BAF (Bias in African Fashion) - Building A Just Fashion Industry!
It is often said that the greatest innovations and value driven solutions are born out of times of immense crisis. This was the story for BAF (Bias in African Fashion), an organization founded to foster equality and justice in Africa’s fashion industry. When two entrepreneurs responded to a call for equality during the days of the Black Lives Matter movement, they ended up finding their own voices, and went on to birth BAF. This week we delve into the work of BAF and what it has been doing in driving dialogue around prejudice in the fashion sector.
BAF is an organization dedicated to creating a platform for identifying and eliminating bias in the African fashion sector, through generating conversation around issues of bias and prejudice. The work of BAF includes working with industry players in helping them identify prejudice and bias in their work and creating opportunities to reduce barriers into fashion career paths. In addition, they also work to foster an atmosphere of collaboration and knowledge sharing in the industry. The organization was founded by Udochi Nwogu and Papa Oyeyemi. Udochi has a background in marketing and strategy, having worked in a number of sectors such as financial services, technology, as well as being a co-founder and CEO of a fashion retail and educational platform (ItsMadeToOrder.com). She also has nearly a decade of experience in helping build companies in West Africa. Papa Oyeyemi on the other hand, is the creative brains of the brand. Papa has been involved in many creative initiatives including a decade of being creative director at Maxvive, establishment of BoYC, a collaborative for young Nigerian creative, as well as working as a stylist for notable names in Africa’s entertainment industry.
BAF was established in June 2020. “Our organization began with an article. This is ironic because so much of the work we do now is based on words,” says Papa. BAF started because of an article posted on online in 2020 at the height of the protests and demonstration against racial in equality across the globe. The organization decided to write an article in response to that, and it became the genesis of BAF. The formation of the organization was quite unplanned and spontaneous - in a good way. BAF is now working to formalize their organization and put more structure around it to facilitate its mission of making the fashion industry and societies more equitable and fairer.
For BAF, taking the first step and action to start the organization has been one of its most significant achievements. “In Africa and its many communities there is often a code of silence that keep people from speaking up when things are not as they should be,” says Udochi. This became one of the many reasons for which BAF was formed. Taking that decision to begin driving dialogue and encouraging people to speak out has been one of the most notable thing BAF has done in the past 9 months or so since its inception. To amplify the impact of the organization’s work, Papa and Udochi are currently building out a broad based team across the continent to help them with the organization’s work. “We believe that this organization and our vision is much bigger than the two of us.” says Papa. With more hands helping and voices speaking, the founders of BAF believe there is an amplifying of their message and more impact.
The BAF team is happy about the teams it is building out. Earlier this year, BAF announced its Advisory Team which is made up of Togo based Jennifer Ronne of Victoria Grace, Kenya based Ann McCreath of Kiko Romeo, and US based Yemi Osunkoya of Kosibah. The team will also be announcing its inaugural Champions Council, and there is so much excitement about them joining BAF’s work. Above all the major changes BAF is going through, the organization is looking forward to the prospects of continuing to dialogue with all in the industry through its talk series and online platforms. BAF is keen to hear and share the stories of those in the industry so as to gain understanding of how the fashion industry stakeholders can all collectively work to make the sector accessible to all.
BAF’s work and the COVID-19 pandemic
“Our organization was actually birthed out of COVID-19 and in many ways because of COVID-19. Had it not been for COVID-19, some of the movements and moments we are having with recognizing and targeting bias and prejudice in our societies may not have happened. It was the desire to ensure Africa and its fashion segment was not excluded in these global moments of realization and rectification of past ills that led us to start BAF. So if it were not for COVID-19, our organization may not be in existence today.”- Papa Oyeyemi. BAF believes that the “new” normal has made people become more comfortable with the online and digital world. Rather than seeing this “new normal” as a burden, the organization has learnt to work with it. All its activities have been conducted virtually from the inception. This has allowed it to connect with people outside their immediate geographies much faster than it would have had it not been for this period.
BAF’s perceptions on the future of African fashion industry, advice to upcoming entrepreneurs
“We believe the industry in Africa is poised for growth- there is still so much potential that has not been realized, but that success is not guaranteed and we have to work for it,” says Udochi. BAF believes everyone has their role that they must play and as an organization, they are doing their own part by working to ensure we remove bias and prejudice from its fashion sector- and perhaps eventually from societies at large.
“Our advice to entrepreneurs is to find your own unique path to success, and success as you define it. As long as you are providing value, do not allow any obstacles or naysayers to make you doubt yourself. You are the gatekeeper to your own destiny”.