Fashion Capital: Why Lagos Is at the Forefront of Africa’s Fashion Landscape
The global spotlight has been firmly fixed on Lagos in Nigeria for a while now, thanks to its reputation as a buzzing hub of activity, parties and art; Africa’s largest city has long been a must-visit hotspot for touring musicians and tourists alike. Cardi B and DaBaby are just a couple of American musical artists who have performed in the city, while global citizens across the diaspora make the pilgrimage-like return every holiday season for the infamous Detty December celebrations that take place between Christmas and the New Year.
But alongside the musical concerts and fun parties and art shows, it is the eclectic fashion scene in Lagos that ties the whole thing together. On a regular day, you can spot people going about their days in everything from modern officewear to traditional garments and fashion-forward pieces. “Lagos has some of the best-dressed people in the world. Most people have their own personal style – the mix of prints, the play on colors and texture, the edginess and especially the confidence. Fashion in my city is booming and you cannot ignore it,” says Derin Odugbesan-Thomas, a Lagos-based content creator also known as @DerinfromIsaleEko.
Ever since Omoyemi Akerele staged the first Lagos Fashion Week event back in 2011, the city’s fashion design talent has well and truly been put on the map. Today, Akerele acts as an advocate for African fashion design, helping to attract a global audience for not just Nigerian designers, but brands across the continent. “If you want a mix of people and cultures in the western parts of Africa, Lagos has rapidly become one of the cities that has contributed to the globally influential and prominent fashion brands making a mark for themselves in the industry,” says Vanessa Maseko, The Folklore Group’s Associate Buyer. In December 2021, ARISE Fashion Week was transported to the Middle East in celebration of Nigeria Day at the Dubai Expo. Nigerian fashion was represented by designers such as LVMH Prize finalist Kenneth Ize, Lisa Folawiyo, and Onalaja, showing their colorful, dynamic creations against the backdrop of the Burj Khalifa. Going international is nothing new for homegrown Nigerian designers. Former US First Lady Michelle Obama is a fan of Duro Olowu, Sex Education star and the new Doctor Who Ncuti Gatwa appeared on the Bafta awards red carpet wearing Orange Culture, while Beyoncé wore an Ankara suit by Ena Gancio in 2020 post on Instagram.
Through its tailor culture, Nigerians design and create their own occasion outfits, known as “aso ebi” using fabrics such as Ankara, lace and jacquard to blend in with their family and friends while, at the same time, standing out for their own personal style. In the same way, incorporating the traditional aesthetics and artisanal skills of Africa fashion into their creations is one of the key factors that has contributed to the success of Nigerian designers. Aso-oke suits are one of Kenneth Ize’s signature designs while Akudo Iheakanwa uses the same fabric in her creations for her shoe and accessories brand Shekudo. “They bring African aesthetics, which have existed for centuries, into the new age. One of them is Andrea Iyamah, whose collection encapsulates the African heritage through the eccentric use of colour, pattern and her take on modern femininity in swimwear and ready-to-wear garments, Maseko says.
From avant-garde designs to clean, minimalist silhouettes and colorful accessories, the aesthetics of Nigerian design runs the gamut but putting their heritage and culture at the heart of their designs is what makes them original. “Originality is the first thing. I love when a brand is true to their identity,” says Odugbesan-Thomas of what she looks out for in the brands that she wears, citing citing TJWHO, Lisa Folawiyo, Banke Kuku, Ninie and Bridget Awosika as the standard bearers of luxury Nigerian fashion. “I’m a very visual person so I love when what I see gives me the exact silhouette as I envisioned. I’m also about details, structure and quality because I want to be able to bring out an outfit years after and it’s still giving like it did years before.”
Nigerian designers worldwide are being recognized and lauded for their work, too. Iniye Tokyo James, the founder and designer of Tokyo James, was selected as a finalist for this year’s prestigious LVMH Prize while Indian-Nigerian designer Priya Ahluwalia was one of the nominees for the 2022 Woolmark prize. And of course, with more recognition comes more demand. How are Nigerian designers coping with the pressure, especially with the often shaky infrastructure of many Nigerian industries? By taking matters into their own hands and investing in their own industry. In 2020, Ize built a textile factory in Ilorin, Nigerian. There, artisans produce the aso oke fabric integral to his work, while providing the designer with a means to invest into his community. In the same way, many designers employ makers and artisans in Lagos and across the country, to craft their designs while contributing to their local economy.
Looking ahead, the future looks bright for the Lagos and the Nigerian fashion scene. Up-and-coming designers are picking up the baton from established brands and creating innovative designs of their own and have the advantage of emerging at a time when interest from the global fashion community is at an all-time high. Among those to watch out for are KADIJU Lagos, This Is Us and Lagos Space Programme, according to Lagos-based stylist and creative director Momo Hassan-Odukale while Odugbesan-Thomas suggests Weiz Dhurm Franklyn, Pepper Row and Cute Saint. “The list is endless but these are a few designers that I think deserve their flowers right now,” Odugbesan-Thomas says.
There is seemingly no end to the talent and creativity bursting out from Lagos, and Maseko concurs. “The city has given birth to the most stunning collections and, if we’re being honest, it is somewhat the city of dreams. Known for its diversity and fast-growing commercial industry, Lagos’ creative scene has captivated individuals and audiences from all over the world.”