Dear Designers,
I’ve been in Africa rather than in New York, London, or Milan this season, and to be completely honest, I haven’t been paying attention to the shows. That said, I did catch Iman, Naomi, and Bethann Hardison on the news, and I want you to pay attention to these self-possessed, assertive, bold, and sexy ladies.

Although I, like the majority of the world, don’t really pay attention to what’s on the runways, it somehow has a way of trickling down through things like fast fashion, social media, etc., and it finds its way onto a billboard advertising skin-bleaching products, as I happened to see on my drive to the beach in Côte d’Ivoire.

Despite containing carcinogens and toxic ingredients, like mercury, that cause serious side effects for the skin (the body’s largest organ), the skin-lightening industry is booming, and according to Global Industry Analysts, it is expected to become a $20 billion business by 2018.

According to the World Health Organization, 77 percent of Nigerian women, 59 percent of Togolese women, and 35 percent of South African women use skin-whitening products on a regular basis. But it doesn’t just affect Africa. These harmful products are also used by 40 percent of surveyed women in China. In India, 61 percent of the dermatological market revolves around skin-lightening products.

As Africa emerges as the next frontier of globalization, one billion Africans stand posed to join the middle class, and with this, connectivity between Africa’s youth and the world will grow through the use of the Internet and mobile and social media. It is my belief that the images and sounds of an infectiously optimistic Africa will be exposed.

New York, London, Milan, Paris—what will you be telling Africa?
Designers and fashion media, your work does matter, and you do and will continue to impact the world. How will you define beauty? Will you continue to follow the status quo? Or will you change the world? Paris, I’d like to say, all eyes are on you.

African Mermaid

P.S.: Black is beautiful.

Photo: Courtesy of Yodit Eklund


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Yodit Eklund

Yodit Eklund is the founder of Bantu, an African beach and surf lifestyle brand. She grew up in Ghana, Sudan, Kenya, Ivory Coast, and Egypt before attending the University of ...