Posted: April 11th, 2011
Lustenau is a small, quiet village in a province called Vorarlberg situated in the west of Austria. A thick layer of snow covers the streets during the long months of winter, but while the village seems lulled in white and grey from outside, what happens behind some of its walls is actually a much more colourful affair.
Lustenau has been home to most of the Austrian lace and embroidery manufacturers for more than 200 years. The manufacturers, meanwhile having developed a worldwide reputation for high quality textiles, have one of their strongest and most exotic customer bases in Nigeria. Especially Yorubas in the South West love the flamboyant and extravagant designs, patterns and colors of Austrian embroideries.
The beginnings of Austrian lace exports to Nigeria can be traced all the way back to the 1960′s. Trade has been documented even prior to these dates through intermediaries, but it was during this time that the first Austrian lace pioneers sought personal contact with textile traders along Kosoko Street on Lagos Island.
Withstanding political and historical ups and downs throughout the decades (such as the oil boom in the 70′s, the nationalization and various import bans on textiles in 1976 as well as 2005, the last one of which was lifted in 2010), the relationship has now grown to be much more than just trade. Nigerian traders soon started counter-visits to Austria, resulting in mutually trusting relationships, some of which have been continuing for over 40 years.
At the same time, many Austrians specialized in the Nigerian market and strongly expanded their presence here – by regular visits or by moving to Lagos and setting up their own businesses. By the late 1980s, there were 20 Austrian embroidery factories in Nigeria with a total of 494 machines, located in Lagos and the Ijebu region.
Today, although only one embroidery plant – Supreme Lace in Ikeja – survives in Lagos, Austrian embroideries still enjoy great popularity and reputation for their high quality and unique designs. The Austrian lace trade was also not spared by the economic and financial crisis of 2008. However, this situation is stabilizing and Nigerian households are again in the position to enjoy and afford quality lace from Austria.
“It has always been about a mutually beneficial relationship between Austria and Nigeria. This is about so much more than just selling our products to the market.” says Markus Riedmann, Chairman of the Austrian Embroidery Manufacturer’s Association, who travels to Nigeria regularly. Nigerian “lace ladies” visit Lustenau throughout the year, and the Austrian embroiders come to Lagos at the same intervals.
The Austrian presence is now taking this cooperation one step further. “We know that we have to adapt to the changes and modernization taking place among the Nigerian buyers. Lace is seen as traditional and old-fashioned, which is why we are now altering this perception by bringing these wonderful fabrics into the homes of the younger and more modern fashion crowd”, says Shanay Hubmann, Commercial Attaché of the Austrian Embassy, who is based in Lagos.
The project, called “Austrian Lace – Nigerian Fashion” aims at celebrating the long standing history of Austrian lace by preparing it for the future. A cooperation with four renowned Nigerian designers; the highlight of this ongoing activity is a fashion show to be held on May 14th at the Eko Hotel. Ituen Basi of Ituen Basi Fashion, Folake Folarin-Coker of Tiffany Amber, Frank Osodi of House of Bunor and Godwin Mekwuye of Vivid Imagination are the designers that have been selected for this show, which has already celebrated tremendous success last October in Vienna. The fashion show, which will have intricate details such as an exclusive preview of the African Lace Exhibition held in Vienna and due to be launched at the National Museum in Lagos in June, is addressed to an exclusive crowd of industry members and experts, opinion leaders and trendsetters.
“We are very excited to finally bring this show to Lagos”, says Shanay Hubmann, who is organizing the event, together with Omoyemi Akerele of StyleHouse and various members of the Nigerian fashion industry, on behalf of the Austrian Embroider’s Association. “It represents everything this history stands for: supporting the Nigerian designers, the fashion industry, as well as celebrating the continuation and evolution of a beautiful relationship. “
Chief Obebe wearing a lace outfit at the occasion of her title-taking ceremony, 1979 Copyright: Oswald Brunner
Display of “African Lace” Exhibition at the Museum of Ethnology in Vienna, Austria Copyright Linda Ikeji
SHF photo credit- Moussa Moussa.