The so-called fashion capitals of Milan, Paris, London, and New York have dominated fashion tastes globally for arguably centuries. And while the “glass ceiling” of fashion has yet to be broken, creatives of countries long considered to be outside of the fashion limelight are starting to steal the show.
Enter Nigerian creatives with brands featuring an unapologetic way of dressing and local fabrics such as adire (traditional dyed fabric) and aso-oke (a Yoruba hand-loomed cloth). And while the country’s textile industry may be on its last legs, Nigeria’s young creatives are certainly not. Notably, they have found fans outside their own borders.
Amaka Osakwe’s fashion line Maki Oh has provided outfits for Michelle Obama and Lupita Nyong’o. Reni Folawiyo, another accomplished Nigerian businesswoman, has established concept store Alára on Victoria Island to foster Lagos’ high-end luxury market, providing a space for Nigerian designers like Duro Olowu and more globally recognized brands like YSL. Adebayo Oke-Lawal, the creator of Orange Culture, was a finalist for the renowned Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy Prize and has shown his pieces in Paris, London, and New York. There are only a few of the designers who have injected a bright, bold Nigerian style into the fashion world.
But what of fashion for those not looking to spend a fortune on the newest tee? Unfortunately, high fashion’s lowly cousin, ready-to-wear fashion options, are still lacking in the country. This, in large part, is due to the country’s floundering cotton, textile, and garment (CTG) sector. Today, country has less than 25 textile factories, operating at much lower than capacity. But things were not always so dire. In the 1970s-1980s, the sector was hiring the second-highest amount of employees after the civil service, with 180 factories supplied by 600,000 local cotton farmers. But with the country’s increased reliance on oil exports and European and Chinese cheap fabrics inundating the local market, the sector has all but come to a complete standstill.
The current government is hoping to use CTG to diversify away from oil and return the sector to its former glory. Recently, the central bank banned access to the forex market for textiles, hoping that importers will begin looking to local markets to fulfill their needs. It has said it would offer single-digit interest rates to textile manufacturers and help growers with investments in higher-yield cotton seedlings, according to The Punch, a Nigerian newspaper.
But for ready-to-wear fashion to come alive in Nigeria, more infrastructure is needed to encourage designers in the form of schools, seminars, unions, and a scheduled fashion calendar. By encouraging more affordable local fashion lines, the number of the sector’s consumers in-country might grow. However, not all hope is lost. Many smaller designers see social media as a way to grow local interest in local-grown brands. Talking with Al Jazeera, Tubo, a wedding dress designer, explains, “Social media helps our work a lot. People see our designs online and reach (out) to us. On an average day, we get a minimum of 10 requests.” Another mover and shaker is the private sector. As Polo Luxury Executive Director Jenifer Obayuwana explains in her TBY interview, “Through [our fashion line], we promote Made in Nigeria brands and support them with marketing campaigns and cash.” MallforAfrica, an e-commerce site mostly dedicated to importing foreign goods, is also looking to increase the number of African brand offerings. Desire for local brands may also come from unexpected places: “The textile industry is experiencing a great renaissance, a rebirth, because with Nigerians throwing more parties, there is a rise in Made in Nigeria products,” according to Obayuwana.
While some designers are looking forward to the burgeoning fashion industry as a driver of Nigerian consumption, some, like Omoyemi Akerele, founder and managing director of Style House, are hoping the fashion industry plays a greater societal role. Hence, her creation of Lagos Fashion Week, through which she hoped to encourage Nigerian designers to see “fashion as something more than just fashion,” according to her interview with NYT and IHT.