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Awaiting gains of Nigeria’s Multi-billion Naira Fashion Industry

By Geraldine Akutu
28 July 2019   |   3:38 am
Shade Thomas-Fahm, Deola Sagoe, Ade Bakare, Mudi, Frank Oshodi, Modela, Zizi Cardow, Lexy Mojo-Eyes, Mai Atafo, they rule the world by their fashion caprices.

Nigeria’s Fashion Industry

• With Govt Support, Market Value Of $4.7b Will Triple — Designers
• Stakeholders Seek Loan Facilities, Production Hubs

Shade Thomas-Fahm, Deola Sagoe, Ade Bakare, Mudi, Frank Oshodi, Modela, Zizi Cardow, Lexy Mojo-Eyes, Mai Atafo, they rule the world by their fashion caprices.

Among some other notable names, these are creative designers of no mean repute, who have, at various periods, blazed the trail in Nigeria’s fashion industry. From an almost non-existent state, the daring innovators turned the Nigerian fashion space into a bubbly hub and have gone ahead to make the fashion world their oysters.

Reputed to have kick-started what has grown into the Nigerian fashion industry, Shade Thomas-Fahm, it was, who first stepped on to the fashion scene in the early ’60s. With the use of traditional African fabrics, the fashion icon invented many styles. Her store, Shade’s Boutique, was sought after by fashionistas who craved a taste.

Some of her interesting creations included the Boubou, which she adapted from men’s Agbada, and the hassle-free pre-fitted gele. The twist she introduced into the tying of iro and buba resulted in the zipped wrapper skirt. She made Ankara jumpsuits, aso oke dresses, beaded shoes and embroidered culottes. These made her the force in her time.

In later years, Deola Sagoe, the creative head of House of Sagoe, Ade Bakare of Ade Bakare Couture and Folake Folarin-Coker of Tiffany Amber fame bestrode the fashion tuff.

Sagoe, renowned as the leading lady of African haute couture, has been at the cutting edge of fashion since 1989 and went on to become the first black woman to present a collection at Alta Roma, Rome’s celebrated fashion week in 2004. Her alluring style earned her clients, which include African first ladies, A-list celebrities, top models and other popular personalities. 

The Chief Executive of Ade Bakare Couture, Bakare came into the fashion scene in 1991 and also made exploits. His work has been described as “classic with a touch of modernity.”

The creative director of Tiffany Amber, Folarin-Coker launched out in 1998. And by 2008, in a first of its kind for an African, she showcased her collection at the Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in New York. The collection was praised by such rave review that she was invited to showcase her collections the second time, making her the first African designer to showcase for two consecutive shows at the New York Fashion Week. 
Mai Atafo, Mudi, Lisa Folawiyo, Frank Oshodi, Modela, Zizi Cardow, Soares Anthony and Lola Faturoti, among others, also made their marks and put Nigerian and African fashion on the global map, by continually innovating, recreating and redesigning local fabrics with mixture of African and foreign touches, fusing fabrics to create styles with diverse appeal.

NO doubt, Nigerians are fashion-conscious. This has, in no small measure, affected the fashion industry in the country. To satisfy local and international demands, Nigerian fashion designers have, over the years, stepped up their game in terms of creativity and output. And they now rub shoulders with acclaimed designers from other climes at international fashion exhibitions.

Equally, the Nigerian fashion industry has witnessed phenomenal growth, with the emergence of exceptional designers, who are introducing interesting dynamics in the use of African and foreign fabric, to make bespoke outfits.

Gross Domestic Product (GDP) data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), says that the “textile, apparel, and footwear” sector has averaged a growth of 17 per cent since 2010. This rise has been fuelled by an increase in demand for and partly by unprecedented initiatives that continue to push Nigerian fashion globally.

Euromonitor suggests that the Sub-Saharan fashion market is worth $31 billion, with Nigeria accounting for 15 per cent (about $4.7 billion) of that. The figure is materially lower than South Africa’s share ($14.4 billion), even though Nigeria has nearly four times its population. In fact, Africa’s share of the global fashion industry market, valued at about $2.5trillion, is estimated at less than one per cent. 

The figures do not excite fashionistas and commentators, who bemoan the fact that in spite of its enormous potentials, Nigeria’s fashion industry has remained hamstrung by extraneous factors.

Some designers believe a lot still needs to be done to make Nigerian brands more acceptable and to compete favourably with big fashion brands around the world.

According to Ade Bakare, “The Nigerian industry is very vibrant at the moment and is able to cope with national demand. We have our own styles that evolved and have become trends. A lot of designers and tailors are inundated with requests for clothes and some have their unique styles. But looking at the industry from a professional perspective, it is very underdeveloped and exports are lagging behind, which should be a major source of income for the country. A lot of structure is needed, like fashion schools, fashion seminars and workshops, fashion professional unions, export fashion councils and a structured annual fashion Calendar, to mention a few.”

Bakare expressed the belief that the fashion industry is contributing to the nation’s economic growth.

“Fashion is very accessible, with lots of people involved in buying and selling clothes. A lot of tailors, who manufacture, though on a small scale but collectively, are being very impactful. You can see tailors in all sections of the country busy turning out clothes, despite the fact we still import a lot of new and second-hand clothes. One of the major obstacles the industry is, however, facing is the issue of quality. A lot of clothes produced lack the internationally accepted standard.

“I constantly hear finance is needed. This might be true but if you have a well-made product, you will also be able to sell it anywhere in the world; it’s a global village now, especially with the advent of social media. Quality is key; your designs are immediately being measured by other designers, nationally or internationally.”

Bakare suggested that the Federal Government should appoint a minister or special adviser for Fashion and Exports. This department, he says, would then see to the establishment of unions of designers, tailors, and manufacturers, and also organise seminars, workshops, courses and training schools. He adds that the professional bodies would relate with their international counterparts to achieve the best possible.

“It’s interesting to note that in Nigeria, fabrics are still being sold by the yardage when most countries went metric in the 1980s and sold by the metre. This alone causes a huge loss to the Nigerian economy.

“Again, if we had proper structures, we would be able to access and regulate the fabrics that come into the country. A lot of textiles that are termed waste, due to faults, are shipped and sold in Nigeria. We have become a dumping ground for bad quality fabrics. All these are allowed to continue because there are no interventions. The Nigerian fashion industry is very lucrative and if handled properly, would be a huge earner for the government. Also, would-be fashion designers must study their craft,” Bakare said. 

The CEO of Modela Couture Nigeria and Project director, Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN), Adebayo Adegbe is glad that the once relegated Ankara, adire, and other African textile prints, which used to be classified as poor man’s fabrics, have now been rebranded, restyled and are topping the chart across the world. 
The renowned designer, however, noted that the fashion industry was not growing at a fast pace because the nation is yet to have production hubs spread across to keep producing and churning out millions of ready-to-wear lines to cater for the ever-increasing population.

He said, “We need more than what is there today. We need about 10 times more business-minded designers who have 24 hours shift production and are making affordable ready-to-wear for yearning Nigerians. We need government support for this to happen easily.
“In terms of creativity, Nigerian designers can meet up, but economically, we are crawling. We need the government to assist to make available about five production hubs in each state, so designers only need to make samples, size them up, pattern, take them to such government-assisted centres, pay moderately and produce thousands for your label. The challenges Nigerian designers face are multiple and it is only the Federal or sensitive State Government that can solve them.”

He listed some such challenges as erratic power supply, ban on imported fabrics, most especially African prints, no big production hubs, no durable Nigerian textile, no encouragement for adire makers and no encouragement for cotton farmers, among others, as limitations against the growth of the industry.

For the Founder, Africa Fashion Reception and CEO, Legendary Gold Limited, Mr. Lexy Mojo-Eyes, the Nigerian fashion industry has grown and improved tremendously, what with our designers getting more creative with time.

He said, “The social media has helped incredibly in the area of inspiration and exposure. I believe Nigerian designers have met international expectations when it comes to creativity, but there is still a lot of work to be done. More time is needed to achieve desired results. You know our fashion is inspired by our cultural values, which are alien to Western culture. So expectedly, it will take some time to get integrated or accepted abroad. For sometime now, our fashion shows have been getting attention globally through the various fashion event platforms that we created, but we need to do more. 
“For instance, Legendary Gold Ltd., as the foremost fashion promotion company on the African continent, created various platforms to promote Nigerian and African designers locally and internationally. These platforms include the Nigeria Fashion Show, Nigeria Fashion Week and Africa Fashion Reception.

Since 1997, these platforms have been creating marketing and retail opportunities for African designers abroad. If properly put together, fashion shows are the best avenues to expose designers’ works. It is a one-stop platform for media and buyers (retailers and wholesalers) to see designers’ collections. Since 2000, Legendary Gold has been promoting the works of Nigerian and African designers to the catwalks of Paris, Milan, New York, London and Tokyo, among others.”

With Nigerian designs worn the world over and with designers showing their collections in Rome, Paris, London, New York and the like, the Creative Director, Asandrea Fashion, Tochukwu Michael Tochukwu said the industry has done well, given that all that has been achieved has been by “personal effort without government support.”

“A lot of us have a lot to give to the fashion world, but we need government’s support and assistance. Imagine if I have resources to import Isi Agu fabrics, I would have been greater than this. I personally started promoting Isi Agu to boost made-in-Nigeria products.

“In 2012, I created new designs using suit material to combine Isi Agu in order for it to be accepted by Africans living around the world. Through media houses like The Guardian and The Sun newspapers, people were able to read my interviews, and my voice was heard. So, people started following my line of creativity to make native wears more unique. Today, Isi Agu fabric and Senators’ material are making importers rich without knowing who revived it.”
While many stakeholders agree that Nigerian fashion creations are original and creative, a reasonable population says they are quite unaffordable and are out of the reach of ordinary Nigerians.

Tochukwu disagrees with this stance, saying: “Our designs are affordable. It is true that some are expensive, depending on the quality of the fabrics we use, but it is not as expensive as people think. I would like to use this opportunity to plead with the Federal Government to give licences to import fabrics that are not produced in Nigeria to make made-in-Nigeria clothes more affordable. For instance, Italian material from Italy and Italian material copied and reproduced by China is not the same, though they look alike.
“Some tailors don’t explain to their clients the secret about these fabrics, so clients tend to think the honest ones that use high-quality fabrics to make clothes are selling at exorbitant prices. It is advisable to wear quality designs made with quality fabrics, as they last longer. Designs made by Nigerians are not expensive compared to that of their foreign counterparts.”

On the part of Soares Anthony, the Creative Head, Soares Anthony Clothing, the Nigerian fashion industry is doing well compared to when it first started.

He said: “We have a lot of creative designers coming out with lovely designs that can stand anywhere in the world, which has made people appreciate our works and wear them with pride and confidence. Our technique has also improved greatly. We now use an industrial sewing machine and a lot of other high tech machines, which makes the stitches very neat and bring out the beauty of the clothes.
“Our branding is up to international standard too. Clients are happier with the customer service they get because a lot of graduates are now involved in the business, which has helped improve a lot of things. I always say that the sky is big for all the birds to fly. One designer cannot make clothes for everyone in Nigeria, let alone the world. So, as designers in a competitive industry, we need to stay focused on our craft, be creative and stand out.” 
In her view, Founder/Creative Lead at My Beautiful Africa, Clara Okoro, affirmed that the Nigerian fashion industry has received worldwide acclaim.

She recalled that in the past, the major capital cities of world fashion were London, New York, Milan and Paris but that Africa has added her voice through Lagos, Accra, Nairobi and Johannesburg.

Okoro said: “The industry is making appreciable growth with the emergence of many fashion weeks such as Lagos Fashion Week, GTBank Fashion week and the newly introduced Zenith Bank Style fashion week. So much is happening, a lot of designers in Nigeria are now specialising either as mass producers of apparels or fabric designers. But things can get better with proper structuring of the industry. We need to have more specialist areas such as retail, apparel productions, designs and fabric designs. And as these areas experience growth, designers can outsource their jobs and build their brands as a focus.

“The Government can also put policies in place to mitigate the influx of cheap, low-quality apparels from other countries and encourage production expertise in Nigeria via loan facilities, production hubs and clusters, where designers can take their jobs to for mass production.”