It’s the African cash cow that produces oil, diamonds and more recently, fashion. Angola, Africa’s third-largest economy, plus the second-largest oil producer of the continent, is making its mark in the world of designer bags and crafty dresses. According to Gucci marketing director, Filipo Pinto-Coelho, Angolan shoppers make up for 58% of the luxury label’s market share in Portugal alone. As for the central African country’s home-grown brands, there’s one Luanda-based couturier in particular, leading the pack.
“I think working in Angola’s fashion sector is one of the most difficult things to do. I often have to explain people here what my job as a fashion designer means. In Europe and the United States, fashion has always been part of society. In Angola it is something we’re only learning now,” says Angola’s leading designer Nadir Tati. The forty-year-old designer’s gowns, are favoured by Angola’s first lady, in addition to a slew of local celebrities and society figures. Stateside, her dress has made a red carpet appearance on Congolese actress Rachel Mwanza, during the 2013 Oscars.
The criminologist-turned-fashion designer has been in business since 2001, right before the end of the twenty seven-year-long Angolan Civil War. “Although the weapons were gone, you could still feel a sense of war in the country. We’re still reconstructing Angola till this day.” Part of Angola’s reconstruction, is the soon-to-be-opened Sky Gallery. A shopping mall in Angola’s capital Luanda, worth a $50 million dollar investment (this excludes the investment in the mall’s individual shops, which will make for an estimated additional $40 million). Luxury labels that will open their first Angolan store in the spacious shopping mall, include Prada , Gucci and Ermenegildo Zegna. Tati has been approached by Sky Gallery developers to open up a boutique in the luxury department store as well, as the only Angolan designer to do so. “There’s a lot of development happening in Angola as we speak, and many brands are starting to venture into this market. It’s going to be interesting to see how these foreign ready-to-wear brands will perform here, since Angolans don’t like to dress alike. A big part of my success comes from the fact that I never repeat creations – everything is bespoke. We have a lot of rich people here, but when they spend, they spend because they’re looking for exclusivity.”
For now, Tati focuses on couture dresses and bespoke bridal wear, which she sells at a price point ranging from $500 up to $10,000 a dress. It’s never been about the money for the designer however, and one of her biggest dreams remains to cater to the majority of Angola’s twenty one million people one day. “We’re still talking about a country in which there are people without water and electricity. The number of people that know fashion because they shop in Lisbon and Paris, still don’t make up for the majority.”
Though she remains optimistic about the development of her country, she underlines there is a long way ahead before Angola’s fashion industry can be taken seriously. “We have a deficit on textiles – ninety percent of the fabrics I use come from abroad. Since we just got out of war, both consumers and designers are still learning about fashion. We don’t have a fashion school here, so my school is Africa. I like to tell the story of Africa on international runways, which is why it’s important for me to also show in Europe and other parts of the world.
I want Angolan fashion to be on top. We need to be seen everywhere.”