How Orange Culture Is Using Fashion To Combat Harmful Stereotypes About Africa

For the first time ever, Adebayo Oke-Lawal, the designer behind Nigerian-based brand Orange Culture, showed his offering during New York Fashion Week. Oke-Lawal founded Orange Culture in 2011, and he's been pushing back on the idea of what masculinity should look like ever since.
Not only is Oke-Lawal creating quite the fanbase here in New York, as he tells Refinery29, it's important for him to help shape the narrative surrounding the continent of Africa as well. “A lot of the times [when] you hear about Africa, it’s always some sort of wrongful narrative that has been put out about for us,” he says after his spring 2020 show. “It’s about coming here to rewrite our narrative and saying this is our true story. It’s not built on one particular fabric that does not belong to us.”
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The story that Oke-Lawal aims to tell, as both a designer and a Nigerian man, is that there is beauty and talent in Africa. “It's not about Malaria,” he says. “Every country has that, there is more to us than that. We’re using fashion to combat that stereotype.” He's also debunking stereotypes associated with masculinity. The pieces were styled intentionally by Alexander-Julian to confront the ways in which men are viewed in our society. Instead of perpetuating a culture of toxic masculinity, Alexander-Julian and Oke-Lawal chose to highlight a man's emotions and vulnerabilities. “A lot of men are not taught to face their demons,” Oke-Lawal explains.
His collection was inspired by ‘The Shadow Man,’ a character who is supposed to take the shape of your biggest insecurities. “That’s why you can see the prints are these weirdly-shaped men who are dancing around on some of the pieces. It’s making a mockery of the fact that we are living this life and dying on the inside.” Further, he says: “A lot of men are fighting things and these shadows are haunting them but it's like no one knows. It’s about teaching men to be vulnerable, it’s about teaching men to explore other narratives and ideologies about how they should present themselves.”
While fashion insiders gravitated toward the printed short suits and sheer dresses, Oke-Lawal says its difficult for him to pick a favorite piece. “I haven't had time to fall in love with it yet.” But if he had to choose, it would be one of the women’s shirts, a white blouse featuring a hand, reaching out into the distance.
“That really signifies what we are doing," he explains. "We’re trying to reach out to help. That thing that’s pushing you and never speaking about it. That’s something that I want to wear immediately after the show. It’s so simple but everyone can wear it.” It's that sense of universality that continues to make Orange Culture stand out from the crowd, at New York Fashion Week and beyond.
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