Nigerian Fashion Moves Beyond the Catwalk

LAGOS, Nigeria — For the past decade, Nigeria’s best-known ambassadors have, arguably, been its musicians: Burna Boy, WizKid, Davido, Tiwa Savage Asake and Tems, who have popularized Afrobeats beyond West Africa. At a moment when music, literature, visual art and food from across the African continent continue to gain global popularity, fashion designers, particularly those from Nigeria, are ready for their industry to take center stage.

“Designers have become better and more confident, said Reni Folawiyo, owner of Alara, a popular concept store in Lagos. “Some have come back from different parts of the world and are creating things that are interesting to people; some are making more contemporary pieces that people can wear every day. There’s more variety, and people feel proud to be wearing things made by Africans.” In 2023, Alara opened a pop-up shop as part of the Brooklyn Museum’s “Africa Fashion” exhibition.

“Currently the global fashion community is looking to the African continent for more than inspiration,” said Ernestine White-Mifetu, the Sills Foundation curator of African art at the Brooklyn Museum. “The fashion world at large is finally ready to pay attention.”

A display from Brooklyn Museum’s “Africa Fashion” exhibition.Credit…Elias Williams for The New York Times

The Brooklyn Museum is one of many institutions that have tapped into Nigeria’s — and Africa’s — cultural offerings in recent years. Record labels, fintech start-ups and film companies have expanded into the country. Matt Stevens, vice president of international network planning for United Airlines, said the airline had added nonstop service to Lagos from Virginia’s Dulles International Airport in 2021 because it saw the city as “an important part” of United’s expansion in Africa (it also added routes to Cape Town, Johannesburg and Accra).

Nigeria’s fashion industry isn’t new — after all, designers such as Lisa Folawiyo and Andrea Iyamah have been successful in Nigeria and beyond for years — but it is booming thanks to international buyers and a rising desire from the continent’s growing middle class. A 2023 UNESCO reportstated that the luxury goods market generated nearly $6 billion in revenue in Africa in 2022 and estimated that it would continue growing.

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