Tuesday, 28th June 2022
<To guardian.ng
Breaking News:

Nigerian fashion… The journeys of return – Part 2

By Folorunsho Coker
23 January 2022   |   3:03 am
As precursor to these newer manifestations, the more prodigious concert between fashion and tourism in Nigeria has continuously grown from the late 1990s, when big fashion events that enabled both ...

Folorunsho Coker, Director General, Nigerian_Tourism_Development_Corporation

A Growing Tribe of Fashion-Seekers

As precursor to these newer manifestations, the more prodigious concert between fashion and tourism in Nigeria has continuously grown from the late 1990s, when big fashion events that enabled both local and inbound destination travel commenced.

These spiraled into the large-scale sartorial exhibitions and fashion weeks that have now become major platforms for the showcase of Nigerian capabilities and talents, whilst indicating the potentials of a resurgent textiles industry in the country, alongside the humongous possibilities of the media, hospitality and cognate sectors.

While these events have grown in prestige and sophistication enough to bring in notables and icons in the global fashion industry, such as Ozwald Boateng, Grace Bol, Matthew Williamson and superstar model, Naomi Campbell – who has equally championed the cause of Nigerian designers internationally and mounted an advocacy for the publication of a Vogue Africa as acknowledgment of an industry that has fully come into reckoning, etc. Also, the events have equally seen to the amplification of the work of a newer generation of designers, from Kenneth Ize to Mazzi Odu, Onalaja, IAMISIGO, Banke Kuku, Lagos Space Programme, Huddaya, TjWho, Kiko Romeo, Pepper Row, RÉ Lagos, VicNate, and T.I. Nathan, among a host of others.

Yet, what can be described as a modern fashion industry in Nigeria stands tall on the shoulders of matriarchs like Shade Thomas-Fahm of the famed Shade Boutique in Yaba, who came on the scene in the early 1960s Lagos, after training in the U.K. She is noted as blazing the trail of a distinctive modernity involving the use of traditional African fabrics/materials in patterns and styles that adopt the Western orientation.

More so, she is noted to have created the boubou, a ‘feminised’ version of the male agbada, alongside other unique pieces like Ankara shirts, beaded shoes, aso-oke dresses, etc. Contemporaries of Shade Thomas-Fahm who have also had significant impacts on Nigerian fashion from the 1970s have included Folorunsho Alakija, Abah Folawiyo, Betti O, and Nike Okundaye.

Evolving from the early 1990s have been a generation of Nigerian arbiters of taste in fashion, who attained and set global standards of recognition, to become noteworthy pace-setters in their own rights. While they are the champions of urban tourism and place marketing, who put Nigeria, particularly Lagos, on the international fashion map, they did this by creating brands that weighed their chests against the very best in the world.

This frontline cohort has grown to comprise – in no particular order of emergence – Deola Sagoe of the House of Deola, Lisa Folawiyo, Folake Coker of Tiffany Amber, Ade Bakare, Mudi, Frank Oshodi, Modela, Zizi Cardow, Lexy Mojo-Eyes, Mai Atafo, Ituen Basi, Soares Anthony, Lola Faturoti, Amaka Osakwe, Duro Olowu, and a number of others. Interestingly, the industry is witnessing a cross-generational component, with the three daughters of Deola Sagoe – Teni, Aba and Tiwa – picking up the gauntlet and launching the increasingly admired CLAN label.
Fashion Weeks – In the Empire of Tourism

The progression in the global appeal of Nigerian ateliers as founts of unique creations and reputable fashion destination is testimony of their innovative practice and cumulative industry, which have kept capturing the imagination of many across the world.

Presently, the highest expressions of the connection between tourism, destination events/marketing and sartorial convergence in Nigeria are in the fashion weeks, which have been witnessing different iterations across a number of locations in the country. Starting from about 2007, some of the most distinguished of these events, offering platforms for many designers to exhibit their offerings to local and international audiences, consist of the Lagos Fashion Week, Arise Fashion Week, and the African Sourcing and Fashion Week (ASFW-Lagos). Equally, there are the more recent Abuja International Fashion Week and the Port Harcourt Fashion Week, alongside the business/social responsibility driven instances of the GTCO/GTBank Fashion Weekend and the Style By Zenith, among others.

While the Lagos Fashion Week is considered by many as “Nigeria’s premier fashion event”, drawing participation from far and near, the glamour and huge media fair of the Arise Fashion Week has been notably unmistakable, with its star-studding and now multi-location staging (as the latest showing was held in Dubai), these fashion events have become thriving platforms for the exhibition of talents and designer collections that are ‘glocal’ – being both global and local at once. And also subjects of international spotlighting and destination visit, which are on the ascendance as major entrepôts and fairs for clients of Nigerian fashion.

Founded in 2011 by Omoyemi Akerele, even as its reputation makes it appear to have been around for more than a generation, the inspiring prestige of the Lagos Fashion Week is evident in its being covered by such mainstream international media like CNN and BBC, and magazines like Harpers Bazaar and the American Vogue.

In response to a major disruptive situation like the advent of coronavirus and its associated pathology, COVID-19, many of the fashion shows have become hybrid experiences, which are now carefully curated as physical and online shows. Their prominent attractions – being the runway shows involving the presentation of collections, the exhibition/shopping events, and also interactive forums, whether as business sessions or industry masterclasses – have equally adapted to this amalgam. Moreover, the appeal of these sartorial showcases has increased in their exploration of socially conscious themes such as sustainability and the environmental concern through design.

With its surging influence, Nigeria is also claimed to be the fashion capital of the continent. This is due, as much to the fact of its demographic spread (at over 200 million), as to its economic size within Africa, which supports a diverse profusion of talents, inclusive of designers, stylists, industry creatives, associated human resource and a vast media support infrastructure comprising photographers, bloggers, different content creators, etc. Moreover, even though South Africa presently draws a larger share of the continent’s fashion spend, yet from the breadth and range of its fashion offerings, Nigeria has the capacity to stimulate demand and patronage in the near future, in a manner impossible to be rivaled across Africa.
Going Digital and Extending the Trade Routes

As the Nigerian sartorial industry gains more attention, locally and internationally, both on the back of the fashion weeks, other major sectoral events, coupled with huge tourist flows, there has been a boon to business, which will inevitably intensify – from the explosion in the number of ateliers, small to medium scale workshops engaged in production of distinct clothing, to the opening of stores, and deepening of presence on e-commerce platforms.

It is heart-warming to see how social media platforms, such as Instagram – and the growing tribe of bloggers, have accelerated and expanded the Nigerian fashion scene, as they keep taking the awareness of its novelty and appeal to the wider world, thereby inciting the desire to witness the industry and physical space first-hand.

There are 10s of Nigerian fashion brands straddling the virtual space, and particularly on Instagram, and these tend to extend the perception of the fashion industry as not only being essentially about haute couture or the luxury and mid-market segments, but also the extending presence of numerous value brands. These include brands such as Canill and 21 attires, which actually serve the greater number of people and are possibly the larger sources of jobs, economic performance, and even desire – in terms of the volumes involved in their patronage.

No doubt, the fashion industry is set for greater growth in the present times with the intervention and support of agencies such as the Nigerian Export Promotion Council and the Central Bank of Nigeria.

More so, the fashion fund set up by the Bank of Industry will make a significant boost to the business of fashion, by enabling practitioners and making the sector more appealing to enthusiasts coming from far and wide.

As the Nigerian government further activates its programme of economic renaissance, the Nigerian fashion industry will fare a lot better with the huge revival of the textiles industry, which would certainly intensify the impact of the return journeys of destination travellers to Nigeria, who are not only drawn to its locally made fabrics, but also to see its trade shows/fashion events, and savour the novelty of designs, products and locations.

Coker, Baba Eto of Yorubaland and Director General of the Nigerian Tourism Development Corporation, is the chief marketer of Nigerian destination

In this article