Nigerian designers embrace androgyny at Lagos Fashion Week

Lake Nigeria

Lake Nigeria

Lagos Fashion Week is an annual event that seeks to “lead the way with initiatives that support, strengthen and develop the fashion industry”, in Nigeria, and Lagos Fashion Week has global attendance.

In a country that nationwide punishes homosexuals with imprisonment, in its northern counties with stoning to death, and as late as 2019 their Lagos State Police Command spokesman warned “Any person of a homosexual orientation should leave the Nigeria or risk prosecution” in an Instagram post, it’s easy to assume that the gender binary is heavily integrated into Nigerian fashion design.

But fashion is both a conversation and a conversation starter, and there are designers who are continuing that discussion, imagining and creating androgynous looks, bringing their work on display at an event that also saw, for the first time ever , a Nigerian trans woman, Fola Francis, modeling for two (other) designers, Cute Saint and Fruché.

Friend

Based in Lagos, Bloke was founded by Faith Oluwajimi. With a collection called ‘A Polaroid Named Camouflage’, these knit silhouettes, some engraved with the brand’s name, were inspired by Oluwajimi’s travels, where he ‘… visited about six or seven countries, and the color palette translated for the collection came from some of the flags of these countries that I have visited,” he said Attitude.

Oshobor

Peter ‘Dawn’ Oshobor founded this androgynous brand, presenting a three-piece collection called “Na Man You Be”, a colloquial way of saying “You’re A Man”, as a reflection of the impact fathers have on their children’s lives . “Fathers are the role models of masculinity for their sons. Their relationship, especially within traditional Africa, while solid, usually lacks expression and emotion,” Dawn said. “My inspiration is not just about masculinity, but masculinity in the African context. Therefore, I focus on trendy clothes with an African touch, to emphasize the Afrocentricity of the art and its inspiration.

Lagos Space Program

Referring to their collections as ‘projects’, Thompson Adeju is a non-binary designer who deliberately made sure to bring their authentic selves, from sexuality to African heritage, to their label, and their Project 7 was inspired by Yoruba culture . “The inspiration behind the Project 7 collection is to highlight the similarities between Western sartorial codes and the romance of traditional indigenous clothing aesthetics,” they say, “[and] as well as exploring queer semiotics, the collection is also a study in tailoring. Using archival studio photography from the early 20th century, we seek to keep alive the tailoring techniques long practiced by the Yoruba people.

Olissa Kenya

Founded by Akoth Otieno, the unisex brand uses colorful crochet and knit fabrics in its collections. Based in Nairobi, their Mwanzo collection “…sees where our past, present and future collide in motion. Mwanzo is trying to lay the foundations for the house we intend to build. For this we have focused on innovation rather than novelty, but also updating the knowledge we have learned in the last two years,” he said Attitude. “The silhouettes are purposefully unapologetic, and half of it is because we’ve grown over the last couple of years, where we now embrace our power.”

That power is no small thing. “There is representation of all kinds of bodies, and it’s important to see us on the catwalk,” said Fola Francis, speaking to the BBC about a Nigerian law that intends to ban “transvestism”. The hope is that this opens the door for queer and non-binary people to join the shows moving forward.

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