Nigeria's fashion scene continues to blossom, in part due to the rise of digital culture, allowing brands and stakeholders alike to amplify key voices and engage in important conversations.
The Nigerian youth have a long history of rebellion. Keen to not repeat the mistakes of generations past, they have relentlessly challenged outdated politics and demanded accountable leadership. In October 2020, the #EndSARS protests, which began as a social media campaign and grew into a 12-day nationwide protest against the hated police Special Anti-Robbery Squad, unfolded before the world. It was a physical manifestation of a new age ethos led by today’s generation and their moral and political stance on violence and corruption.
For this new demographic of emboldened consumers, style has become a vehicle for social and political commentary as they actively seek out brands that align and nourish their vivid expression of culture, consciousness, and self. As a result, there is a new class of designers, each depicting uniquely powerful messages about identity and sustainability. Driven by an overwhelming need to capture the zeitgeist of alternative Nigerian culture and the subcultures it births, these brands are placing emphasis on storytelling with a sense of localized awareness—accurately capturing what fashion has come to represent in Nigeria.
We spoke to the pathbreakers behind three progressive Nigerian labels: WAF, a skateboarding and apparel brand that’s given birth to a community of young skaters; BLOKE, a genderless artisanal label introducing a notion of African luxury through ethically made garments, and This Is Us, who use local sourcing practices to create high quality, sustainably-made staples that promote indigenous craftsmanship. Each of them, intentional about their respective identities, pay particular attention to textile as well as create an emotional connection with their customers beyond traditional design ideals.
Founded by Faith Oluwajimi in 2015, BLOKE is a genderless artisanal label that creates ethically made garments with impeccable attention to textile fabrication, and craftsmanship. Inspired by spiritual consciousness and driven by a desire to preserve local artisanal practices, BLOKE exists to challenge the meaning of masculinity through quirky design.
At what point did you decide to start BLOKE and build the identity of what the brand is?
I think it was when I realized that something as simple as a domestic knitting machine could allow me to manipulate my textiles and create unique garments. I was intrigued to find out more about this new process. That, coupled with my yearning to be able to express myself better and tell stories through design, is how my brand began.
The name BLOKE was borne from a deep reflection of my personality, you could say there’s something intriguing about my persona and being in tune about what people said about me. I understood that I didn’t fit into the hyper-masculine stereotype, so my exploration of different facets of masculinity is what I used to build the foundation of BLOKE.
There’s a lot of importance on themes like individualism and identity. Why do you feel it’s important as a fashion brand to communicate this through design?
It’s about me trying to create a different experience through my [work] and defying the preconceived notions of what it means to be a man. I’m trying to tell all these different experiences from different perspectives with each new collection. It’s almost therapeutic for me, there’s a catharsis in creating these pieces.
Each season, BLOKE reinforces its stronghold in textile-making with its unique prints and reimagining of local textile processes to create even more exciting fabrics and ideas. Why is textile such a strong focal point of the brand?
I think for me, it’s about being an artist. [Fashion] is the medium I use to channel my thought process and create amazing collections for my audience, allowing them a glimpse into my state of mind.
I feel for you to be able to control what the garment actually is, you have to go back to the essence of the garment itself, which for me is the fabric. I aim to have total control of what the fabric becomes and how it evolves into a collection-worthy garment.
There’s something powerful about having complete control of what your textile is, and it says a lot about the brand’s DNA. At the same time, I’m able to support local artisans which helps revive our indigenous textile industry and promotes homegrown craftsmanship.
BLOKE, SS‘21 Is It Ever Enough. Photo: via @bloke_ng
BLOKE, SS‘21 Is It Ever Enough. Photo: via @bloke_ng
BLOKE, FW‘21 Sticks and Bones. Photo: via @bloke_ng
This is Us
Founded by husband and wife duo Osione and Oroma Itegboje, This Is Us was created with the desire to show the quality and value of made-in-Nigeria using local materials, talents, and processes. Best known for their use of hand-dyed Funtua cotton the label produces slow, functional, uniform-like basics.
What is the story behind the brand and how did you discover the local dye techniques that have become your signature?
I started off wanting to make white shirts. I felt that there was a need for essentials and there weren’t many places to find things like that--just a clean white shirt. My partner Osione and I eventually stumbled on a local fabric through our friend who told us about the cotton they used for their clothes. The dyers bought it from a local market in Oshogbo.
We were really excited about finding local cotton and we felt like we needed to spread the good news. No one should have to go through such an arduous process to get good cotton, it’s just not sustainable.
We started talking about creating something with 100% Nigerian resources and what the potential could be if it was done to a high standard. It was those first conversations that sparked the idea of the brand This Is Us. We wanted to celebrate the work of hands basically and celebrate Nigerian craftsmanship and excellence. Once we decided to start the brand, we went back to the roots, the beginning of the chain, to places like Kaduna, Katsina, visited factories to sort of understand what the potential of the cotton was and made some connections to suppliers.
We went to the dye pits by accident, stumbling on them through Google. After we looked at the cotton, though it was great, we didn’t feel like it was processed in a way that we could use raw so we wanted to find a more sustainable method. We then discovered beautiful plant based dye that they have been using since 1948—it felt like the perfect material to work with.
You talk a lot about sustainability in fashion, why is that concept so important to This Is Us?
When we were starting, there was a strong sense of nostalgia about Nigeria as a whole. We remembered [that there was] a time when great products were made here, and we felt that there was a big part of being Nigerian that we needed to showcase [in a similar way]. You’re surrounded with sustainability; the word might seem new but we all experienced it growing up Nigerian. I feel sustainability is deep-rooted in our culture and that’s the path we wanted to showcase. We didn’t think about it at the time but our mindset was always geared towards a model of sustainability. Even at the pits, the guys there re-dye their clothes when they’re fading, or even when they buy clothes, they would create these really cool Adire prints on them. So it made sense to adapt some of these ideas and extend these practices that already existed to our consumers.
We also wanted to do something that would give back to Nigerians economically, something founded on our dignity and pride, like the work of the people at the dye pits. It’s about economic, social and cultural sustainability.
This Is Us is the guy at the dye pits, essentially.
You started with creating essential pieces before developing into a fully fledged brand, talk us through your creative process.
In terms of our creative process, we mostly just work with what is around us. The first collection we created was the uniform wear collection because people need stuff to wear everyday that they can buy here. We also felt [that] in your daily life you don’t need to wear that many things. You don’t really need that many clothes and everyone has a uniform; some people wear all black, some wear only white shirts.
We made our uniform indigo and our first collection was just basics, long sleeve shirts, trousers, jumpsuits, and a kaftan. They were a bunch of wardrobe essentials that we felt people could wear everyday, much like a uniform. We also didn’t want to make something that could change too much which is why it’s a stable collection, it’s always available.
We’re pretty much just creating from [observation and research].
This is Us, Omizu collection. Photo: via @thisisusng
This is Us, Omizu collection. Photo: via @thisisusng
This is Us, Uniform-Wear. Photo: via @thisisusng
Founded in 2012 by Jomi Bello, waf, formerly known as WAFFLESNCREAM, is West Africa’s first skateboarding brand that uses fashion as a vehicle to grow the culture of skateboarding within Nigeria. Since opening their store, which doubles as a safe space for the alternative Lagos underground scene, waf has grown into one of the most popular non-conformist clothing labels in Nigeria.
What made you decide to start a skate brand in Lagos when there wasn’t a pre-existing skate culture, and how did your fashion arm begin?
I fell in love with skateboarding and wanted to create a community. I wasn’t really into other sports like football. I wanted to do something that had Lagos’ energy, creating designs based on the city, the way we communicate and everyday life. Fashion isn’t our thing though, skateboarding is. I understand everybody wants to look good but not every piece of clothing is trying to create an idea of being ‘fashionable’. Fashion has to do with trends, trying to stand out or be relevant. That’s far from what we’re trying to do. We make clothing and though people call it fashion, we just use it as a medium to communicate. Our pieces are a social commentary and a means of identity for our brand.
How did fashion become an outlet for social commentary and how important is the theme of ‘identity’ for the brand?
I mean, coming from the culture of Nigeria we love clothing. We dress up for basically anything. Music, clothing, and sports are part of our identity. I feel like clothing is the most tangible and easy way to communicate that.
Identity is very important. It’s the only way you can present yourself and have value. A lot of people see Blackness as one thing but it can be different things. Humans love identity, it’s the only way we can separate ourselves from others, therefore it’s very important for us.
What are the challenges you face as a fashion brand that creates such niche pieces?
Identity is very important. It’s the only way you can present yourself and have value. A lot of people see blackness as one thing but it can be different things. Humans love identity, it’s the only way we can separate ourselves from others, therefore it’s very important for us.
What are the challenges you face both locally and internationally as a fashion brand that creates such niche/unique pieces?
I think ease of business and ease of travel around Africa—it’s hard for me to explore Africa and enjoy it.
waf, Jungle Jungle ‘21. Photo: via @waf.lagos.
waf, Rainy/Wet ‘21 . Photo: via @waf.lagos
waf, Jungle Jungle ‘21. Photo: via @waf.lagos
*This article has been edited/condensed for brevity and clarity
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