Posted: November 21st, 2010
‘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 be-grey.com, maki-oh,com, zebraliving.com, obsidianfashion.com