From Vivendii and Bloke Nigeria, to Pepper Row and Beyoncé-approved label Fruché
In any normal year, Lagos’ cultural calendar is bursting with art and fashion events, as the city celebrates its vibrant creative scene and the burgeoning talent at its heart. As we all know, however, 2020 was no normal year. From COVID-19 forcing ARISE and Homecoming into the digital realm for the first time, to the cancellation of Lagos Fashion Week’s physical shows due to the #ENDSARS protests of October, the calendar has largely been upended. That’s not to say creativity has ground to a halt, though – instead, the industry has found new ways to push forward despite adversity.
With ARISE finally taking place in December, the URL event was an ode to the resilience that has become the defining characteristic of Nigerians and, by extension, Nigerian fashion designers. Though the country’s fashion industry is still finding its feet, a huge number of those involved found the space to thrive in the most turbulent of years. With the likes of Kenneth Ize and Orange Culture doing a madness in 2020, as they showed at Paris and New York Fashion Week respectively, a new generation of designers less established on the scene further hammered home that all eyes should be on Nigeria right now, as they gave us a show both on and off the digital runway.
From sustainability-focused label Pepper Row, through to Beyoncé-approved brand Fruché, here, we catch up with some of the brightest Nigerian fashion stars whose names you need to know.
Scroll through Bloke Nigeria’s Instagram page and it’s hard to single out just one or two things that catch your eye – the label’s grid is filled with colourful knitted vests, punchy outerwear with satin panel detailing, and hand-dyed cotton sets with peekaboo cutouts. As one of the most interesting brands on the Nigerian fashion landscape, its success lies in founder Faith Oluwajimi’s innate ability to tell beautiful stories with his clothes, while damning the stereotypical gender norms that are still particularly rigid in the country. Launching the brand after graduating back in 2015, the 24 year-old designer trusts his intuition when it comes to creating a collection. “My design philosophy is introducing a distinct notion of luxury through an artsy design aesthetic, with an undertone of spiritual consciousness,” Oluwajimi explains, adding that particular attention is paid to ethical manufacturing, textile fabrication, and craftsmanship.
Born and raised in Lagos, Nigeria, Franklin Aghuno – the brains behind Fruché – points to his mother as his biggest influence as a designer. “She was a fashion designer, and I watched her create so many beautiful pieces while growing up.” As the years passed, he began appreciating and looking up to the work of other designers too, with “the late Alexander McQueen and Vivienne Westwood” among them. With sheer chiffon gowns, jewel-toned silk tailoring, and feather-embellished pieces mixed in with pieces bearing bold printed motifs making up previous collections, Aghuno’s contemporary womenswear and slow-fashion approach has found a fan in none other than Beyoncé, who marked him as one to watch on her website last year.
Born in Delta State, in the South-South region of Nigeria, Omafume Niemogha founded Pepper Row in 2018, with an intense focus on sustainability and immortalising traditional artisanal processes at its core. With candy-coloured slips and balloon-sleeved blouses with fantastical flourishes on its line-up, the label is particularly famed for its signature wooden bags crafted from scraps and offcuts. This no-waste approach extends to its RTW offering, with Niemogha insisting ‘conscious engineering’ is the backbone of her brand. ‘‘My design philosophy merges Africa’s rich cultural heritage with sophisticated, modern designs, characterised by colour, texture, form, sustainability and artisanal craftsmanship,” she explains.
“What is the point in creating more than we can use, if it causes us to live less of a life? These are words we live by as we are conscious of the impact running a fashion label has on the environment.’’ Nkwo Onwuka, the designer behind NKWO, explains. Experimenting with a new, unique African textile called Dakala cloth, and making use of the significant amount of secondhand clothing that’s imported to Nigeria, the designer is renowned for piecing together imaginative, conceptual garments, while drawing inspiration from clothing from the past. “I always go back to the way the generations before us lived and worked: what they wore, and why and how they wore it,” Onwuka, who has a degree in psychology, explains. ‘‘There are so many great stories to be found in our past and bringing them into the present so they can be preserved for the future is so powerful and important to us as a brand.’’
With 70 per cent of Nigeria’s population under the age of 35, youth culture is not just thriving in the country – it’s mainstream. Operating in the streetwear space is Vivendii, a brand co-founded by Ola Badiru, Jimmy Ayeni, and Anthony Oye. With radical printed tees and hoodies bearing bold prints, 90s-inspired denim, and offbeat accessories among the label’s offerings, fans include Dazed 100-er Adesuwa, Naomi Campbell, and countless members of Nigeria’s vibrant subcultural scenes. But for Badiru, Ayeni, and Oye, the clothes are secondary to the message. “We’re extremely intentional in all we do. Sending messages through our designs is of paramount importance to us,” Ayeni explains. “We grew up in a society that undermines the voice of the youth, so we use our platform to roar. Our biggest fashion influences aren’t people or brands – we’re inspired by everyday things. An environment in which people can do so much with so little allows us to tap into a well of inspiration and magic. Young people are making (fashion) fun again, and unlocking a beauty that has been hidden as a result of capitalistic restraints.”