Nigerian fashion and the journeys of return – Part 1
An Enduring Arbiter Of Taste
Nigeria has remained an enduring hub of style – that state of being, or cultural outlook, reflecting our choices, attitudes or vibe – whether culinary, sartorial or of coiffure, from earlier periods. Today, sartorially, this is apparent in the vivacious ways we rock the isiagu or adire prints, the aso oke or Danboyo and Madakare patterns, etc., much of whose expressions are leaning on the creativity of many, who are bringing modern sensibilities of design to mix, re-mix and re-imagine the traditional forms, towards newer, cutting-edge outlooks.
Even if manifestations of Nigerian fashion do not readily pander to lurid exhibitionist inclinations in the manner of, say, the sapeurs of central Africa – in more recent times, they have persisted as nuggets of attraction, inspiring and pulling hosts of people into communion with their beauty and novelty. Through time, the composite of Nigerian fashion – from the Sahel to the savannah and rain forest – has continued to draw pilgrims, journeying across different trade routes, to its fairs.
Fashion as a subset of style has always had its tribe of seekers, who tour to experience their objects of desire. The craving and traffic have only increased in these days and times. Presently, fashion as a sphere of desire and economic activity is one that holds great potential, as the world, particularly Nigeria, makes bold strides towards recovery, following the different levels of pushback to the coronavirus offensive.
This is a sector that has recently been calibrated, astoundingly, as a N2 trillion industry, by the Nigerian Culture minister, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, and which is geared for greater growth with the resumption of demand, and increased sectoral activity, on the heels of the current economic recovery. As profiled by the National Bureau of Statistics, the Nigerian fashion industry has been on an upward growth trajectory of 17 per cent per annum in the past decade, which is consequent as much on its increasing sophistication, as its capacity to attract global attention.
Fashion has always been closely linked to tourism, as mentioned, with people constantly seeking out objects of sartorial desire through space and time. This has currently resulted in a global fashion industry that has been valued at more than $2.5 trillion, of which although Africa currently accounts for less than 1 per cent of this, yet has the Sub-Saharan Africa fashion market considered as worth some $31 billion, with Nigeria holding an expanding share of 15 per cent, at $4.7 billion.
This has coalesced around the efforts of more than a generation of sector actors – designers, entrepreneurs and communicators, who have made bold inroads into the global fashion market. They have not only staged and been part of huge transcontinental fashion exhibitions to create awareness – from fashion weeks in Lagos to Port Harcourt, Milan and New York, but also developed the digital savvy of marketing their products on platforms such as Jumia, Konga and Fashpa, etc.
Fashion and Returned Journeys
THE kinship between fashion and tourism is more pronounced on the global stage through the huge shows that are regularly put up in the fashion capitals of the world, with London, New York, Milan and Paris being the arbiters of value, par excellence; and then of late – Los Angeles, Madrid, Toronto, Istanbul, Dubai, Berlin etc., magnifying the essence. These have created a distinct consumer experience now regarded as fashion tourism, which is closely linked to the notion of shopping tourism, in which merchandising, retailing and the procurement of goods are crucial to the urge or necessity to travel.
The economics of fashion, shopping and tourism are both exhilarating and intriguing in the locations where these have taken deep roots. New York, which has come to be described as the “Holy Grail” of the fashion enterprise, due to the exceptional success of its eponymous fashion week, hosts biannual events that generate revenues in excess of $900 million per annum, which is double what is made in major sports events like the Super Bowl or the U.S. Tennis Opens. This amount is an aggregation of visitors’ spend on hotels, food, entertainment, taxes, etc., while some reports point out that in its ripple effect across sectors, the New York Fashion week accounts for $11 billion in wages and $2 billion in yearly tax revenue. This is on the back of about 232,000 visitors, of which over 150,000 are unique visitors every season.
In a related manner, the London Fashion Week brings in about $366 million per season and has some 105,000 unique visitors, whereas the Paris Fashion Week earns more than $74 million and has over 30,000 unique visitors. The Milan Fashion Week draws in revenues in excess of $56 million, while equally witnessing more than 30,000 unique visitors. Other key location-based exhibitions, like the Berlin Fashion Week, accounts for about $82 million in earnings and 40,000 unique visitors, whilst the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Madrid makes over $118 million in income and attracts more than 55,000 unique visitors.
From Los Angeles to Toronto to Istanbul, Dubai, Copenhagen, Sydney, Dallas, and increasingly Lagos and Johannesburg, etc., the intensifying connection between fashion, shopping and destination travel is signalling major boons to economic activity, which are particularly crucial in this time of the recovery of nations from the coronavirus impaction. The attendant creation of jobs in hospitality, transportation, textiles manufacturing, the general production and marketing of consumer goods, etc., and also across affiliate pursuits like marketing and research, media, and others, all point to the growing significance of fashion tourism.
And beyond this being essentially about high fashion or haute couture, an emerging brook of the tourism flows around fashion is also directed at more popular choices, as many designers are turning to making collections for the middle classes and generating huge revenues from this.
Chief Coker is the Director General of Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation