Afrofuturism and the New World of Fashion

Creative Director Hadeeart on weaving Nigerian culture and history into the social fabric of the digital realm
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Hadeeart (Idiat Shiole) is an emerging Nigerian virtual designer who reminds us all of the role of the creator as social agent, occupying the essential space found at the intersection of art, technology, and humanity. In Hadeeart's digital fashion collections, we find reimagined tradition and documentation of Idiat's native history. What unfolds through their immaterial manifestation is a revolution and revelation; an imagined future based on her vision of Afrofuturism. The gamer, artist, mentor, and mother of bunny Luo became self-taught in digital design in the pursuit of autonomy and radical creativity. Speaking to Idiat is a reminder of the importance of fortitude in shaping your destiny and uplifting your community. Through Lago's power shortages and identity politics, Hadeeart is committed to creation. Her practice and benevolence highlight the importance of art and artists themselves to break open possibilities for a better future and call to question all the systems in place which divide us instead of uniting us.

Hadeeart's collection for Special Items "New You" marks a 'new me' for the wearer, with each afrofuturistic costume a chapter in the story of African fashion's transition into the metaverse. The collection takes inspiration from African history, traditional prints, the mystical, and movements that empower women. Every piece is a word, opening up a dialogue between the creator and wearer, and Hadeeart invites everyone to be a part of it.
"No matter your sex, tribe or beliefs, you can relate to the future."
Hadeeart
When did an interest in fashion design enter your life?

Growing up, my family would select
patterns from a catalog and have clothes made for festive periods in Nigeria. A woman was living close to my parent's house who would create garments for us. But instead of opening the catalog and choosing one thing, I would be like, 'can you add this sleeve, can you make the skirt like this?' and pick 4-5 styles to combine together.

How did you start in digital fashion?

I picked a textile major which is more theoretical than practical. It was all mechanical, using your hands. After graduating, most students from my university would be employed at a textile company in Nigeria. I knew we would be doing the same thing day in and day out. So I wanted to do something else and got into 2D fashion illustrations. From there, my curiosity got me into digital fashion.

Where do you source your inspiration?

Anywhere. It depends on what I'm thinking of achieving at the moment. I will often look at African history, and if there's something that supports women's empowerment, I will consciously select inspiration from this. I created one mystical collection inspired by the history behind the masquerade and money used during the days of trade called cowrie*. I did another recent creation inspired by Afrofuturism, which was inspired by the way women in Africa used to knit and make traditional clothing.

I create my own fabric, too, and find inspiration for the print designs this way. I go around with my iPad, and when I see something that inspires me, I will do a sketch. Sometimes it's in the market, things I see online, or conversations.

Your prints really stand out in your designs. Are they traditional Nigerian prints or from your imagination?

Something from my imagination and also tied to African prints. The normal African prints are called Ankara. It's a common print everybody wears in Nigeria now. This print is actually not from Africa but from Indonesia, but they use African designs. So when I create my own fabric, I try to take elements from Africa and showcase what realistic African fabric looks like.
“When I create my own fabric, I try to take elements from Africa and showcase what realistic African fabric looks like.”
Hadeeart
How do you create digital prints?

It's so fun making the fabrics. If I think of a particular element, like cowrie, for example, which is indigenous to Africa, and take it into a new idea. I am currently attending a Chinese University and combined the cowrie into a print to make a Hanfu, one of the traditional Chinese costumes. The print is African fabric, but it looks Chinese until you look up close. I’ll draw the cowrie and try to see if I make it abstract or in its natural form. I then go to Sketchbook or Photoshop to place the way I want the pattern to be, choose colors and aesthetics, then I combine each element into an SVG and go into Substance Designer and convert the design into fabric. Then I export it and make the garment!

How are these prints traditionally made?

They use what is called Batik, which is candle wax. The manual method is to carve the designs on foam, and then you soak the foam into candle wax, then paste the melted wax onto the clothes one after the other to form the pattern, then dip the fabric in dye.

Artists before you including Jean Michel-Basquiat have been inspired by AfroFuturism. I read Bennett Caper’s definition of Afrofuturism as "forward thinking as well as backward thinking, while having a distressing past, a distressing present, but still looking forward to thriving in the future."

For me, Afrofuturism is about putting together African culture and technology. Africa in the future. It's a movement and a way to create. Some people think AfroFuturism is about freedom for black people, but I see it in a bit of a different light. I personally feel that it's not just about having black characters or black heroes, the way people paint it. It's an aesthetic of the black African experience, scientific inspirations, technology, history, and the mystical. It's a way for us to reimagine tradition.
“For me, Afrofuturism is about putting together African culture and technology. Africa in the future… It's a way for us to reimagine tradition.”
Hadeeart
I know you create designs for a universal audience, focusing on gender-neutral designs for every age, race, and sexual orientation; your collections are designed for everybody. I think white audiences can be trepidatious about wearing traditional African prints to avoid any form of cultural appropriation.

For me, Afrofuturism is bringing that culture to you, making it accessible for everybody, no matter who you are or what you believe. It is beautiful, and everyone is invited to be a part of it. I think people sometimes feel like people can't wear the clothing that belongs to this culture. For me, I believe fashion is art more than a wearable. I feel everybody can relate to art. When you go to a museum, you can't tell people not to appreciate an artwork. I want wearing my clothes to be inspiring.

I think that's where Afrofuturism comes into play because I want to create something for the future. Everyone can relate to the future. No matter your sex, tribe, or beliefs, you can relate to the future. I want everyone to relate to the designs.

What made you decide digital fashion was the right industry to put your creative energy into?

I kind of try to be a ghost designer. I use a hijab, so people tend to criticize when you wear one as a designer. I grew up in a house with a Muslim dad and a mum who used to be Christian. I was originally Christian, and now I am Muslim. There was never any problem or tension in my house. I don't design based on my religion, but there tends to be a barrier there. In digital designs, nobody cares who you are. Nobody cares what you have. They just care about your designs, what you deliver.

Learning more about the woman behind the designs has been personally inspiring. You stand out because you are creating digital fashion in a place where not many designers are based. You have such a drive to uplift and empower your community by teaching them the skills to make a living as digital designers.

Yes. I've been attending events locally to spread the word. I am also engaging with mentorship programs where I act as a mentor for people trying to get into digital fashion. I have also been self-educating in courses to learn more about the sustainability opportunities in the space.
And you're self-taught too?

I am self-taught because there's certain knowledge and skills in digital fashion I needed before doing digital fashion courses and my masters. Digital fashion isn't very popular in Nigeria, and getting a job in the industry is still an issue. Here in Nigeria, when you want to tell people to pick up an occupation, you must show them they can make a living from it. Things are very hard here. Presently we have a grid issue in the power supply. The amount we used to have per day is now what we get in one week. So for someone experiencing that, to tell them to go into digital fashion - it's a no-no. There's no way they can survive. Sometimes there are no lights. I've been trying to get solar power set up to avoid the power problems. Internet access is also an issue. Anything tech or metaverse, people have problems to work around.

What do you think could be done to improve the prospects for people to become digital designers in Nigeria?

I would love people to create programs to help move things forward in Africa. I would like a situation where there are more resources for mentorship programs. The rate of unemployment is getting outrageous in Nigeria. More people are trying to move into tech-related occupations, but so many things are holding them back. We need more support.

Uplifting women in tech, especially in Africa, should be getting more funding. Call out to any organizations or rich people reading this! I also saw that you provide your digital community tools to customize and build their own digital designs!

Some people want to get into digital fashion but don't have the knowledge. I release digital assets, CLO files, XVX files, and OBJ files, so people can open them, use my patterns, edit them, and create their own designs. It's my way of giving back to the community because it is much cheaper. Gamers are good programmers. If they don't have money to pay designers for their clothes, they can customize my digital assets for their gaming character.

You're a gamer yourself.

Yes, I play Sansar and Second Life. I have stores and sell clothing in the games as well.

You believe digital fashion has opportunities that exist far beyond its use for social media.

For our physical life to be sustainable, we have to embrace digital life, digital fashion being one of these things. I think it will have a big impact on reducing waste. People can embrace fashion easily in this way, even if it's just footwear. You can have as many clothes as you want without affecting the environment.

And where you live in Nigeria is close to a massive landfill, right?

Yes. And we have a lot of bad roads with clothes and plastic covering certain parts. Sustainability education should be included in school curriculums. If you're sustainable, you have a better way of life. People focus time on religion and war, which cause environmental problems, but if we think of ourselves more as humans, I think the world will improve. A better future is where no one cares who you are or what you have. Where everyone is included. The land needs to be better for us all.

A common cause would have humanity focusing less on what divides us and more on what connects us. What are you working on at the moment that is inspiring you?

I just started a virtual model agency where I am creating avatars. I want to create an avatar that an average African can relate to, so I created @awele.meta - a transhuman Afrofuturistic avatar. I am also really excited to create the Special Items collection for pets. Then I can dress my pet bunny.
*Cowrie shells, especially Monetaria moneta, were used for centuries as currency by native Africans. The cowrie was the shell most widely used worldwide as shell money and was important in the trade networks of Africa, South Asia, and East Asia.
Interview: Sally Paton
Imagery: Courtesy of HADEEART
Date: May 1st, 2022