While many people think of clothing as simply fabric that covers parts of the body, the Pan African Students Association’s AFRIK! fashion show utilized clothing as a pathway to self-expression, historical remembrance and community building.
PASA held its annual fashion show on Saturday, March 4 in Barton Hall. The show featured established designers with roots across the African diaspora and some of Cornell’s own student designers and models.
Chicago-based designer Oluwaseyi Adeleke, the founder and creator of the fashion brand “prgrssn” or Progression with the Krown, was one of the designers showcased at the fashion show. He said that his fashion design inspiration and development stems from his Nigerian background and he aims for prgrssn’s clothing to educate the wearer and everyone around them, with each piece having a powerful message in hopes to be a conversation starter.
“When I went to Nigeria, I found my fabric, and then my mom hooked me up with some sewers,” Adeleke said. “I have worked on patterns with them, and we developed this entire collection [in Nigeria].”
Adeleke introduced his collection as the thesis for his graduate program. He described that he wanted to celebrate African history and decolonization through his work by making the collection out of Ankara — a traditional material originating in Holland.
“[Ankara] is originally from Holland and was actually brought over to Nigeria, and rather than Africans just simply taking it in the way that the Holland people brought it to them, they made it their own so much more that these prints are more associated with West Africa than they are at the place of origin,” Adeleke said. “So for me, that is a form of decolonization.”
To Adeleke, clothing and designs can transform more than just fashion.
“[My designs symbolize] a form of protest, and that is why I use [Ankara] throughout all of [my] work,” Adeleke said.
Student designer Jon Duval ’25 also emphasized originality in his work, since he sees fashion as a form of self-expression.
“It is very easy to see trends and jump after those trends, but I think it’s more important to just try to stay true to yourself and take that risk even though there is a part of you that might want to,” Duval said.
Duval is the creator of Exomatic Minds, a streetwear brand run by Cornellians to celebrate the Cornell student body.
“The word exomatic means willing to be extraordinary,” the Exomatic Minds website reads. “Our ultimate mission is to highlight the creativity and uniqueness of students attending a prestigious university through creation.”
Duval said that fashion is about creativity rather than perfection.
“[When it comes to fashion design,] I think worrying about being perfect is the least concern you should have,” Duval said. “I think [aspiring designers] should worry about just how to get started.”
Models of AFRIK! also noted that they valued connecting with other students of color and learning about the modeling industry.
“I [appreciated] the group’s diversity,” Amere Sloan ’26 said. “Once I got on campus, I felt like I didn’t really see any other people of my color, so when I heard about AFRIK! and [knowing] I always wanted to get into modeling, it was like killing two birds with one stone.”
Shanelle Eshun ’26 described that she enjoyed learning about the modeling profession, despite the process being overwhelming at first.
“The practices were really long and time-consuming, and in the beginning, I did not have poses, but they also taught us how to model like a professional, and I feel like I have learned how to be a part of an event,” Eshun said.
PASA Co-President Jaida Anekwe ’25 emphasized that AFRIK! recognizes unity and builds community.
“I feel like one of my biggest takeaways [from AFRIK!] is that community is everywhere,” Anekwe said. “I think even when you’re prepping for something stressful or just trying to make something happen, it is important to try and build connections with [everyone] and to prioritize the community aspect.”
Erica Yirenkyi ’25 is a Sun contributor and can be reached at [email protected]