2022 Lagos Fashion Week: It is Time to do Things Differently

If you for a split second thought that your attendance at the 2022 Lagos Fashion Week would suck you into the warmth of an array of dazzling colours and give you front-row access to some of the finest and most creative African designers, you thought right.

This year’s edition of the Lagos Fashion Week (LFW) which kicked off on the 26th of October came to a grand end four days later with presentations from creatives like Andrea Iyamah, Banke Kuku and Imad Eduso. Throughout the week, new and returning designers from all over the continent and beyond showcased their collections to thousands of guests ranging from head buyers to fashion enthusiasts, members of the press, and industry experts.

A Look from Andrea Iyamah’s Resort ‘23 collection at the 2022 Lagos Fashion Week
Look from Andrea Iyamah’s Resort ‘23 collection. Image courtesy of LFW

Since its inception in 2011, LFW has worked tirelessly to provide a global platform for indigenous African fashion designers and others of African descent who normally, might have found it extremely difficult to generate the right buzz around their designs, talk less of gracing the runways of major, international fashion shows.

LFW is growing, and the world is paying attention. Except for the country where the annual fashion show takes place.

A look from Banke Kuku SS23.
Look from Banke Kuku’s SS23 collection at the 2022 Lagos Fashion Week. Image courtesy of LFW

There appears to be no formal data yet, but, from all visible indications, everything that happens at the Lagos Fashion Week stays at the Lagos Fashion Week. Which, while disappointing, is not entirely surprising.

Why does fashion week even exist?

Historically, fashion week was born out of a desire to influence the fashion of the day and satisfy people’s desire for newer and better ways to express their individual tastes. Designers would put together a collection influenced by the society and the environment they had access to, in the hopes that their target audience agrees with their work and deem them worthy enough to become an expression of who they are or at the very least find them useful enough to adorn their bodies.

Kiko Romeo SS23 collection at LFW
Kiko Romeo’s SS23 collection at LFW. Image courtesy of LFW

Fashion week is how many trends over the years caught fire and spread throughout the world. Like the bandanas and bell bottoms of the 90s or the chunky belts and platforms shoes of the early 2000s. The loungewear trend that started in 2020 may have had its roots in the pandemic and the resulting lockdown, but as major fashion houses started to offer their own versions, it become wildly popular over the world.

Sadly, we cannot claim that this is the case in Nigeria (at least) where LFW holds. No one can deny the sheer talent that is on display year after year, or the fact that some of the pieces that make an appearance on the runway reflect emerging or past fashion trends in the country and continent. However, once the curtains come down on the show, it appears to come down on everything else: the beauty and fashion expressions; trends; decor – even the participating brands are not spared as their names seem not to resonate beyond certain circles nor do their creations influence everyday fashion or make appearances in the media after the event.

There appears to be a lack of robust representation among celebrities and influencers
Look from Odio Mimonet ss23 2022 Lagos Fashion Week
Look from Odio Mimonet’s SS23 collection at the 2022 Lagos Fashion Week. Image courtesy of LFW

One reason why the designs at the Lagos Fashion Week are not ubiquitous may be because they are not largely worn by celebrities and influencers, whose followers and fan base are always eager to copy everything they do. If there is anything brands from out of the continent understand, it is the power of representation. It is why they choose ambassadors in markets and groups they want to dominate. Maybe this is not a job for the LFW organisers, but, one of the ways to get Africans more invested in the show is to feature designers whose work they care about and have interacted with before the show.

Fashion week is more than the catwalk. LFW does not appear to have evolved to this point

This paragraph from Fashion United explains this point best.

“[…] Successful fashion weeks need foreign buyers and foreign press. Fashion weeks also need critics to decipher the looks and to make it cohesive. To give us the context in terms of the current zeitgeist and to extend its meaning beyond the immediacy of social media and front row celebrity.”

Look from TJWho's collection at the 2022 Lagos Fashion Week
Look from TJWho’s collection at the 2022 Lagos Fashion Week. Image courtesy of LFW

Every year the Lagos Fashion Week holds, the only reports in the media appear to be comments on the designs and designers, how the show went and prevalent trends on the catwalk. For some reason, no one appears to give a balanced critique of the show and the designs, what worked well and what could be improved upon to make the show bigger and better, and help the designers create pieces that resonate more with their local communities and a wider global audience.

Again, this may not be so much the fault of the organisers as it is of the media and industry stakeholders. However, if it is the case that the fashion show is not open to these sets of people, it may explain why balanced reviews are scare year in, year out.

Welcoming critques and experts who have no affiliation with the show, and can therefore produce balanced, non-biased reporting, would be a step in the right direction towards making much-needed improvements and creating even more buzz around the show on the the continent, especially if these people are locals.

The disconnect between the fashion at LFW and what is considered fashion in Nigeria and Africa is huge

And this perhaps is the most important point.

Back in the day when we did not have these kinds of shows in the continent, and because the industry itself was largely fragmented with little mass production of everyday clothes taking place, it just made sense for designers to look at what America and Europe were doing and incorporate it into their designs. This was worsened by the thriving preloved market that is still prevalent to this day.

Shem Paronelli half shoes
Shem Paronelli half shoes at the 2022 Lagos Fashion Week. Image courtesy of LFW

It is why when bandanas became mainstream in America and possibly Europe, they trended in Nigeria. When bootlegs were the in-thing, they were also the fashion of the day back here.

If the Lagos Fashion Week were looking to make more of an impact in Nigeria (at least) beyond its runway, an apparent course of action would be to feature designers who fill in a missing gap – African fashion for Africans by Africans. Yet, 11 years in, and LFW is still full of designers showcasing Spring/Summer collections, two seasons most African countries do not experience. Designers are creating pieces that are not practical for the continent or representative of our values and belief systems.

Awa Meite at the 2022 Lagos Fashion Week
Awa Meite at the 2022 LFW. Image courtesy of LFW
The fashion industry as a whole in Nigeria and other African countries is not very developed

In Nigeria at least, we still rely heavily on pre-loved fashion while ignoring production/manufacturing.

Perhaps a reason why fashion week is such a big deal in other parts of the world is that production (of fashion items) takes place within these countries and even when it is outsourced, it is usually by businesses domiciled in these places.

Therefore, while not everyone in America or Italy, for example, can afford an Oscar de la Renta or a Caroline Herrara, because there are smaller local fashion businesses who take care of everything from production to distribution,  it is easier for them to make affordable look-alikes of the beloved  designs of larger, more established fashion houses for the masses.

It is impossible for LFW to establish small fashion businesses to create affordable look-alikes of the designs that appear on their platform, but maybe using this same platform to engage stakeholders to influence policies that help to regulate and develop the industry might be a feasible solution.

The 2022 Lagos Fashion Week has come and gone and with it an opportunity to influence and revolutionalise the Nigerian/African fashion industry. Thankfully, there would be many more fashion weeks. The time has come for the LFW organisers to do things a bit differently for the sake of the future of African fashion, and with the kind of global platform they have managed to build over the years, they appear to be the best people for the job.

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