The announcement last week that ARISE Magazine Fashion Week will take place in Lagos this Spring marks the pinnacle of what has been an amazing few years for Nigerian fashion. An explosion of talented new designers has seen Nigerians making a mark on the fashion world and taking on the big Western names who have long “borrowed” inspiration from the bright African prints that make up Nigeria’s cultural heritage.
The ARISE AFRICA FASHION COLLECTIVE has been showing at New York Fashion Week for three highly-successful seasons, giving Nigerian designers like Deola Sagoe and Jewel by Lisa a chance to showcase their designs on a global stage. Given that western fashion magazines are increasingly using African settings in shoots (i-D Spring 2010) and many designers are using African tribes as reference for their collections (3.1 Phillip Lim Menswear S/S11) it is the perfect time for Nigerian and African designers to make their voices heard.
“Over the last three years the industry has experienced a boom,” says Ijeoma Ndekwu, Style Editor at website BellaNaiga. “Lots of young talents have been coming in and starting their own labels. It is the perfect time for the Nigerian fashion industry to grow as we have fully developed industries in other parts of the world to use as a gauge for what we want for ourselves and have the confidence to improve and grow as it suits us.”
Designer Kemmy Solomon is one such rising star. Although she was raised in Massachusetts, USA, she has relocated to her parents’ home country and has launched her own fashion line, Kem Kem Studio. “Being recognized for making high quality product here in Africa is very rewarding,” she says. “Nigeria is the first base for all my inspiration. I look deep inside the different cultures for influences.”
She uses a variety of hand-woven traditional fabrics to make clothes that fuse traditional Nigerian prints with sleek, modern silhouettes to create pieces that reflect her dual heritage and last season she even showed at a special presentation at Somerset House in London. “I think the growth of Nigerian fashion is really important because it is allowing us to give back to the community, not only in terms of money but in helping the youths believe they can dream as big as they want,” Solomon says.
The success of these young designers has been charted by a hoard of bloggers and writers who are building a new media platform for Nigerian fashion and culture. Terence Sambo began blogging under the name One Nigerian Boy last year and has fast gained a loyal following for his take on the latest news from Nigerian Fashion. “A lot of attention is currently being paid to African fashion,” he says. “Maybe it’s because Batik prints and Afro-mania is in, or maybe it’s because the industry has matured to that level. Only time will tell, but Nigerian fashion is at a point where we have had 50 years of independence and it has allowed us to incorporate Western influences while maintaining our cultural heritage.”
Sambo is behind a campaign called Vote. It’s In Style, which aims to use the influence of fashion and the media to encourage young people to participate in the general elections in April. He got the idea one day while going through spam mail on his Blackberry telling him to vote and decided to do something that would really appeal to people his age. “These designers are ambassadors who the youth will look up and listen to,” he says. “The Nigerian youth have long being written off but they are the ones who suffer the most. There are around 40 million people in this country who don’t earn enough to live on. Now is the time for them to stand up and make a difference.”