Fashionising For Buy Nigerian – Isoken Ogiemwonyi

Posted: November 21st, 2010


Maki OH

‘There are no designers in Nigeria, only tailors’

‘Apart from Deola Sagoe, LDA, Jewel By Lisa and Tiffany Amber no one else has international appeal’,

‘Abeg jo I can get my tailor to make the exact same thing’

‘What’s the point, I can get something nice from TopShop’.

These are fairly typical comments whenever the Nigerian ‘fashion industry’ is mentioned. In my opinion, this type of mindset trivialises fashion in general and Nigerian fashion in particular.

Fashion is serious business – creativity aside (how many professions require its denizens to prove their worth with a large body of work at least every six months?), the powers that be estimate that around US$1 trillion is spent yearly, and the global luxury goods market is likely to be worth US$450 billion by 2012 according to Verdict Research.



The Nigerian fashion industry is in its infancy – granted. However it is my opinion that we will never grow if we don’t support our own. This is not  just a ‘Buy Nigerian’ plea, it is a simple statement of fact. The rapid ascent of brands like Jewel By Lisa and Zebra, seemingly on the backs of its supporters alone is nothing short of amazing. If for every 5 ‘Zara’ and ‘Topshop’ buy there was a Nigerian designer in the mix, we would have a chance.

There are complaints that Nigerian designers are too expensive. To that I say, do your research! Each designer has a specific target market, aside from the aspirational factor. I’m pretty certain a top end Nigerian designer retailing a couture dress for 300 000 NGN does not expect her core consumer to be a 19 year old who is probably still in university. And what confuses me even more is the fact that, a £ 98,000 Nina Ricci couture piece ordinarily wouldn’t cause a batted eyelash. In marketing terminology, pricing is important because it relates directly to product positioning – If I’m aligning my brand with the likes of Chanel and Christian Dior, doesn’t it make sense to price my items accordingly?



Another mind boggling statement I hear often is ‘Nigerian designers aren’t creative; they are just copying the West’. Undoubtedly, there are some ‘designers’ out there who have questionable practices, therefore I cannot speak for everyone, but I would just like to say it is virtually impossible to re-invent the wheel when it comes to ready-to-wear. No, Alexander McQueen did not invent the bustle (it’s credited to the couturier Charles F Worth from the 18th century) and Christophe Decarnin (Balmain) didn’t invent the ‘strong shoulder’ either. Fashion is a cycle, silhouettes are updated, designers edit their collections to best represent their vision but is there true ‘never ever been done before’ innovation? Anywhere in the world? My answer: NO. Once in a while, a societal sub-culture is subverted for creative expression in fashion; for example the Courtney Love-esque anti-fashion statements that were eventually re-interpreted by Marc Jacobs in his infamous Perry Ellis show. The 90’s grunge look was ‘born’. However, had the individual items of clothing changed? No they were not, but it still felt fresh and unseen. THAT is the challenge of the 21st century designer, to challenge the minds of its targeted consumers, so that subsequent collections do not seem like a pastiche of eras gone by.


This is not to say that ALL fashion designers in Nigeria are without fault, I think we have unique difficulties – hugely increased costs due to our notorious power problems, unskilled staff etc. However, ‘designer label’ prices can only be justified by exemplary finish and genuine creativity in the fabric choices and cut. The leap from being a mere clothier to being a bona fide designer brand is long and arduous – it also takes a lot more than making beautiful clothes that people want to wear. Christian Lacroix, unfortunately proved that theory earlier this year – despite being hugely famous for gorgeous, positively theatrical clothes, not to mention the inventor of the ‘pouf’ skirt, his business sank unceremoniously and the 23 year old couture house has been reduced to a licensing operation. I think the message is clear. Fashion is, at the end of the day – a business. If you aren’t making money, it’s a hobby.

The bottomline? We are on a steep learning curve – and it will be extremely hard to change the mindsets of dyed- in-the-wool High Street/ ‘I only buy abroad’ shoppers, but at some point you have to give credit where credit is due, there are a lot of talented young designers right here in your backyard. The Obsidians, Greys, Maki Ohs and Akpos Okudus out there need your support to thrive. If the fashion industry is ever going to get out of this 18th century rut, it will have to be a combined effort.

By Isoken Ogiemwonyi

SHF credits, maki-oh,com,,

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8 Responses

  1. SHF Fan says:

    My initial response to the ‘buy nigeria’ movement was focused on the pricing. I agree that the price issue is psychological but not quite for someone like myself who is more ‘fashion conscious’. I am a fashion fiend not to be confused as the same thing as a fashionista but someone who buys every magazine from vogue to pop’africana and all the fashion blogs my poor eyes can bare.

    Back to the point, if we agree (high) fashion is a luxury, purely by nature, luxuries are expensive therefore fashion is expensive.

    I brought up the price issue not because there is anything wrong with pricing a dress at N200,000, in the fashion world that is not a big deal.

    My point/gripe/issue is what is the justification?

    Aside from overheads, operational costs, and all that jazz of course.

    I think the buy nigeria movement is somewhat blind to the fashion world outside of Nigeria. What I mean by this is that Nigerian fashion cannot work in isolation from the rest of the world. I am not going to talk about the aesthetic or the finishing of garments.
    Recognised design houses whether established or up and coming are featured in high fashioned glossies, prominent blogs and stylish celebrities. The only fashion house that is working hard to adhere to these standards is Jewel By Lisa, the kelis-JBL love story is certainly a good start but that doesn’t mean they have arrived as my fellow Nigerians would say.
    Just because you are featured on Bella Naija or onenigerianboy or True Love magazine or some tv presenter wears your clothes does not justify your prices. Unfortunately our fashion media is less than discerning, it is a free for all. If your friends friends 3rd cousin works in the industry, you are set which SEVERLY undermines our fashion industry.
    A fashion film is certainly original but not enough. If any nigerian designers clothes are featured in Elle, harpers bazaar, vogue, style bubble or any outlet to that effect , now we are talking.
    I will touch on the aesthetic (a little). Fashion runs in cycles – FACT. At the same time if you are going to draw from a particular era, you can either choose to copy and say hey y’all I am the first to copy from the 50’s, 80’s or whatever era OR you can draw from your era of choice and add something to it to make it unique. Uniqueness is hard to achieve in art, music, film, design and fashion but not impossible.
    So I am back to my point original point: Why sooooo expensive?

    I don’t think grey and zebra is trying to go for high fashion but they do have their own crosses to bear, they are certainly less expensive but not quite affordable. You can’t compare them to a topshop in terms of range or price as they are a start-up. They are more like Karen millen meets whistles which is not a big problem except if you share the pet peeve in which you do not want anyone wearing the same clothes as you. At least with LDA, Deola Sagoe or JBL you are guaranteed a bit more exclusivity.

  2. Mary says:

    Why should anyone buy from designers that seem to have no concept of pricing, the average “designer” sells a dress for about 25,000 naira, that is about a £100 pounds which is a ridiculous price for Nigerians to pay. If you are marketing only to the elite then fine but I dont think it is a market that would grow if so called designers continue with their greedy streak.

  3. glamreporttv says:

    We have to support ourselves in order for us to move forward. The music,movie,comedy industry are succesful because nigerians invest in it.we have to do the same for our fashion and beauty industry BUY NIGERIAN ROCKS

  4. Starlight says:

    Nice article. I wish Nigerian designers the best. I know for a fact there are gems amongst you guys. Facts remain, you guys have it all wrong save a handful.
    To start elaborating is pointless and tiresome and I believe SHF Fan covered it best.

    It definitely is a long steep learning curve.

  5. Isoken says:

    @ Mary and SHF Fan,

    your points are duly noted, however from a purely business point of view. Can you honestly compare the overheads or economies of scale of TopShop with a much smaller Nigerian brand?

    For costs to be covered AND some profit made, the 25k price tag is very far from unreasonable. Believe me I tried the lower price, high volume angle. It didn’t work and I was running at a huge loss. Why? Simply because, not enough people were buying.

    And to your Kelis/Style Bubble etc coverage comment, that’s down to individual perception no? If you honestly believe Susie of Style Bubble is more important than Uche Eze of Bella Naija or Terence Sambo of One Nigerian Boy, by virtue of their location or sudden superstardom, that’s a completely different argument. No one is saying Nigerian fashion is isolated from the rest of the world, far from it. All we are asking is that you consider the larger implications of designing and producing in Nigeria. And of course, most people are trying to break into the international market, but as evidenced by stars like Deola Sagoe, it usually starts from recognition at home.

    Thanks for reading!

  6. Davido says:

    Lets not put our own down anymore! These designers have put in a lot of effort,and need our support, encouragement and patronage! We do not need to wait for vogue to validate them before we start to appreciate their creativity. When we take the initiative to acknowledge and celebrate genuine fashion industry talents the rest of the world has no choice than to take notice and follow suit!! Without doubt they are still work in progress, but lets give them some credit for how far they’ve come in the face of environmental challenges!However, It is good (and healthy)that Nigerians are expressing themselves,because this way you get feedback which helps the designers to know that they mustn’t relent yet, and where there are valid criticisms corrections can be made. But lets please do so with some sensitivity. Thanks SHF for creating a platform!

  7. Bisola O says:

    Nigerian Designers have come a long way and they are doing big things. But like every society, not everyone can afford name brands. If these designer lower their price points they will get more patronage and the “Buy Nigeria” campaign would make more sense. But as Isoken pointed out in the comment above, there are reasons why these designers are priced as high as they are and she does make a lot of sense with her argument.

    Everyone should look at their pocket and buy accordingly.
    Let those that can afford the big names patronize them and let those that can afford baba Sukurat the friendly neighbor hood tailor patronize him.

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