The creative industry in Nigeria is gaining an unprecedented international exposure. And it’s been seen as an alternative to the nation’s dwindling oil fortunes as the nation is looking into alternate sources to boost the economy.
And as the government is pushing the “buy Nigerian” initiative, there’s been questions as to just what the nation produces as it relies more on imports. But the creative industry has stood out as a bankable offering- profitable and Nigerian.
One part of the creative industry is fashion and that has caught international attention and it’s attracting private sector participation. With no precise data on the size of the Nigerian market, the apparel and footwear market in sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to worth USD 31 billion while the global apparel market is valued at USD 3 trillion.
Nigeria currently hosts about half a dozen fashion week events annually. And the rate at which these shows have mushroomed and their quality reflects the wave going through the industry.
More Nigerian designers are showing at international fashion events with their designs gracing fashion events in New York, Johannesburg, Monaco, Milan, and the likes.
But the attention the Nigerian fashion industry is enjoying today came from the hard work of some individual designers whose works caught the world’s attention. One of such designers is Deola Sagoe who’s been in the fashion industry for over 25 years.
Deola’s blend of African fabrics and western aesthetics got her international acclaim in 2000, when she won the MNET/Anglo Gold African Designs Award and was subsequently selected as one of five African designers to show at New York Fashion Week.
“When I started to be recognised for this clothing, Africa just wasn’t being represented on the world stage, in terms of fashion,” Deola says in an interview with Al Jazeera.
“I was the only designer who was actually dealing with our own fabrics from antiquity, authentic African fabrics” she tells Ventures Africa.
And that gained her traction.
Speaking on the growth of Nigerian designers, Fashion consultant Ono Bello, in an interview with Channles TV, says
“The designers are very innovative, the designs are different from what you’ll buy from shops abroad, they are unique, and the fabrics are unique. Everybody started seeing that we really have talented designers here and you’ll standout if you wear the pieces.”
While the inclusion of African designs attracted the international fashion community, the level of professionalism in the industry also accounts for the industry’s success.
“There’s been so much growth over the past few years. We’re being recognised outside Nigeria. A lot of people are learning the trade and the professionalism they are bringing is also helping”, says Olakunbi Oyelese-Tomori, a designer.
There are now a number of fashion institutes teaching designers how to sew, work with models, and function effectively in the creative world.
As the President of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN), Funmi Ladipo says the “organization encourages formal education in fashion” as that makes a glaring difference between designers and tailors.
While the creativity of the fashion industry is established and a number of platforms are emerging to promote these designers to a mass market, the question on how the local industry will tap into the global market at scale and make itself a global force in the process is being asked.
On that, FADAN president says “We have very talented designers, but there’s just so much they can do without the government coming in. We need the government to come in”.
And that’s alluding to the lack of infrastructure and capacity to fully commercialize its vast creative talent. As scaling up production and distribution has proven difficult, hindering the growth of a potentially lucrative industry.
The association has been calling for the creation of production hubs to help in mass producing the works of local designers.
But knowing governments in this clime and the state of the nation’s economy, active government participation besides providing, say, power might be far-fetched. But one might expect more private sector participation in meeting the industry’s needs. Especially with the knowledge of the industry’s potentials and what’s been achieved with its current resources.
While the creative part of the business appears to be on track, private sector investors can look into the sales side of the industry. Private sector investors can serve themselves and the industry better by getting involved in either financing factories for mass production or the distribution chain.
The fashion industry is ready for investors.