Hi, I’m a Nigerian Fashion designer and I design for the world not just Nigeria. At some point every African Fashion designer has to explain how their creativity is not carved out for those in Africa or those who want a bit of “African” design

As a fashion designer with African roots, sometimes people will try to box you inside designing only for Africans, or worse still, they assume your level of creativity only reaches to African patterns and images/designs. No, you can not possibly have any design concept beyond your African roots… so they think.

Hi I’m a Nigerian fashion designer and i design for the international market

And if you’re a Nigerian fashion designer, well, surely you can not have any fashion ideas or desire to create something inspired by the Oriental cheery blossom trees, or the Nepalese mountains, or indeed the Wild West of American cowboy style.

Nigerian fashion designer raising above stereotype
Image credit: himalayanecotrek; Nyakim Gatwech Instagram

It’s a shame to have to explain to a grown adult that you may be a Nigerian but most of your inspiration comes from art around the world or from your travels around the world. Sometimes you can see the confusion in their eyes as you explain this. What? But you’re Nigerian!

Recently I got introduced to an accessories designer at a party. When I discovered that she originally came from Nigeria I told her about Nigerian Fashion TV. She gave a lovely smile and very graciously informed me that her work is not limited to Nigeria or Nigerian market. Infact her collection is very much beyond Africa. I couldn’t help wonder how many times she has had to explain this to people the moment they realise she’s from Nigeria. Because memories came flooding back to me of many times when I myself have had to make that insertion during conversations with others in the past.

Now of course I don’t bother nearly as much as I used to. I just let them think what they Samantha Cole like. I suspect this is what designers like Samantha Cole and NKWO had to resolve to. This is just my guess, for it was Samantha Cole who was quoted as saying:

My work is severe and sometimes brooding. I’m not trying to fit into a perfect box

While Ozwald Boateng is noted to have said:

It’s a tailor’s duty to create a suit that fits perfectly and brings out the wearer’s best attributes. It’s what I work for, because if someone feels good, he shares that with the rest of the world

(Both quotes are from the book New African Fashion by Helen Jennings)

Certainly there is a good case to be made for the Nigerian fashion designer or the African fashion designer who desires to communicate the colours, art and culture of Africa into their collection in every fashion season. And that stands to be admired very much because anyone who has ever tried to write a book or create an art knows how much effort is required each time and that there is a thing called a writer’s block or an artist’s block.

Dealing with stereotype as a designer is not only from Nigerians or Africans who expect you to design something solely from your culture. But it comes from Europeans as well. I’m not sure why this happens, for after all there are plenty of fashion designers from other cultures who are not subjected to the confines of their culture or nation alone in their work. Take for instance Elie Saab, he’s from Lebanon but that’s not what first jumps to mind when you think of him. Or take Issey Miyake who is Japanese, what he brought into fashion is an innovative weave of pleates, completely revolutionalizing the way we look at pleates and modern fabric weaving.

Credit: Issey Miyake

As the fashion designer pool gets filled with more African designers the newer designers will no longer be pigeon holed into their ethnicity in their work. And the need to insert ‘I’m a Nigerian’ in one’s introduction as a fashion designer will be less; except in the case where the designer wishes to be identified as such.

This is one of those articles I’d really like to hear your opinions on the subject, particularly if you’re a designer. Have you ever encountered such? Please leave your comments below.