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Going local: Rise of Nigerian fashion powerhouses

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By Stephen Ikechukwu Onyekwelu

Nigeria’s fashion scene is exploding with talent and innovation. Gone are the days of simply following global trends.

There are several ways of going local in Nigeria’s fashion industry. This could be by operating in the upstream of the value chain sourcing and processing raw materials, locally. Or operating at the mid and down streams of the clothing value chain by designing and making apparel with local styles and themes irrespective of the origin of the input materials, that is, whether local or foreign.

Textiles and apparel making in Africa’s most populous country has been on the decline with the imports of garments increasing.

According to statistics from the National Bureau of Statistics, textile imports experienced a remarkable increase in 2022. The import value surged by 100.30 per cent, reaching N365.5 billion ($862.23 million at the 2022 exchange rate). This marks the highest import level in at least 15 years, significantly surpassing the N182.5 billion ($462.12 million at the 2020 exchange rate) recorded in 2020.

Read also: Nigerian fashion industry to deepen with N1bn BoI fund

Despite this maddening increase in imports of garments, Nigerian designers are setting the pace, redefining luxury, and showcasing the rich heritage of the country through their collections. This week’s Go Local shines a spotlight on seven powerhouse brands that are not only making waves domestically but also gaining international recognition.

1. Redefining Luxury: Mai Atafo

Founded in 2010 by Ohimai Atafo, professionally known as Mai Atafo, this Lagos-based brand is synonymous with bespoke menswear.

According to a 2023 report by Euromonitor International, the Nigerian menswear market is expected to reach $2 billion by 2030. Atafo is at the forefront of this growth, crafting meticulously tailored pieces that combine traditional Nigerian motifs with contemporary silhouettes.

From impeccably cut suits favoured by Nigerian celebrities to their recent foray into luxury resort wear, Mai Atafo oozes sophistication and caters to the discerning gentleman.

2. Where Tradition Meets Modernity: Tiffany Amber

For the fashion-forward woman, Tiffany Amber offers a unique blend of audacious prints and timeless design.

Established in 2011 by Folake Akindele Coker, the brand boasts a loyal following and has been featured on global platforms like Vogue.

Their vibrant use of Ankara textiles, a wax-printed cotton fabric synonymous with West Africa, creates statement pieces that are both fiercely African and undeniably modern.

Recent reports suggest that Ankara exports from Nigeria have grown by 20 per cent year-on-year, and Tiffany Amber is a prime example of how this versatile fabric is being used to redefine modern femininity.

In addition to their aesthetic appeal, Ankara fabrics are also important cultural artefacts that reflect the history and traditions of West Africa. They are a source of pride and identity for many people in the region, and they play an important role in cultural celebrations and ceremonies.

Read also: Investors should see Nigeria’s fashion industry as next oil, gold – Lexy

3. Sustainable Style with Substance: DESIERE IYAMA

Sustainability is a growing concern for fashion consumers worldwide. Desiree Iyama, a Lagos-based womenswear brand launched in 2013, champions this movement.

Its founder, Desirée Iyama draws inspiration from Western influences with an emphasis on sharp tailoring, clean silhouettes and attention to detail.

Their collections utilise upcycled and recycled materials, creating slow-fashion pieces that are kind to the environment without compromising on style. This focus on ethical production resonates with a growing demographic, as a 2023 Nielsen survey revealed that 72 per cent of Nigerian consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products.

DESIERE IYAMA proves that luxury and responsibility can go hand in hand.

4. Footwear with Soul: Kkerele

Shoes are an essential part of any outfit, and Kkerele ensures that Nigerian-made footwear stands out.

Founded in 2012, the brand takes pride in its exceptional craftsmanship and use of the finest local leathers. Their footwear is not just about aesthetics; it is about creating timeless pieces built to last.

This aligns perfectly with the growing ‘conscious consumerism’ trend, where quality and durability are valued over fast fashion. Kkerele’s commitment to ethical production and longevity sets them apart in the competitive footwear market.

5. Bags with Bite: Zashadu

Zashadu is a Lagos-based brand creating luxurious leather bags and accessories. Founded in 2012 by Yemisi Asibesin, the label combines functionality with impeccable design.

Their handbags are not just everyday essentials; they are conversation starters, showcasing the impeccable quality of Nigerian leather. The Nigerian leather goods industry is projected to reach $800 million by 2025, and Zashadu is a shining example of the potential this sector holds.

6. Knitted Elegance: Ijeoma Nwokolo

Taking a different approach to design is Ijeoma Nwokolo. This brand, established in 2011, specialises in luxury knitwear.

Nwokolo’s signature style blends traditional Nigerian knit techniques with modern silhouettes, creating one-of-a-kind pieces that are both comfortable and incredibly chic.

Her use of bold colours and geometric patterns has garnered international attention, and her work has been featured in major fashion publications. Ijeoma Nwokolo is a prime example of how Nigerian fashion is pushing boundaries and redefining what knitwear can be.

7. Bold and Beautiful: Orange Culture

Rounding out our list is the vibrant label, Orange Culture. Founded in 2010 by Adeola Adeyemi, this brand is known for its use of statement prints and its focus on empowering women through fashion.

Their bold and colourful pieces are designed to make a statement, celebrating African heritage and the confidence of the modern woman.

Orange Culture has been a fixture at international fashion weeks and has gained a loyal following among celebrities and fashionistas worldwide. The brand’s emphasis on inclusivity and self-expression is a breath of fresh air in the fashion industry.

The Nigerian fashion industry is undergoing a vibrant renaissance, characterised by a surge in local production, a focus on reinterpreting heritage, and a growing emphasis on sustainability.

Key Trends and Projections

Local is the New Luxury

Rising domestic talent and innovation are driving a shift away from simply following global trends. Designers are finding success by using locally sourced materials and incorporating traditional Nigerian motifs into contemporary designs.

The menswear market, projected to reach $2 billion by 2030 (Euromonitor International, 2023), is a prime example of this growth.

Redefining Africanidad

Ankara exports are booming (20% year-on-year growth), reflecting a global appreciation for unique African aesthetics. Brands like Tiffany Amber are at the forefront, using Ankara to create statement pieces that are both fiercely African and undeniably modern.

This trend goes beyond aesthetics; Ankara fabrics are cultural artefacts, a source of pride and identity that are being used to redefine modern African femininity.

Sustainability Takes Root

Consumers are increasingly environmentally conscious, with 72 per cent willing to pay more for sustainable products (Nielsen survey, 2023).

Brands like DESIERE IYAMA are capitalising on this by using upcycled and recycled materials to create slow-fashion pieces. This focus on ethical production aligns with the global “conscious consumerism” trend, prioritising quality and durability over fast fashion.

A Golden Age for Leather Goods

The Nigerian leather industry is projected to reach $800 million by 2025. Labels like Zashadu and Kkerele are showcasing the exceptional quality of Nigerian leather, creating luxurious and long-lasting footwear and accessories. This focus on quality craftsmanship resonates with the growing trend of conscious consumerism.

The Nigerian fashion industry is poised for significant growth, driven by local talent, a focus on reinterpreting African heritage, and a commitment to sustainability. This is backed by strong market indicators: rising menswear sector, booming Ankara exports, and increasing consumer interest in ethical production. The future is bright for Nigerian fashion, with the potential to become a major player on the global stage.

Stephen Ikechukwu Onyekwelu
“In the practical use of our intellect, forgetting is as important as remembering.” William James
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