Dressing For a Hotter Planet: In Lagos, Designers Look to the Past for Sustainable Fashion Solutions

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Nigeria turned 60 years old this year, and there’s much to celebrate: It’s one of the fastest growing countries in Africa; it has the continent’s largest economy; and, with its robust film industry, influential music scene, and burgeoning fashion landscape, Nigeria has become a global cultural powerhouse. But the country is also facing significant challenges, from extreme income inequality (40% of the country’s population lives at or below the poverty line) to police corruption and brutality (the ongoing #EndSARs protests began in October). And those are just the most imminent issues. Following close behind looms the existential threat of climate change.

Nigeria has been significantly impacted by climate change in the last decade. Rising temperatures—the average is now 91 degrees in the summer—have been accompanied by sporadic rainfall, drought, and flooding, all of which burden an already stressed citizenry. It’s clear that the next chapter of Nigeria’s story can’t be written without addressing climate change head-on.

In Lagos, the largest city in the country, designers are thinking about what climate change means for their businesses, communities, and the future of fashion. Vogue talked to four Nigerian talents about how they’re dressing—and designing—for an increasingly hotter planet. From pivoting to a zero-waste production model to embracing local textiles like adire, a resist-dyed cloth mostly worn by Yoruba people, their answers are wide-ranging, but fueled by a common ethos: Nigerians needn’t look any further than their own past for future solutions.

Photos: Courtesy of Abiola Olusola

Abiola Olusola

Abiola Olusola launched her line in 2017. Inspired by her Yoruba heritage, her eponymous label marries traditional fabrics with contemporary designs while showcasing the work of local artisans.

“I try to reduce the synthetic materials I use in my work. I try not to use polyester. Instead, I mostly work with cotton and linen, because a majority of my customers are in Nigeria, and it is really important for them to wear breathable fabric.

“Climate change is not at the forefront of a lot of Nigerians’ minds. It doesn’t feel like an immediate threat because we have more direct, timely frustrations to deal with. But one thing I think about in particular is waste and the use of plastic. When it rains, you see how much plastic floats around in the floodwater, in the drainage system, and in the canal. I don’t mass produce. We are a small brand, and I am trying to work on a zero inventory method. We do a direct-to-customer approach, and it enables us to make things according to each person’s specifications and produce only what we need.”

Photo: Courtesy of Lisa Folawiyo 

Lisa Folawiyo

Lisa Folawiyo launched her eponymous line in 2005 and has played a vital role in promoting Nigerian fashion on a global scale. Her collections merge bold colors, sparkling embellishments, and traditional African materials and techniques, like Ankara wax prints.

“Nigeria is waking up to climate change. In the business district of Lagos, where I have my equipment and my tailoring, they started using solar energy. That is great because we don’t have to run a generator. Our electrical power supply in Nigeria is really poor, so every factory, business establishment, or home works as long as 24 hours a day on a generator, and that is not good for the environment.

“With regards to designing for the [rising] temperatures in Lagos, more than silhouettes, we are mindful of the fabrics and textures we use. We work with lighter-weight fabrics like our ankara, adire, Batkara, silks, and sheer fabrics, like chiffon and organza because of the mostly dry, hot weather in Nigeria. Last year, we started using leftover fabric and repurposing and reusing fabrics to manage waste.”

Photos: Kadara Enyeasi / Courtesy of Lagos Space Programme

Adeju Thompson of Lagos Space Programme

Adeju Thompson considers Lagos Space Programme, which he launched in 2018, more of a movement than a brand. The label’s clothes focus on sustainability, craft, and embracing the present and future of genderless fashion.

“I think in Nigeria, because of social hardships, people don’t really understand that climate change is a problem. People view it as a Western thing. It’s something that I take very seriously. Lagos Space Programme is a slow fashion brand, so the sustainability ethos already guides a lot of what I do. It is about African futures, and it is about me as an African solving Africa’s problems on a much more material level. I think it is quite pragmatic.

“My collection over the past two or three years has moved to all organic materials. There is nothing synthetic. A lot of my production and fabric sourcing is based in Lagos, so we reduce our carbon footprint [by not shipping materials from overseas]. My most recent collection is informed by traditional silhouettes. I have these trousers that I call the Yoruba wide trousers, and they are inspired by a design from 19th century Nigeria—it’s cut in a super wide way, and when you look at the side, they have interesting panels that allow for ease of movement.”

Photos: Courtesy of Orange Culture

Adebayo Oke-Lawal of Orange Culture

Adebayo Oke-Lawal is a self-taught designer who started Orange Culture in 2011. His intention: To showcase a version of Nigeria based on his community. His designs rely on traditional textiles and attempt to disrupt gender norms.

“People are becoming more conscious of climate change, and I think fashion has really helped. In Nigeria, the industry—our textiles, our manufacturing processes—are a lot more sustainable than most people would think. We don’t necessarily have as many damaging effects in our production because of how our supply chain works—we don’t mass produce. The fabrics we use, like the aso-oke or cotton we weave here, are done in more environmentally positive ways. As for Orange Culture, we try to use a lot of homegrown cottons and linens. We are a brand that plays with lighter fabrics generally, and our clients love it because it works for the heat.

“Of course, fabric is important, but so is community. We try to do as much locally as possible.”