Who Are Africa’s Top Fashion Influencers?

PARIS With a steadily expanding middle class, Africa holds plenty of untapped potential for luxury brands. But who are the influencers who are moving the needle on the continent and beyond?

These days, global brands like Louis Vuitton, Prada and Hermès are competing with a growing number of homegrown labels, as designers like Rich Mnisi, Kenneth Ize, Hanifa and Thebe Magugu tap into rising demand for African-made fashion.

In order to succeed, Western brands must harness the power of local influencers, ranging from stars of Nigerian cinema, dubbed Nollywood, to television presenters, singers and influencers, technology company Heuritech said in a webinar titled “Discover the African Fashion Scene.”

“The narration of African fashion cannot be done without African creatives,” said Amélie Rotsen, fashion analyst at Heuritech, which offers brands fashion trend forecasting using artificial intelligence to translate pictures shared on social media into market insights. 

“People are now really quick to call out a brand for cultural appropriation, so stop any narrative based on Western imagery, and try to really call those creatives to create stories that will highlight their culture, the way they know how,” she added. 

Total private wealth held in Africa is expected to rise by 30 percent over the next 10 years, reaching $2.6 trillion by 2030, according to the “Africa Wealth Report 2021” published by AfrAsia Bank. South Africa is home to the largest luxury market in Africa by revenue, followed by Kenya and Morocco, it said.

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The bank expects Ethiopia, Mauritius, Rwanda, Kenya and Uganda to be the strongest-performing wealth markets in Africa over the next decade, with growth rates exceeding 60 percent. Solid growth is also forecast in Namibia, Botswana, Mozambique and Zambia. 

“To enter the African market, it is very important for international brands to really understand the specificity of the markets and have teams directly in the field. This is especially true for influencer communication,” said Jenna McFeely, fashion curator and trend analyst at Heuritech. 

“Picking the right brand ambassador requires foreign brands to do exhaustive research on the market, along with the influential figures of a particular country or field. And lastly, it’s important to consider the weight of the diaspora,” she added. 

“As a result of colonization, people of African descent are present throughout the world with their heart and their wallet lying between the Western world and their roots, and this will to consume Black[-owned brands] has been reinforced,” she said, noting the power of U.S. beauty influencers like Jackie Aina and Nyma Tang.

Among the top African influencers she listed were Nigerian actresses Adesua Etomi and Genevieve Nnaji, who have 4.3 million and 8.2 million followers on Instagram, respectively.

Burna Boy Michael Buckner/WWD

Nigeria has also produced major music stars such as Burna Boy and Wizkid, who posted a message on Instagram last week saying his concert at the O2 Arena in London, scheduled for Nov. 28, sold out in 12 minutes. 

“While the link between film, music and fashion does not need to be proven anymore, these artists’ global audience and edgy style make them ideal representatives for African and international designers who are hoping to attract aspirational or entry-level consumers,” McFeely said. 

Popular TV personalities include Bonang Matheba, known for her catchphrase “Champagne, darling!”, who has launched a number of fashion lines and her own sparkling wine brand, House of BNG, in addition to starring in the reality TV show “Being Bonang.”

Citing Nigerian public relations firm Redrick, McFeely recommended that brands targeting luxury consumers rely on high-net-worth individuals like the Nigerian writer Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who inspired Maria Grazia Chiuri’s first collection for Dior with her essay “We Should All Be Feminists.”

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Maria Grazia Chiuri A•tor Rosas Su–e/WWD

“There’s also the influencer market with entrepreneur women and travel enthusiasts like Boity Thulo, who showcases the lavish side of Africa, which is aspirational to say the least,” McFeely added. 

“And finally, there’s the promise of Afro cyber influencers who might be a new fun outlet, given the success encountered by Lil Miquela, who is another virtual influencer,” she said, citing the example of digital model Ivaany. 

In parallel, WWD asked data research and insights company Launchmetrics to compile data on the top five African influencers ranked by media impact value, or MIV. The measure, based on a proprietary algorithm, estimates the value of coverage across social networks and in the media.

1. Mihlali Ndamase (@mihlalii_n): 1.4 million followers on Instagram, 59 percent of engaged audience from South Africa

The makeup artist and content creator, also known as Mihlali N, bills herself as the biggest beauty YouTuber in South Africa with 345,000 subscribers. 

She recently generated $143,000 in MIV for a post with Fashion Nova, $112,000 for a post with Revlon and $80,000 for a post with Dior makeup. 

Featured on Forbes Africa’s “30 Under 30” list this year, Ndamase has expanded into luxury and lifestyle content, via paid partnerships with the likes of Radisson Hotels and Protea Hotels by Marriott.

2. Temiloluwa Otedola (@temiotedola): 1.2 million followers on Instagram, 54 percent of engaged audience from Nigeria

The daughter of Femi Otedola, a Nigerian billionaire active in sectors including energy, and younger sister of music star DJ Cuppy, Temi Otedola established her presence with the launch in 2014 of a blog covering areas spanning fashion, travel and a book club. 

Her Instagram post about Etro’s Forte dei Marmi pop-up in June generated $113,000 in MIV, while a post with Farfetch in 2020 was worth $68,000, reflecting the progression in her follower count.

Otedola made her acting debut last year as the female lead in Nigerian director Kunle Afolayan’s film “Citation,” the story of a university student who accuses a professor of sexual harassment, which is available to stream on Netflix. 

3. Kefilwe Mabote (@kefilwe_mabote): 1.2 million followers on Instagram, 56 percent of engaged audience from South Africa

Born in the township of Soweto in Johannesburg, Mabote last year published her autobiography “Kefilwe Mabote: Influencer De Luxe – From Soweto to Milan,” which doubles as a guide to becoming an influencer. 

Known for her glamorous style, she generated $49,000 in MIV for a post with Ugg in May, but can generally be seen in high-end designer clothing by the likes of Burberry, Tom Ford and Versace. She even has a dedicated web site, kefiscloset.com, to sell her castoffs. 

Mabote’s personal life made headlines last year when her then-boyfriend, businessman Edwin Sodi, was caught up in a corruption scandal. She subsequently lost a defamation lawsuit against the weekly tabloid Sunday World.

A post on Lesego “Thickleeyonce” Legobane’s Instagram account. Lesego Legobane/Instagram

4. Lesego Legobane (@thickleeyonce): 765,000 followers on Instagram, 66 percent of engaged audience from South Africa

Photographer, plus-size model and body positivity activist Legobane — known professionally as Thickleeyonce — also has her own online clothing store, Leebex. 

A recent post with Fashion Nova Curve generated $39,000 in MIV; another with Bombay Sapphire was worth $63,000, and a third for Beyoncé’s Ivy Park collection with Adidas generated $50,000. 

Legobane revealed last year that she had been selected as an influencer for Rihanna’s Savage x Fenty lingerie line, but last week called out the brand on Twitter for not offering any pay. The tweet was subsequently taken down, but she posted a separate message that read: “PAY INFLUENCERS. CREATING CONTENT IS WORK.”

5. Sarah Langa (@sarahlanga), 579,000 followers on Instagram, 61 percent of engaged audience from South Africa

A close friend of fellow influencer Kefilwe Mabote’s, Langa landed her first paid gig with South African department store chain Woolworths in 2015. She has frequently countered criticism from haters by highlighting her academic achievements, which she lists on her Instagram biography.

Langa works with a variety of brands including hairstyling appliances company GHD and mobile phone maker Samsung. She generated $31,000 in MIV for a recent post with fast-fashion e-tailer PrettyLittleThing; $26,000 with Nespresso, and $16,000 with Patrón Tequila.

One of her most recent Instagram posts shows her unboxing an Hermès Birkin handbag in a promotion for luxury goods sourcing service Aquarius Luxury Concierge. 

Sarah Langa Oupa Bopape/Gallo Images via Getty Images

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