feels missing though, is a community of Liberian designers, or a platform where they all can meet and strengthen the Liberian fashion industry. This is why shows like the MFWUSA and Runway Liberia are important, and why key players in the industry should take on the challenge of creating more of such platforms and spaces, or work towards strengthening existing ones.
While the holiday event season in Liberia seems saturated, there are no major events happening in the USA, apart from the usual parties. In fact, the Liberian Entertainment Awards is the only major event platform in the USA that gathers Liberians from all around the USA for an entire weekend of style, entertainment, and celebration of arts. As such, there exists some major opportunities in the diaspora-based Liberian entertainment industry as well. Through entertainment and the celebration of arts, the diaspora is able to lift the Liberia-based industries right along with it. We see this in the present intertwining of both industries with the musicians people are listening to, and the songs that are becoming popular; as well as in the award show nominations in both Liberia and the diaspora.
As we push for the expansion and promotion of the Liberian fashion industry, it is important to note the efforts of the more newer and smaller brands; including Young Geh lappa Suit, Wonseh Designs, Afric Fashion 1, Stubbs Fabrics, ComfortCouture, Maison De Mawollie, among others. These brands are shifting the way we view Liberian fashion, by introducing some sharp curves to the more traditional looks.
Meanwhile, among the current fashion events happening in the Liberian industries both in Liberia and the diaspora, is the annual Monrovia African Pop-up Shop holiday edition slated for December 15 at the Palm Springs Hotel in Liberia. Likewise, the Monsio Couture fashion house will be hosting its first “fashion cookout” at its store location in Paynesville, Liberia this December 23.
It is very exciting to see what the Liberian fashion industry will grow into if all opportunities for its growth are utilized. In the meantime, we can live vicariously through the growing successes with Fashion Weeks in Lagos, Dakar, Cape Town, and Accra, which are gaining the world’s attention and investment with each passing year.