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African fashion on parade in New York

From Isha Sesay, for CNN
  • 2011's Africa Fashion Week in New York showcased 30 designers from across Africa
  • Founder Adiat Disu said the aim was to show African designers to a global audience
  • Disu: "Do not pigeon hole what it means to be a designer from Africa"

New York (CNN) -- Thirty designers, three days and one all-important catwalk -- welcome to Africa Fashion Week in New York.

Now in its second year, the show, is already an established event. Between July 11 and July 17, fashion elites from across the African continent converged on New York to showcase their distinctive styles and talents.

"Many of these designers, of course, they're big in Africa," said founder Adiat Disu. "But people need to hear and see what is going on in Africa without having to travel there.

"We understand that not everyone can go to Africa. There's nothing wrong with bringing Africa to them, to their backyard."

The purpose, says Disu, is not just to showcase African fashion to a wider audience but to break some of the stereotypes about African design and culture.

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"The moment you think you've defined what Africa fashion is, expect for it to be redefined," said Disu.

"Each time a designer comes out, do not pigeon hole what it means to be a designer from Africa," she continued. "It does not necessarily mean that we will use a certain cloth or a certain print. Our designers are designing everything and anything you can imagine."

Nigerian designer Csilla Dira is one of those redefining the genre with her label "Funlayo."

"My collection doesn't have any prints," she said. "When people think African designers, a lot of people immediately associate it with prints and there's none here.

"I don't want to target one market, but anyone who loves beautiful clothes and enjoys fashion," she continued.

While Dira has turned away from the distinctive African patterns and prints, Senegalese designer Adama Paris has embraced them in her line of bathing suits called "Afro-bikini."

"I wanted to show something African," she said. "There were only bathing suits from European fabrics, so I wanted to do something that reminds me of Africa and makes me look different when I am in the water."

Paris, who also founded Dakar Fashion Week, in Senegal, said the chance to exhibit in the United States was essential in highlighting what African designers have to offer to the world of fashion.

"I think fashion is bringing Africa out into the light," she said. "Designers ... they all are using African fabric or really designing and are inspired from Africa. So I think this year, this millennium, is all about Africa ... and I think we are really stepping up our game."

But for Disu, there is an even bigger goal -- getting African fashion labels into retail stores and onto shop floors.

"I want boutiques and buyers to take us seriously, as designers from Africa looking to be showcased in stores ... I mean, it is not easy, people like to see the glamour but a lot of these designers really need to push here (to be seen) in New York," she said.

"I want them to succeed because if they succeed I know my reason for doing this has a purpose."