The Impact of Lagos Fashion Week on the Growth of Small Fashion Businesses in Africa

Words by Elvis Kachi

Austrian Lace at Lagos Fashion Week 2022. Photograph courtesy of Seph Photos

After showcasing more than 10 pieces on the runway at this October’s Lagos Fashion Week, Abdou Lahad Guaye, the founder and creative director of Algueye Dakar, hopes this showcase will open him up to an even wider market, especially in Anglophone countries. “Lagos Fashion Week is one of the biggest fashion shows in Africa,” says Lahad Guaye. “It offers emerging brands an opportunity to showcase their brand and to be known by the fashion industry, particularly the anglophone market. It is a big opportunity to penetrate the African Anglophone market, which is not so easy.”

One of the major challenges faced by younger fashion labels in the African fashion industry is entry into a wider market. Although a number of them are running direct-to-consumer business models by leveraging the use of social media channels, they’re also looking for the chance to hit certain high target fashion buyers and tech-driven retail stores.

From October 26 to 30, the who’s who of African fashion congregated in Lagos, Nigeria to view the spring/summer 2023 collections of a select number designers from countries including Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa, Senegal and Kenya. One of the most highly anticipated showcases on the African fashion calendar, Lagos Fashion Week has been going on for 11 years, recording an astounding amount of success among designers. This year had almost 4,000 attendees, many of whom included fashion buyers and merchandisers, all important to younger brands looking to scale their businesses.

Lahad Guaye describes the Lagos Fashion Week platform as “a big rendezvous that welcomes all kinds of fashion enthusiasts looking to discover emerging African brands.” In light of this and with a tagged theme of “collaboration, co-creation and community”, Lagos Fashion Week worked with a number of fashion buyers, merchandisers and stockists such as Zinkata, The Folklore Connect and Austrian Lace to highlight the African fashion industry.

Designed to spotlight emerging brands to international retailers and buyers, The Digital Buyer’s Preview was a collaboration between The Folklore Connect and Lagos Fashion Week that offered an exclusive preview of new collections before they showed on the runway. “The initiative aims to ensure that Africa’s emerging and established fashion brands are included in the international market season, which typically closes before collections officially launch during fashion week at the end of October,” says The Folklore. “The digital event facilitates wholesale orders from The Folklore’s global retail partners, enhancing the company’s mission to empower diverse brands from Africa and other global markets by using modern software and technology.”

Brands such as Abiola Olusola, Cute-Saint, KADIJU and Oríré are just a few who took part in the digital trade show. “This collaboration is especially important to us as emerging talents because it provides us with the opportunity to showcase our work to the global community,” says Muftau Femi Ajose, founder and creative director of Cute-Saint. “It opens us to press and media from Africa and different parts of the world, and exposes us to spaces that we might not be able to reach on our own.” Abiola Olusola echoes this. “It’s a great chance to get people’s brands out there, and to be seen by the world. There’s a lot of exposure from doing this,” she says. 

Zinkata, a Nigerian e-commerce retailer that stocks luxury brands such as Lisa Folawiyo, Orange Culture, Nkwo, Fruché and Gozel Green, also partnered with Lagos Fashion Week through the XRetail initiative, as part of its commitment to promote emerging brands from the continent. “It was a seamless collaboration for us at Zinkata because we believe in the ethos and values of Lagos Fashion Week,” says Ezinne Chinkata, founder of Zinkata. “The dedication to the art of fashion, dogged championing of the “buy Nigerian” initiative, and progressive approach towards artisanal brands and sustainable practices resounds strongly with Zinkata.”

For the five days of the showcase, the Lekki-based Zinkata store was awash with consumers looking to shop pieces of their favorite designers, as well as discover new talents from the specially curated brands on display. “Retail is an important aspect of fashion and featuring as a part of Lagos Fashion Week was a brilliant idea. The consumers were happy, and they reacted very positively to the garments in store,” Chinkata says. “[But] selecting designers for the store was a tricky exercise. We kept our consumers in mind while curating for the store; great quality, authenticity and some levels of artisanal approach to the brand’s design process were some of what we looked out for.”

The Zinkata store during the Lagos Fashion Week XRetail initiative

Austrian Lace is an Austrian textile manufacturing company that has been a part of the Nigerian fashion market for a long time and over the years has worked with a number of Nigerian designers and brands, which is one of the reasons it was able to easily connect with Lagos Fashion Week this season. “One of the major things that was important for us before this collaboration was a look into people who had a good understanding of how the creative industry worked, and Style House Files seemed to fit it,” says Frances Ore, head of marketing at the Austrian Embassy. “The creative industry is new for us. We typically do business development, market entry and market support; but this is new. So, we threw the ball really wide.”

For the runway experience, Austrian Lace worked with a number of emerging Nigerian designers including Gëto, NiNie, Jon Pelumi, Weiz Dhurm Franklyn, Derin Fabikun and Ann Cranberry, whom they believed had the capacity to merge both visions and bring them to life. “We reached out to brands we thought had an understanding and appreciation for lace and would do it justice,” Ore says. “Ideally, we’re looking to work with up-and-coming designers and see how they interpret the fabrics.”

Even with the many challenges that pose a threat to younger, newer brands such as funding, visibility and mentorship, the platform that Lagos Fashion Week provides has created ample opportunities for brand growth and impact, as long as brands are willing to put in the work.

“I’m not one to look at limitations. I think there are a lot more opportunities than limitations. I think we’re totally underrated. Slowly but surely, we’re getting the attention that’s due to us,” says Ore. 

Chinkata is also optimistic. “We hope that through [this exercise], African fashion keeps creating an avenue for our stories to be told and appreciated. We also hope it creates a sustainable ecosystem for the artisans, designers and all those involved in the value chain while at the same time creating real value for the consumers.”

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