This Nigerian Independence Day, discover the 8 designers exercising their autonomy through fashion and shop the best looks from our favorite local designers.
Oct 1, 2020
Every year on October 1, Nigeria celebrates Independence Day, in commemoration of the African nation’s proclamation of independence from British rule in 1960. Common fashions before then were largely dictated by colonialism, the wealthy and elite clamouring for the miniskirts and mod styles that had taken over Europe in the sixties. It was in the 1970s though that local Nigerian fashion, perhaps influenced by the sense of pride and autonomy that came along with independence, began seriously incorporating aspects of their own heritage and traditions into their designs, something that resulted in the enduring Oleku trend. Comprising a blouse known as a Buba, a knee-length wrapper (skirt) called an Iro, and a matching headwrap, this traditional outfit is a common traditional style for women, one that is still worn by many Nigerians today.
In the 1980s, the country suffered an enormous economic collapse: it was a challenging time, one during which many creatives in the country seemed to lose steam. Nigerian fashion seemed unable to resist the influence of current Western styles, with oversized suits, big jewelry, and of course, perms becoming immensely popular. But at the same time Ankara fabrics (the Nigerian term for “African” wax print) began to creep into the collections of Nigerian designers, a way for many creatives to assert their identity and autonomy. According to Pan-African Fashion and Lifestyle magazine BlanckDigital, the fabric was derived from Indonesian manufacturing techniques, employing African motifs and designs to become a nationwide symbol. “It was quickly adopted and used by all and sundry as a canvas and as a collective identity.” Today, Nigeria boasts an abundance of fashion design talent who remain devoted to the preservation and celebration of their heritage through design, and many of these industry stars are beginning to make impressive moves on the international circuit. So, in honor of the national holiday and all the immense creativity, beauty, and art that has emerged from Nigeria’s independence, we’re spotlighting 8 of our high-as-eagle flying Nigerian designers, and highlighting some of our favorite pieces from each of them. Shop the full collection, here.
Inspired by the exploration of the Nigerian-Canadian designer’s cultural heritage, Andrea Iyamah’s vibrant resort wear line is one saturated in joyful, summer shades and ultra-feminine silhouettes. Saturated with bikinis, one-piece suits, dresses, and robes, her collections boast a kind of relaxed elegance, something that’s proved immensely popular amongst celebrities like Gabrielle Union, Ciara, and Kate Hudson. And while most in the Northern Hemisphere have likely already packed away their swimsuits, Iyamah’s cover-ups and dresses are also ideal transeasonal items, ones that can be worn at nearly any time of the year with a little considered styling. Perfect when paired with just a chunky heel, the elegant, kimono-style Takwa Dress features a cinched waist and oversized sleeves and can be worn by itself or with a chic, tailored jacket for a little sophistication. Iyamah’s cover-ups—which come in two different colorways—could also be thrown over a simple tank and leggings, their dramatic patterns taking things from simple to striking. Meanwhile, the brand’s high-waisted, palazzo-style pants can also be taken to the street. Wear with a crop top, a casual sandal, and a chic cross-body bag for a luxe take on laidback street style.
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One of Nigeria's most recognized and of the moment fashion labels, Emmy Kasbit—who recently showed off his new SS’ 21 collection at Milan Fashion Week—is a brand guided by its roots. A finalist for the 2014 LVMH Prize and winner of Vogue Italia’s Scouting for Africa initiative, designer Emmanuel Okoro’s label reinvents traditional shapes into modern and easily wearable everyday pieces, juxtaposing traditional West African weaving techniques with clean, architectural cuts. And though wild colours of all hues run through many of their pieces, our top pick is the Okawa Jacket. Cut from a vivid orange Akwete cloth, the blazer-style piece is made entirely by hand, sometimes taking up to 3 weeks to complete. Inspired by what Okoro calls the joyous spirit of the New Yam festival in Arochukwu City (an Igbo cultural tradition), it looks great tossed over a little black dress. Add a pair of sky-high heels for a look that is commanding but subtle; or pair the pieces with a plain white tee and vintage mom-jeans for the ultimate in easy-going sophistication.
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A Nigerian ready to wear brand headed by Frank Aghuno, Fruché takes an experimental yet artisanal-focused approach to design, fusing contemporary silhouettes with unusual fabrics and using his creations to tell the stories of the women—particularly his mother—who’ve inspired him. Describing the Fruché (the name is a combination of Aghuno’s first name and one of his Igbo names, Uche) woman as “free spirited, adventurous, full of depth and committed to living her best life” to BellaNaijaStyle, Aghuno’s designs are visibly reflective of her; exuberant by nature, they subvert notions of what is traditionally considered feminine. And though they’re on the more minimal side, the label’s fringed pieces have a distinct presence, making them some of our favorite garments. Cut from Akwoacha cotton (which literally means ‘white cloth’), the Akwaocha Tunic and Top are both are crafted by local Nigerian artisans, their design inspired inspired by Aghuno’s Igbo heritage, and cowrie shell and Ostrich feather embellishments adding some unexpected detail. Try throwing the tunic over a simple slip dress or pairing the top with a pair of soft, cotton trousers. Add an ankle-tie sandal and delicate drop earring for an effortless off-duty look.
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Photo: Rafia Cotton Jacket, IAMISIGO
IAMISIGO is a fashion brand committed to celebrating African philosophies, fabrics, and techniques through their considered and off-the-wall designs. Their collections overflow with a relaxed air, yet their craftsmanship indicates an exceptional attention to detail. And though his work is making waves on the international fashion scene, founder Bubu Osigi is not in the least bit interested in producing work for Western audiences. For her, her work is about exploring Nigeria’s colorful and complex history and telling these stories through seamless cuts, "In 100 years, what will our descendants reference about us?" Ogisi said to CNN. "Are they going to be referencing Western pieces that we tried to Africanize, or this new age of African design that was able to bring the continent together? That's my long-term goal." IAMISIGO’s Barkcloth Long-Sleeve Jacket is one of the label’s more innovative pieces. Exquisitely crafted from barkcloth (a generations-old material sourced from the Mutuba tree in Uganda) the patchwork piece’s oversized nature and deep shades of brown add an edge to whatever your ensemble. Wear with a pair of wide-legged jeans or trousers to instantly upgrade your outfit or team with a minidress in corresponding shades.
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Established in London in 2007 and now headquartered in Nigeria, NKWO’s story is one of sustainability that draws on traditions and artisanal techniques. With their ethos largely centered around a fabric called Dakala cloth (which is made using a modern strip weaving technique), a deep consideration for the environment and the conservation of natural resources emerges as the label's core values. For NKWO, textile waste reduction is just as vital to their work as the creation of unique, contemporary, wearable pieces. Crafted from Aso-Oke, the label’s Coast Coat is a fine example of this dedication to sustainability and artisanship. Fully lined, the garment features three-quarter length sleeves and mirror embellishments, a full, cocoon silhouette adding movement and comfort, their dedication to conservation and environmentalism is visible in the jacket’s construction. Their Dakala cloth brings a refreshing blue hue to their collections, lending a royal air to their suite of cropped jumpsuits and overblown jackets with nipped-in waists.
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Beloved by the likes of Issa Rae, Lupita Nyong'o, Lucy Liu, and Thandie Newton, Lisa Folawiyo’s eponymous label entrances with its utilization of heavily patterned fabrics, combining clashing prints to enthralling effect and creating artisanal clothing that stands the test of time. Founded by the lawyer-turned-designer in 2005 as ‘Jewel by Lisa’, there’s an innate sophistication to Folawiyo’s garments which frequently feature modern tailoring techniques synthesized with traditional Nigerian artisanal practise that transforms the iconic West African Ankara cloth. Folawiyo’s collections are not for the understated dresser, however. Her garments unequivocally declare their presence: every one of her pieces makes a statement. Made from a luxurious silk organza, the brand’s pink and yellow Pleated Coat Dress is one of our absolute favorites from the brand. Hand-embellished with crystals upon its collar and featuring a unique, dancing woman print, the showstopping piece looks fabulous when worn with high-waisted jeans of your choice and a pair of block-heel sandals.
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Called the designer at the forefront of the Nigerian Fashion Evolution by Another Magazine, Orange Culture is a tangible, visual ode to founder and designer Adebayo Oke-Lawal’s personal culture. “Nigerians are built to dress up, everything we wear is to stand out,'' he told Another. Bright colours characterize his collections, with styles that mix androgyny and minimalism, taking inspiration from Oke-Lawal’s family and Nigerian heritage, particularly his father and the looks he wore in the 70s. His collections challenge traditional ideas of masculinity, defying tired ideas of what a man should wear through pushing the boundaries of shape and cut. The brand’s Zoputan Boyfriend Shirt, which is cut from a robin’s-egg-blue, satin fabric, is a prime example of Oke-Lawal’s penchant for strong, architectural silhouettes. Developed in collaboration with Nigerian visual artist Eloghosa Osunde, the androynous garment is a celebration of the country’s artistic talent heritage, the shirt’s strong lines lending it an air of power and authority. Style it with a pair of chunky sneakers or sandals for an ultra modern ensemble that’s both youthful and polished.
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Photo: Falana OTK Boot, Shekudo
Nigerian footwear brand Shekudo has been quietly making waves in the industry over the past two years. Founded in 2018 by designer Akudo Iheakanwa, Shekudo’s pieces are entirely locally produced using traditional weaving methods, and crafted from traditional Nigerian materials including Aso-Oke and Akwete cloths. Her shoes are inspired by the concept of homecoming (the Nigerian-born Iheakanwa spent much of her life in Australia). “It was an interesting journey to say the least,” Iheakanwa tells Vogue Czechoslovakia. “Going from Sydney where things were often too orderly for me to Lagos and its organised disorder (if I can call it that) was hard, but also created great opportunities for ‘character building’ as my dad would say.” And as far as our favorites go, we love the brand’s fringed mules. Rendered in one of their signature silhouettes, the shoe is the ideal everyday heel. Merging contemporary style with a clear reverence for Nigerian tradition and artistry, the mules are made to order and fashioned by hand from goatskin leather lining, wood, and rubber. Easily paired with a pair of classic blue jeans or a slinky summer dress, the no-fuss slip is an easy way to add a touch of color and history to any ensemble.
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