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Nigerian Fashion Is Flying



The end of last year saw a mix of patrons, celebrities and fashion professionals from around the world descended on upscale Victoria Island for the GTB Lagos Fashion and Design Week 2013 (LFDW). In the front row were the founders of luxury retailers Luisa via Roma (Andrea Panconesi) and Browns (Joan Burstein), buyers from Bergdorf Goodman and Barneys, and publications including ELLE, Paper and Grazia. All were there to view collections by some of Nigeria’s most talented designers such as Maki Oh, Jewel by Lisa, Iconic Invanity and Tiffany Amber.

This event is not a first. Suzy Menkes, fashion editor of the International Herald Tribune, attended LFDW 2012 and declared: “The time for Nigeria is now. The development of a middle class means that a larger number of people are able to upgrade from basic necessities to luxury brands.”

British luxury department store Selfridges also sent a delegation and hosted the Nigerian fashion pop up, Ndani, in association with LFDW founder Omoyemi Akerele. In her words: “The fashion industry is very much in its infancy here. Ndani gave the designers more exposure abroad, that way they will be better appreciated locally.” The lawyer-turned-fashion consultant established LFDW in 2011 and is riding the crest of the ever-rising wave of interest in Nigeria’s fashion industry.

So why all the buzz? Nigeria has one of the highest growth potential economies in Africa. With a population of nearly 170 million and its youthful inhabitants enjoying rapidly rising discretionary incomes, it should not come as a surprise that there is a large market for fashion. Nigeria’s apparel market is estimated to be worth over $7 billion according to Euromonitor, and it has been growing at 13% per annum. However, many wealthy Nigerians still tend to shop overseas for their apparel needs. Global Blue reported that Nigerians ranked third, ahead of Americans, but are behind Middle Easterners and Chinese in apparel retail spending in the United Kingdom.

There are also many other challenges facing local designers. They struggle with a lack of manufacturing facilities, inadequate infrastructure, textile import bans and very little governmental support. Most find it difficult to produce a consistent product of high standards within the timeframe and price range required to fulfill significant overseas orders. However, some have proven to be up to the task and are quickly developing a name abroad.

“There is a lack of skilled labor, general mediocrity and often a lack of appreciation of our tradition and culture,” says Maki Osakwe, the young designer behind Maki Oh. The label has captured the attention of celebrities like Solange Knowles, Leelee Sobieski and Michelle Obama.

“I am true to myself and am always striving towards perfection while keeping my heritage alive,” she continues.

Her designs are stocked at Maryam Nassir Zadeh, a New York City-based emporium. The local landscape is changing rapidly and there has certainly been an influx of international fashion brands coming into Nigerian malls, a boon to the country’s burgeoning marketplace. Euromonitor estimates that the number of international retailers opening outlets in Nigeria is growing at 36% a year and apparel is one of the leading categories. Lagos has seen the opening of high-end stores Ermenegildo Zegna, Hugo Boss, MAC and mid-range apparel players such as Foschini as well as mass-market chain outlets like Mr. Price. The much-anticipated Alara, Nigeria’s first concept store, opened its doors in late 2013. Designed by critically-acclaimed architect David Adjaye, the store changed the face of retail in Nigeria by bringing authenticity and world-class aesthetics.

E-commerce is another way many are overcoming the real estate and infrastructure restrictions in the country. There are new online retail models tailored to the environment. Internet retailers Konga and Jumia offer payment on delivery options, since most Nigerians are still skeptical about paying online. Additionally, 5th and Quansah, a luxury apparel and accessory e-tailer, offers personal shopping and styling appointments in Lagos.

“Aside from economic growth, what fascinates people are the colors, textures and newness of the collections shown in Nigeria,” says 5th and Quansah founder, Nana Serwah Kankam about international interest in the Nigerian fashion industry.

“Nigerian women are stylish and trendy, proudly owning their own perspective on fashion. I don’t think you see this so often in the world. They are well aware of the global trends, confidently weaving them in with local influence.”

The apparel value chain is quickly developing and the future of Nigerian fashion seems to be very bright. With thoughtful government policies to support investment in the sector, perhaps the country will see indigenous fashion businesses serving the population and maybe even a Mercedes-Benz-sponsored Nigerian fashion week in the not too distant future.


The Art Of Survival: The Art Of Adire Gave This Textile Artist Global Fame, She Now Educates Generations Of Women In Nigeria



Textile artist Nike Davies-Okundaye worked as a construction laborer and carried water and firewood to survive. The art of adire gave her global fame and she is now educating generations of women in Nigeria.

There was no way Nike Davies-Okundaye could look the other way. For after all, she too had been a victim in her early teens. 

Too many women were being pushed down the traditional path of marriage and child-rearing in her country.

Born in 1951 in Ogidi-Ijumu, a small village in western Nigeria known for its spectacular rock formations and traditional art industry, Davies-Okundaye resolved to fight this practice four decades ago.

“By the age of 13, they wanted to marry me off because my father had no money. I had to run away from home and join a traveling theater. I said I didn’t want to marry and wanted to pursue art,” recalls the internationally-renowned Lagos-based artist.

Not wanting to become one of six wives to a minister, Davies-Okundaye found her escape through adire, the name given to the Yoruba craft of tie-and-dye where indigo-dyed cloth is made using a variety of resist-dyeing techniques. Growing up in a predominantly art and craft household, Davies-Okundaye is a fifth-generation artist who decided to take the craft seriously due to poverty.

“I had no money to go to school and the first education parents give you is to teach you what they do. So, when I finished primary six and I had no support to go to secondary school, I said to myself, ‘let me master art so I can teach other women to also use their hand to make a living through their own artwork’.”

Davies-Okundaye was forced to work in the male-dominated construction sector, carrying concrete in pans to builders in order to save one shilling, just enough to buy a yard of fabric to create what she called wall-hanging art.

Her goal was to use the traditional wax-resist methods to design patterned fabric in a dazzling array of tints and hues. The adire design is the result of hand-painted work carried out mostly by women and through that, Davies-Okundaye saw a way to help women to become economically empowered. After all, her first break in life came as a result of that.

“There was no other job I was doing apart from adire. I was lucky the American government came to Nigeria to recruit an African who will teach African Americans how to make traditional textiles or crafts in the state. That is how I was lucky and got picked.”

Davies-Okundaye was the only woman in a class of 10 men who were flown to Maine in northeastern United States in 1974. That is where her whole outlook on life changed.

“Before I went to America, I used to carry three drums of water every day and carry firewood to be able to survive. It was like a breakthrough in my life when I reached America. I said ‘is this heaven?’ I was the only woman in the class and all the men were learning women’s looms and I kept telling them ‘this is for women’ and they said ‘yes, in America, what a man can do, a woman can also do’.”

This was in stark contrast to what she knew to be true in Nigeria at the time.

“If your husband is an artist, you are not allowed to do art. In the 1960s, if your husband has a PhD, you are not allowed to also have a PhD. You had to give room for your husband to be your boss.”

She decided to beat those age-old stereotypes.

As one of 15 wives to her then-husband at the time, Davies-Okundaye, with her newfound knowledge gained in America, started a revolution at home. She encouraged the other wives to create their own art business using adire.

“I said ‘if you learn this, you can earn a living by yourself and get your power because your money is your power’ and that is how they also started learning it. I didn’t stop sharing the knowledge there. I gathered girls on the streets who were selling kola nuts and peanuts and started training them. I said ‘if this textile can take me to America, let me teach other people’,” says Davies-Okundaye.

And that has been her calling ever since. Davies-Okundaye is the founder and director of four art centers, which offer free training to 150 young artists in Nigeria in visual, musical and performing arts.

One of the centers is the largest art gallery in West Africa comprising over 7,000 art works.

“They used to get the police to arrest me because they said I was trying to teach feminism in Nigeria because I went to America. They said I was going to corrupt our Nigerian women but I believe God sent me to liberate a lot of women who have the passion for what makes them happy but are afraid to do it because of what people will say. I say do what makes you happy always!”

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Why This Photographer Looked Up During The Lockdown



Steven Benjamin chose to focus on the bird life in his garden in Cape Town to escape the confines of the lockdown.

During South Africa’s five-week shutdown (the country is still on Level 4 restrictions), Cape Town-born underwater photographer Steven Benjamin more used to sharks, whales and dolphins, used the period to look up instead – and indulge in bird-watching, another passion of his.

“Ever since the age of five or six, I have been interested in birds. I was dyslexic as a young child and I still have my first bird book where I ‘ticked’ backwards. I was trying to identify the birds that flew into my pre-school class and begged my mom to let me mark off what I’d seen, so birding has always been a passion,” says Benjamin, who also runs a seal-snorkeling business.

He has spent his life capturing South Africa’s marine world, and now, Benjamin had to redirect his focus to his Kalk Bay garden during the lockdown to photograph Cape Town’s resident birdlife.

He says photographing these feathered beauties is a way to bring joy during these uncertain times.

“They are so beautiful but incredibly difficult to photograph because they are shy and extremely fast. Photographing birds is a challenge but it creates a mental space to observe and admire nature.”

Soon after the lockdown started, Benjamin put white sugar in his bird feeder every morning and enjoyed the sight of local birds and documented them. He posted the images on Instagram and that garnered some online attention.

“The lockdown has made me relax and take the time to do things I would never have gotten around to doing. I settled on this project, which I work on every day. I’m always adding something new to the scene and there are always new birds and interactions happening. It’s made the days fly by,” he says.

During the lockdown, there was only one male Cape Sugar Bird that landed in his garden. This spectacular bird is unique to South Africa and mostly only found in the Western Cape. All of this will go into an exhibition Benjamin is working towards in Cape Town.

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‘Our Home Became The Film Set, Blankets Became Props, Windows Became Locations’



A poem exclusively penned and performed in lockdown in the US for the readers of FORBES AFRICA, by Rwandan artist Malaika Uwamahoro.

Malaika Uwamahoro, an artist born in Rwanda, and a Theatre Studies BA graduate from Fordham University in New York City, has performed her own poetry on stages around the world including at the United Nations headquarters in New York, and at the African Union summits in Addis Ababa (Ethiopia) and Kigali (Rwanda).

In 2014, she made her Off-Broadway debut at Signature Theatre in the world premiere of Katori Hall’s Our Lady of Kibeho.

Currently resident in Portland, Maine, in the United States, she speaks to FORBES AFRICA about her life in lockdown, and about a poem she penned exclusively for the readers of the magazine: “To fight this pandemic, essential workers and medical doctors are doing their best on the frontlines to ensure everyone in need gets the necessary support and best care possible… Before we are all choked and out of breath just by thinking about this, I extend this poetry piece as an invitation to look inward.”

How did she come up with the poem, titled I Don’t Mind!, and its accompanying video?

“It was late in the night, my fiancé was fast asleep, and I thought to myself, ‘how do I really feel about all this, what are my true thoughts about this pandemic, what can I do’? I opened my notes and the words began to flow.”

A few days later, she shared the poem with her fiancé, Christian Kayiteshonga, a filmmaker.

“We had previously been pondering ways to make art in our home. This poem seemed like the perfect push to set us in our new path. Our home became the film set, using blankets and cake mix as props, windows and office space as locations, myself as the talent, him as the crew, and now you as the audience,” says Uwamahoro, who also performed for the ‘In the Spotlight’ segment at the FORBES WOMAN AFRICA Leading Women Summit in Durban, South Africa, on March 6.

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