The Nigeria fashion industry has come a long way since pre-colonial times. Fashion design has changed from being a trade for the uneducated girl who needed some skill to get by in life. Today, the highly educated are involved in the fashion business and Nigerian fashion brands are being showcased in reputable places around the world.
EVOLUTION AND DEVELOPMENT OF NIGERIAN FASHION INDUSTRY
Fashion is the word for what most people wear or should wear (clothes, shoes, belts, hats, bags, etc.) in a society and the way they are designed. Fashion industry refers to all aspects of fashion i.e. design, fabrics production, marketing and education. When in full bloom, the fashion industry is expected to have professional designers, models, modeling agents, tailors, fashion photographers, fashion schools, fashion retailers, fashion journalists and magazines, etc. in successful operation.
The clothes are usually produced and distributed in three categories: Haute Couture (custom made, in the olden days for the aristocrats but today for the celebrities and the well-to-do), Prêt-à- Porter (ready to wear) and High Street (mass-produced with lower quality fabrics).
In Nigeria, not all these aspects are present many areas in the fashion industry still remain untapped. Although the design and production sector has grown tremendously in the last decade, the sales sector still needs to really take off. The Nigerian fashion industry however, has the potential of becoming one of the main drivers of the economy in no distant future.
It can be said that in pre-colonial times, the traditional Nigeria fashion industry was already well developed. There were designers and producers who made royal clothings and who were members of the king’s court. Their trade was exclusively for the king and important members of his court – the “Haute Couture” category. There were also designers and producers that served the rich of society who were not royals and also the “commoners”. Fashion varied according to occasions and was exported. For example, leather and silk embroidered shoes and slippers, and a variety of cloths were locally made and exported through the trans-Saharan and trans-Atlantic trade routes to North Africa and Europe.
The colonial era did not compliment the traditional Nigerian fashion industry,fashion all over the world is shaped by the culture and social life of the people. With the new colonial culture came a break from the African way of life, including fashion and an introduction to the modern fashion, which started in Europe in the 19th century. It was a new world for local designers, a world where they could neither thrive nor compete effectively for over a century. In addition, a majority of Nigerians, particularly in the urban centres, saw homemade fashion as inferior to Western fashion. This hurt the progress of the industry even into post-colonial times. It is common practice to travel abroad for those who could afford it to replenish the wardrobe at summer or stock fashion shops in Nigeria.
At independence, what was left of the Nigerian fashion industry began to decline first gradually and then rapidly from the 1980s to the end of the 1990s. A host of challenges left the Nigerian fashion industry without the necessary support system:
- Decline in the production of local textile materials due mainly to neglect of agriculture and decline in the supply of cotton for fabric production.
- This caused a resort to the importation of fabrics and clothings from around the world, including second hand clothes. Today, the biggest threat comes from certain countries, where cheaper brands of traditional Nigerian fabrics like Ankara and Aso oke (normally hand woven in Nigeria) are produced and tagged with “Made in Nigeria” stamps.
- Industrial policies that did not protect the interest of home industries allowed stiff and unfair competitions for home- made goods.
- Poverty resulting from the Structural adjustment Programme (SAP) of the 1980s, the subsequent devaluation of the Naira dealt a serious blow on the buying power of Nigerians making the cheaper imported goods a much preferred option.
The decade of decline ended with signs of revival, with new campaigns for the appreciation of the African culture and fashion in the late 1990s resulted in a request from government for public servants to wear traditional outfits to work on Fridays. The use of traditional textiles for home decoration, soft furnishings, gift items, fashion accessories, etc became popular. This gave the Nigerian fashion industry an interesting new focus, creating in the last decade, an industry with a bright and vibrant future. Growth is visible and a gradual shift from the western style mass produced readymade fashion to a retail culture with custom made traditional wears is taking place in many cities.
In the last five years there have been numerous fashion weeks organised or attended by Nigerian designers across the world. Nigerian styles are inspiring designs of world class fashion houses like Gucci and are being featured in global fashion magazines. The marketing and sale of Nigerian fashion products on internet also increased a great deal in the last years. Fashion websites and e-commerce are boosting sales for shops like Jumia, Konga, etc. Companies like Holland’s Vlisco, Da viva have campaigned actively for the use of Nigerian designs to promote their brand. All these efforts have promoted and increased fashion market outlets for Nigerian fashion. Potential and Opportunities
The industry has the potential to diversify the Nigerian economy and become one of its main drivers, if Government and other stakeholders would invest and open up the opportunities to the pool of talents available in Nigeria. Nigeria has : A large population base, 62 percent of which are 24 years and below this is a huge reservoir of potential talents, labour and consumer market.
- About 40% of her population is urban dwellers, containing a rich upper class and an increasing middle class whose spending power is decent.
- Nigerians know and love fashion from their travels, social events and the media a good motivation for buying up brands.
- Nollywood is a strong entertainment industry and offers a potential market for the Nigerian fashion industry. With the right investments it could contribute to the revitalisation of the garment and textile industries too.
- There are growing opportunities in the yearly fashion weeks organised both in Nigeria and internationally. Organisations like ECOWAS, British Council, etc. have become involved and they are identifying young talents and empowering them with trainings and tours of fashion weeks in the UK and other places. The Lagos Fashion and Design Week in particular has facilitated the exposure of Nigerian designers to the world. The fashion industry if well developed has the capacity of generating many profitable companies and providing a variety of jobs to millions of Nigerians, especially the youth, reducing the high youth unemployment rates. Talents and Trends in Modern and Traditional Fashion and Design.
Over the years with hard work, Nigerian designers grew the industry into a force to reckon with. However, with culture as source of inspiration, the local Ankara fabric (the boldly printed West African cloth) in particular, and the “lace” were used in highly creative brands made mostly in western styles. This gained the industry an international appeal. Many international celebrities including, the U.S. First Lady, Michelle Obama have been dressed by Nigerian designers.
Locally, the traditional fashion got a new, improved look. Young women for instance, began using the traditional gele (headwear) on both traditional and western fashion; new hat designs also emerged, a modern version of the gele in materials such as cynamay (a soft material dyed into a variety of colours), straw, etc. Fashion designers have also used in a very creative way beads and sequins on traditional gowns, blouses and skirts, which are now popular both nationally and internationally.
On the long list of successful designers are:
- Frank Oshodi
- Lanre da Silva Ajayi
- Deola Sagoe
- Ohimai Atafo (Mai Atafo)
- Ngozi Cardow (Zizi Cardow)
- Uduak Umondak
- Folake Folarin Coker (Tiffany Amber)
- Lisa Folawiyo (Jewel By Lisa)
- Omoniyi Makun (Yomi Casual Clothing)
- Mudiaga Enajemo (Mudi)
- Bridget Awosika
- Olakunbi Oyelese (April by Kunbi)
- Rose of Sharon
- Vivid Imagination
- Duro Olowu
There are also up and coming designers too: Josh Samuel (laureat in the Lagos Fashion and Design Week/MTN 2012), Kunmi Otitoju, Agu Anumudu (Agu), Jennifer Adighije (House of Silk), Nubian Diva to mention a few. Internationalisation of Nigerian Fashion
Compared with many African countries, Nigeria started inter- nationalising her fashion rather lately when she exhibited her designs in Paris in 2000 (Nigerian Fashion Show, organised by Legendary Gold). At the individual designer level though, designs from Nigerian designers like Sophisticate, Rose of Sharon, Vivid Imagination, Dakova, Jimi King and Latris were already circulating and captivating the international market.
There has been a host of fashion shows in Nigeria, London, New York, etc. with Nigerian government involvement since then and there are plans for many more with the aim of internationalising the Nigerian fashion. One of the most recent efforts is the launch of Ndani (Nigeria Fashion Project) at Selfridges in London, where the Nigerian brand will be showcased in the world retail fashion factory.
While these efforts are making dreams come true, numerous challenges have hindered the industry and Nigeria in general expanding and reaping adequately the fruits of the labor. These challenges include lack of resource materials for the production of local textiles and fabrics and lack of a proper research and development base to help designers ensure standardisation and uniqueness of their products to compete better in the global market.
In addition to these are the issues of importing or smuggling of cheaper/lower quality textiles especially from certain countries, inadequate power supply, insecurity, lack of a good retail culture with marketers and merchandisers involved in the marketing of products, lack of finance, a functional regulatory body and functional regulatory fashion laws, patenting the Nigerian traditional textiles designs or designers, etc.
Nigeria needs to understand these challenges and tackle them because if the gains are properly harnessed, the industry can become a major sector in the nation’s economy. Nigerian government needs to collaborate more with the private sector in investments in the industry, e.g. provide financial incentives that encourage institutions to give credit for the purchase of new machineries, specialised fashion training, etc.
Besides, the government needs to help by providing a proper technical and marketing infrastructure, and taking effective measures to enforce the ban on the importation of certain textile products, which is already in place. Finally, the government needs to create an enabling environment for the branding of Nigerian cotton and other textiles like multinational companies are doing for their own products.