Nigerian women take pride in their style. And it shows.
Many an expat has landed here, packing flip flops and t-shirts, only to be seriously schooled in style by her Nigerian sister. They groom immaculately: hair perfectly, even if simply done. They dress in the most flattering cuts for their shapes and sizes, and with amazing vibrancy and color in their looks. They coordinate: jewelry, shoes, bags. They are intentionally and yet comfortably stunning at every opportunity whether it is shopping in the market or attending a meeting. And this Nigerian style phenomenon is not exclusive to the wealthy (or to women for that matter). Often you’ll see women walking in the busy sidewalks, local markets or mounting okadas dressed as though they belong in a fashion magazine; or are about to walk onto a movie set. Their male counterparts alongside them sporting the latest cuts: edgy, bold; completely sartorially sound.
This pride in style is so consistent even Nigerians living outside of Nigeria possess it. And yet where does this ability come from?
It seems very difficult to pinpoint. My Nigerian friends insist they are born this way. That it is inherent from early childhood. One is raised with an awareness despite class – that one should look his or her best. That personal style reflects what you say about yourself. This is even more apparent in Lagos, the commercial and trend capital of Nigeria. It is also not surprising that in response to this ingrained aspect of Nigerian identity, a crop of very talented Nigerian designers has recently sprung up to not only meet the demands of this style-savvy nation, but also to export this style culture to the rest of the world. The first to break the traditional mould of visiting one’s tailor, was Tiffany Amber, one of the first local fashion houses to set up ready-to-wear stores. The label has become a huge hit and a staple in the modern Nigerian woman’s closet.
Another ambassador of Nigerian fashion is the Jewel by Lisa brand which pioneered the use of Ankara and embellishments, elevating an everyday West African fabric into wearable art. Completing this tripartite of must-have Nigerian designers is Lanre Da Silva Ajayi, whose line boasts elegant, ladylike cuts and silhouettes with flawless workmanship. These three, setting the standard; simultaneously nurture an industry still in its infancy. Other Nigerian designers paving the way are the Grey line, that ranks as one of the more affordable labels in Nigeria. Worth mentioning are also the Republic of Foreigner, and the Clan labels. And according to industry insiders, the namesMaki Ohand Ituen Basi are also worth watching. Yet despite the success of this nascent group, modern Nigerian fashion is still out of reach for medium to low earning fashion lovers. This is partly due to the difficult business operating environment in Nigeria. Gaps in infrastructure not only affect agriculture, and social services, but overwhelmingly they stunt the manufacturing sector, which means that it is far cheaper to import finished products than to produce locally. Those that do manage to operate must possess great fortitude to overcome numerous obstacles. Estimates are that it takes 40% of a company’s operating cost in Lagos to maintain a reliable power supply. Elsewhere in the world, it averages around 10% – even for a company consuming substantial power. Facing these challenges it is no wonder that local fashion labels cannot reach their largest potential demographic.
Nigerian women will always be stylish regardless of the designers they wear. It’s ingrained. But this national trait cannot overshadow the challenges that affect industry, from fashion to farming. Economists and strategists have struggled to find solutions. Perhaps we need the designers and the entrepreneurs to join in on the discussion. Some designers quickly outgrowing the confines of Lagos, have been forced to come up with other solutions, such as moving production offshore. Imagine the irony that in a country with as high an unemployment rate and low labour costs such as Nigeria, businesses would have to consider shifting production to other destinations. It would be regrettable. And further, no matter how you dress it, there will be no pride in that.
Want to support the Nigerian Fashion industry from anywhere in the world? Check out Myasho and My Theresa. In Lagos, the Temple Muse Boutique offers a plush, yet personalized shopping experience, showcasing the very best fashion Nigeria has to offer.