September 1 2014

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Omoyemi Akerele Puts Nigerian Fashion In The Spotlight


Omoyemi Akerele

Lagos, Nigeria—an oil-rich port city with an estimated population of 21 million people—is globally recognized as a fast-growing financial hub. However, it’s emerging as a cultural hotbed, too, with fashion at its forefront. Much of that is thanks to Omoyemi Akerele, founder of Style House Files—an on-site agency founded to “tirelessly position Lagos and Nigeria on the international fashion map.” In an exclusive interview, Akerele offered, “Nigerian fashion stands out. It tells a story of a diverse and dynamic culture, of historical references, and ultimately, commercial viability. It’s about trade, not aid.” Ahead of the city’s third annual Fashion and Design week, which begins on Wednesday, Akerele speaks to about the challenges facing local designers, the region’s immense untapped market, and what it means to not only advance but define Nigerian creativity as the country inches toward its remarkable potential.

How did you become Nigerian fashion’s mouthpiece?
My career in fashion started about eleven years ago, in styling and image consulting. Over time, I realized that there was room for a platform to act as a catalyst on the scene, to spearhead change and work toward positioning fashion as business in Nigeria—this is how Style House Files was born. We see our role as agents of change determined to make an impact, change the mind-set of people, and create opportunities where there might seem to be none.

Why might one think that opportunities aren’t present or viable?
Well, in a country with an estimated 150 to 160 million people, it surprises me to no end that no entrepreneur has seen the need to invest in a garment manufacturing company that can cater not just to fashion designers, but create opportunities for creating our own bigger retail brands in Nigeria. The traders and business scions in Aba—a local garment district in the southeast of the country—remain at the forefront of benefiting from this industry, but there’s got to be a re-engineering of people’s outlooks: for people to design and manufacture garments by us for our consumption.

Jewel by Lisa; Maki Oh

We’ve seen an emergence of Nigerian designers in Europe—particularly in the U.K.—but what about elsewhere? Maki Oh (above, right) made a splash in New York during the Spring ’14 season…
In terms of showcases, Lagos Fashion and Design Week has facilitated exposure for Nigerian designers in the U.K.—namely at Selfridges in London—and Italy’s Pitti W trade show over the past two seasons. Just a couple of weeks ago, a local label called Ituen Basi was presented in Dubai as part of Vogue Italia‘s shopping event. Additionally, some of the designers under the LFDW platform have explored international markets on their own. The label Jewel by Lisa (above, left), for example, was sold on Moda Operandi. This has created a ripple effect for Nigerian designers to have retail presences on the international market. Lanre Da Silva-Ajayi, Tiffany Amber, and Umi 1 are also recurring names. But keep an eye out for Orange Culture, Re Bahia, and Meena.

As it stands, what is the current value of Nigeria’s fashion market, and how much influence does it have on the country’s economy?
Nigerian fashion is being positioned as a key driver for the Nigerian economy. Put more simply, the number of Nigerians wearing Nigerians has increased significantly, and I know that once all that’s missing is in place, fashion is going to thrive. Greater Africa’s consumer-facing industries are expected to grow by $410 billion by 2020—with apparel playing a major role.

Can the Nigerian fashion industry evolve to the point where it can become a major player in the international fashion market?
It can, but it cannot be sustained without effective machinery in place: a proper technical and marketing infrastructure, access to funding, and access to textile and garment manufacturing to ensure standardization.

Photos: Courtesy Photos; Fabio Iona/ (Maki Oh)