African designs are on the rise and in high demand. Yet it is not all about traditional handicrafts; the designs of today are contemporary, high-end and accessible to all, adding a local touch from the designer’s respective African country to modern designs. Not only is there a growing presence of homegrown designs in the African continent itself, but also in overseas markets. We explore the 10 best African designers you should know about.
Babacar M’Bodj Niang
The late Senegalese furniture maker Babacar M’Bodj Niang started his design practice,Nulangee in Dakar 12 years ago. Passionate about object-making since his early childhood, he pursued a design career despite his family’s disapproval. He incorporates local materials such as leather, wood and brass to produce delicate sculptural pieces. His specialty was designing stunning chairs and benches which are crafted to resemble sculptures.
South African designer Dennis Chuene makes contemporary backpacks which are fashionable and easy to wear on a daily basis. These plastic weave zip-up colorful bags attract fashionistas as much as budget travelers. What distinguishes Vernac Bags from other bags is that the materials used in making them are often the same materials that homeless people and refugees use. By re-imagining disposable stables into stunning travel accessories while adding quality with leather latches, the talented designer aims to make a statement; having a place to call home is something we should value more and consider precious.
Joëlle le Bussy
Joëlle le Bussy is an extremely talented furniture designer of French Senegalese descent. In 1996, she started Galerie Arte Dakar designing her personal furniture made from sustainably sourced local woods. With a beautiful finishing, simple line and handmade details, her pieces are all contemporary with an inherently African touch. Her goal is to create practical objects which are entirely Senegalese and have them seen as luxury products.
The Malian architect and designer Cheick Diallo has his own studio located up in the hills right above his birthplace of Bamako. Diallo experiments much with weaving metal to create sculptural loungers and chairs. As a creative confidence has started spreading across the continent, European designers, such as the Italian brand Moroso, have looked to Diallo for inspiration. Mixing ancient wisdom with a modern sensibility, Diallo’s fascinating objects made out of every detritus and material are an inspiration to many.
Tana offers colorful laptop bags with rag woven cloths from Madagascar. Because each laptop bag is hand crafted using recycled cotton t-shirts, they are all unique and cannot be imitated. The soft leather finishing is provided from South African tanneries with respect to the environment and local communities. Tana’s goal is to use design to lower the amount of cast-off clothes adding to Madagascar’s landfills, and transform damaged items into luxury products, all while providing income and empowerment to the country’s poorest.
Working in Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso’s capital, Hamed Ouattara is a talented furniture designer and painter. Wishing to reflect local realities through his designs, Ouattara makes metal furniture pieces. He aims to show that local designs can be beautiful in a country which is suffering from excessive imports, poor imitations and products which do not reflect local culture. His striking furniture pieces have been showcased all around the world and Ouattara now sells both across Europe and Africa.
Josephine and Kweku Forson
Interpreting classic Fanti and Ashanti cultural artistry in a contemporary way, the Ghanaian brand Tekura – an award winning handcrafted décor and furniture producer in Africa – is famous for its practical and innovative wooden pieces, all of which are created by master artisans under the meticulous supervision of a couple, Josephine and Kweku Forson. The designers’ sensitivity to their cultural heritage and the environment is reflected in their work, which respects the environment as all designs are produced using wood that was found already lying on the ground of the reforested woodlands.
Adèle Dejak is a Nigerian-born designer who has launched a collection of sculptural fashion accessories in bone, ostrich, gold, shell and local traditional cloth based in Kenya. Her powerful and bold designs show the designer’s sense of a strong contemporary African woman. She has since designed projects together with the Italian brand Ferragamo. At the moment, she is in the process of launching AD Interiors, a line of lights and functional objects for the home.
Marjorie Wallace is a talented ceramic artist who graduated from Cape Town’s Michaelis School of Art. She makes fine porcelain objects which are inspired by the traditional basket making she has been accustomed to since her early years. She adds linear designs to her decorative objects, bowls and cups. As there is a constant issue on the side of supply and resources in Zimbabwe, she leaves her pottery open to fellow ceramicists and trains young artisans.
Akosua Afriyie-Kumi from Ghana launched A A K S with the aim of showing the world her favorite weaving techniques practiced by Ghanaian women, while creating sustainable job opportunities at the same time. All A A K S bags are handcrafted in Bolgatanga in a style which maintains the essence and durability of ancestral counterparts by using bright colors. The brand focuses on authenticity, craftsmanship and ethical values in the production chain, and offers a strong identity combined with high quality.