In Lagos, Nigeria, it’s that time of the year again – designers are having sleepless nights to ensure proper fitting and clear stitches, curators dabbling over ideas and equipment to ensure an active relationship between the clothes and relative backdrop, models strutting the runway, cameras clicking, writers scribbling, audience gazing – It’s another Lagos fashion and design week (LFDW).
LFDW is a fashion showcase platform with an objective to propel the Pan African fashion industry, link together buyers, consumers and media to spectate the oeuvre of selected designers. The platform has garnered global acknowledgement especially with Vogue covering the 2016 edition, placing LFDW on an international standard and linking African fashion to the world.
The 2017 LFDW begins this week on Wednesday, 26th October 2017, showcasing the collections of about 50 designers, with an entry fee of 5000 Naira for each of the four days to view the showcase.
This may seem inexpensive, but paying 20,000 to see a fashion show is actually quite pricey for the average Nigerian youth.
This begs the question of authenticity typically because the founders are in sync with the fact that the growing population of young fashion literates presents a market for the industry’s diversity but still make a conscious decision to shut them out of fashion shows.
A counter argument might be ”if you cannot afford to pay 20,000 then you are not part of the target audience” but that only reinforces why the African fashion industry is for an exclusive lot.
According to Akitoye, ‘African fashion exists to show that the upper class have a culture & with the recent happenings, one could agree to this.’
For growth in the industry, we need to forgo these ideologies of exclusivity and focus on more inclusive rhetoric specifically for the youth.
Why do I say this:
Sometimes, we assume that a myriad of African youth are seemingly fashion conscious and understand the misinterpreted clothes sold by African designers but we could be wrong.
A lot of African youth are aware of the existence of ‘cool brands’ outside of Africa but that doesn’t imply that they are fashion conscious, they are simply western-pop culture (W-PC) conscious.
The ubiquity of the Old Skool Vans among African youth is a case in point. Those sneakers gained popularity in Africa within the last two years but many African youth do not understand the context of it’s popularity. According to an article on I_d, the van’s silhouette was a quintessential one for American rebel skaters in the 70’s, The Old Skool in particular is a skate-based silhouette that anybody is allowed to don without fear of fashion retribution. It’s popularity can be attributed to democratized nature of the brand (vans) passing it as a sneaker for collaborations with brands like GOLF WANG, endorsements by music icons like Kanye West, Frank Ocean, ASAP Rocky and also OFF-WHITE in it’s summer/spring 17 presentation.
Now we need to understand that before its popularity, these sneakers were essentially a ‘radical’ fashion statement; it was a subtle way of saying ‘fuck fashion’ especially for skaters who feel like they do not need to conform to popular fashion opinions to be relevant. That’s something about popular culture – there’s always a background story that most of us miss out on, consequently missing the context and underlying significance.
For some Africans, Vans are catalogued as a style preference possibly because their favorite fashion cognoscenti endorses it on Instagram. In Africa, fashion stems primarily as style imbibed from W-PC particularly for a youthful demographic, but in a situation where this culture is marinated at the expense of a clear understanding of what fashion truly means and the possibilities of a fashion conscious environment, it certainly drives the issue of misplaced identity.
I am not discrediting the notable influence of W-PC in the formation of the African fashion scene, rather I propose that we engage in active contemplation of these exports; their history and relevance in identity building and individuality. This is something LFDW needs to achieve with its platform by presenting avenues for youth to appreciate fashion as a form of identity, representation and communication as opposed to shutting them out.
This concept mirrors the growth of the music scenes in Africa. The music culture has grown from a single genre representing Africa to a multifarious music industry but how did we get here?
From a Nigerian perspective, veterans like Fela Kuti and Ebenezer Obey made conscious music for their generation that found mass appeal and popularity. This was made so because of the content present in the music. It was more than just the sounds and instruments but also a sense of belonging and self with every lyrics. There was a story to tell, an embodiment of mind and body.
The music meant something to the youth of that timeline (now your parents), something more than beats, something unadulterated and pure. They saved every moment and passed it on to you and I. We heard these sounds, fell in love and sought to explore the sounds with our individual ethos giving way for multiple genres. But for this to happen, the youth were first of all made inclusive and relevant in the conversation.
Similarly, youthful influence should not be undermined in growing the fashion culture. All around the world, fashion weeks are shaped by the young cultures that actually inspire the clothes. Long gone are the times when fashion week was just for the upper class alone.
Lagos Fashion week should be a way of championing new ideas from all over, to help actually create a real fashion culture and explore it creatively.
Lagos Fashion & Design week should simply be a tool that enables more young Africans gravitating towards Lagos’ young, booming New Age fashion wonderland to come together and redefine what identity is through their fashion choices. We need to understand the need to open up our fashion industry to our own young individuals with unique tastes instead of placing adire or ankara as the only way of interpreting what African fashion means in our generation – one exposed to a global sense of fashion at their very finger tips.
The need to correctly document real fashion values in the actual lives of individuals living day to day in Africa is very important as we’re constantly misinterpreted by global press who have a minute understanding of what our taste is. LFDW ends up being filled with the upper class and foreigners who already have tastes created from Western cultures and are now convinced that these clothes actually represent the culture.
Moving forward, it is essential that we all refocus the direction of our growing fashion consciousness.