LIFE IS A RUNWAY; African Style Glows in Brooklyn


Published: October 27, 2011

A salvaged shipping container may seem an unpromising showcase for cutting-edge style. But not to Hekima Hapa, who set up shop in one of the rectangular spaces scattered throughout the Dekalb Market in Brooklyn on Saturday.

She deftly exploited her cramped quarters as an intimate backdrop for her African-themed, Brooklyn-sewn designs. Ms. Hapa and her retail partner, Alicia Piller, a jewelry designer, were participating in the Afrika21 Mixtape Project, part of the market conceived as a platform for emerging African artists of every stripe.


“All things African are high trend right now,” Ms. Hapa maintained. 

Her vibrant fashions were a hit with visitors strolling this sprawling parking-lot bazaar at Flatbush Avenue and Willoughby Street. Some, like Nomsa Mazwai, a South African pop star, festooned themselves in Ms. Piller’s jewelry. Delphine Fawundu piled tribal bangles atop colorful leg warmers she had repurposed as elbow-length gloves. Izetta Henderson, a fashion buyer and designer, said it was refreshing to see so much enterprise in the shadow of Forest City, the monolithic apartment towers. “This,” she said of the thrumming market, “is what Brooklyn used to be about.”

Ruth La Ferla and Elizabeth Lippman’s style essays on New York City-based events from gallery openings to flea markets. At one time, people who picked up African objects on their travels treated them as collectibles, she said. “They didn’t wear them. But they’re wearing them now.”

Text by Ruth La Ferla. Photographs by Elizabeth Lippman.