STYLE & SUBSTANCE: The design house has become synonymous with show-stopping prints and patterns and exotic creations.
ONE of the numerous ways Black people stay connected to the Motherland is through fashion. For over a decade, Shades of Africa has been meeting the demand here in Jamaica, resulting in the design label quickly achieving household-name status.
The brand has become so popular locally and overseas that everyone, from our current and former prime ministers to our Miss Jamaica girls, have attended events and posed for the cameras dressed in Shades of Africa pieces. In fact, says founder Tonya Cameron, reigning Miss Jamaica Festival Queen, Khamara Wright, was outfitted by Shades of Africa for the recent Independence Day Grand Gala at the National Stadium.
In short, Shades of Africa (known for gorgeous kente prints, head-wraps and looks bold and vibrant enough to stop traffic) is a fashion success story that continues to evolve. “The response has really grown over the years. We started out as a tiny tot to now becoming something of a global brand,” says Cameron, a 40-plus year-old creative who did some of her training at a fine arts college in Miami, earning a BA.
She gives major props to Saint International’s annual Style Week showcase for priceless exposure. “It gives me a platform to exhibit the work to the global market. We’ve become recognized internationally,” says the designer who now hires tailors and seamstresses to allow her to take on more administrative and managerial tasks.
Her celebrity clientele includes Professor Verene Shepherd and entertainers like Tarrus Riley, who adore the to-die-for garments. Kenya, Nigeria and some parts of the US are Cameron’s go-to spots for the exotic fabric.
“Some of our local stores also carry great fabric. Some we have to dye ourselves. But it depends on the order because some customers come with specific ideas for custom-made items. Since the Black Panther movie, we’ve seen a surge in orders for theme parties, costume parties and other events. We also get orders for church banquets,” shares Cameron. “It’s getting better. A lot more people are wearing something African.”
What’s next for Shades of Africa? “For the upcoming 16th anniversary, we are expanding online by starting an e-commerce website,” the savvy businesswoman shares. “And we’re now in the process of opening a storefront in Miami. A five-year plan is what we’re working on.”