In honour of International Women’s Month here are Nigerian women who have used fashion as a tool to further the conversation around women, their rights and equity between the sexes.
Can you talk about women’s identity in Nigeria as regards fashion without referencing Ituen Basi? At a point when other designers were looking outwards for inspiration and aping western aesthetic values, Basi single-handedly made Dutch Wax, an integral part of many cultures in Nigeria, hip and modern again. If that wasn’t enough, her iconic Ss14 collaboration with visual artist Victor Ehikhamenor was one of the Nigerian fashion industry’s first international success, selling out so many times Basi was forced to discontinue the collection’s distinctive prints. That collection helped sell the Nigerian fashion industry as commercially viable as well as possible of critical success.
Sylvia and Olivia Enekwe
As joint creative directors of Gozel Green, Sylvia and Olivia Enekwe’s near ten years of experience in the fashion industry has informed their creative process, giving us clothes imbued with history and artistry, celebrating their personal influences and the people who helped mould them into the designers they are today. Their Spring 16 collection “Marching to Kilimanjaro”, an ode to the resilience and perseverance of women still resonates to this day, as does their excellent clothes.
As the creative director of the Style House Files, Akerele transitioned from a stylist to the country’s most influential woman in fashion. Using the Lagos Fashion and Design Week she has given hundreds of young women a platform to make their voices heard through fashion and influenced the conversation around the capabilities of women in creative fields. She continues to push boundaries, most recently with the LFDW’s debut winter showcase featuring six female designers.
As editor-in-chief of Complete Fashion Asindi helped usher in a renaissance in print fashion journalism. At the height of Asindi’s influence Complete Fashion was on a roll and creating stars with each cover. Many new print magazines owe the renewed interest in the medium to Asindi. She is doing the same with her new online imprint Blanck Digital, pushing the industry to better standards.
Osakwe might be known as the fashion maven behind the African label Maki Oh which young black New Yorkers have adopted as their own but Osakwe is just as much a consummate story teller and a women’s rights activist as she uses the tools of fashion and photography to promote her cause. Osakwe’s collections started very esoteric, celebrating cosmology and sacred female deities like Mami Wata and Efik water spirits and has evolved to celebrating women through collections like, Arodan which celebrated women in chaos and her fall 2017 ready-to-wear collection which celebrated sexual agency.
As the first proper independent online fashion retailer pioneer, Ogundeyi through her online store Fashpa proved once and for all that ready-to-wear Nigerian fashion could be commercially viable without brick and mortar stores. Though Ogundeyi has restructured Fashpa into a high-end fashion line, her influence on the Nigerian fashion mass-market space is still felt to this day, inspiring thousands of women to take their business futures into their own hands and reincarnated with every Instagram boutique that pops up offering ease and Nigerian fashion in the same place.
Edwin Okolo is a writer and fashion designer who has collaborated with Orange Culture and IAMISIGO. He is interested in sustainable fashion practices in Nigerian markets.