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African fashion makes its way to Columbus

A model gets ready for a pop-up fashion show with the help of Red Label Cosmetic. Credit: @picsbyshiloh

Columbus will get a taste of African culture this weekend as the Ankara Bazaar takes over the Nationwide Hotel and Conference Center on Sunday.

Inspired by the colorful traditions of Ankara design, also known as “African prints” or “African wax prints,” the one-day bazaar, or market, will bring an Afrocentric shopping experience to its visitors.

The bazaar will bring a vendor market space to the conference center, where guests will be able to buy handmade Ankara pieces from popular vendors.

In addition to the vendor show, the Ankara Bazaar will feature a pop-up fashion show full of both traditional and modern takes on Ankara designs.

“A lot of our vendors and designers get to have their clothes showcased so that people can actually see some of the clothes that they’re going to buy on models,” said Ishmael Osekre, the creator of the event. “It gives them a sense of what they’re actually purchasing and helps them make up their minds about what they saw hanging on the racks or on the tables during the shopping experience.”

The cultural experience will go even further throughout the day, as traditional African foods will be available, along with various cultural performances and music.

Osekre said the Ankara Bazaar concept was based on a need to help people engage with African culture.

“I wanted to create an experience that would give people the opportunity to access African fashion, but not just as a fashion show,” Osekre said, “but to also be able to access vendors and designers that are actually creating a lot of really beautiful African-inspired designs so that we could have all of them in one space, rather than just seeing them online and not being able to access them properly.

Osekre moved to the United States from Ghana to attend Columbia University in New York City in 2005. After graduating, he moved to Brooklyn, where he began curating events, though his work focused mostly on music festivals.

Last summer, Osekre decided to curate an event focusing on the African cultural experience, and launched the inaugural Ankara Bazaar in New York.

Now one year later, Osekre is in the midst of the first national Ankara Bazaar tour, bringing African fashion and food to five cities across the country.

With the help of Daphne Spencer, the event’s co-producer, the bazaar was able to make a stop in Columbus. Spencer, who curated her own Ankara fashion show in 2015, said she reached out to Osekre after hearing about his first Ankara Bazaar in New York City.

“I held a fashion show (in Columbus) in December 2015, it was mainly bridal, but I wanted to have another fashion show portraying the African culture and the vibrant colors and designs of the Ankara brand,” said Spencer. “So when I started researching for my next event, I realized that the Ankara Bazaar (was) started by Ishmael in New York last fall. I saw what he had done and it was in line with what I wanted to do here in Columbus, so I reached out to him and said, ‘Would you like to partner and bring this to Columbus?’”

In addition to producing the event, Spencer will also be showing her own designs as part of the vendor market space at the bazaar. Growing up in Ghana, Spencer said she was influenced by the Ankara designs worn everyday in her home country.  

“Growing up (and) watching the different ways that the Ankara designs and fabrics were used was very unique,” she said. “Back home, it was a day-to-day thing, this was what you see people wear in the streets. It’s vibrant, it’s colorful, it’s just beautiful.”

After moving to the U.S. in 2002 and later moving to Columbus, Spencer also said she was shocked to find the particular type of outfit she was accustomed to was absent throughout the African community here.

“I want to make it open and available to all people,” said Spencer. “ (I want) to celebrate the designs. It’s the stuff that I saw my grandmother wear, my mother has a few pieces here and there, but they have meanings. The designs mean something, the symbols all mean something, and those have been incorporated in creating the wax material that I use.”

The Ankara Bazaar will take place at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Nationwide Hotel and Conference Center at 100 Green Meadows Dr. Admission is free.

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