Shade Fahm

Nigeria’s contemporary fashion designers, such as Kenneth Ize and Lisa Folawiyo, are leading today’s African fashion conversation but it’s important to remember that they stand on the shoulders of generations of trailblazers who came before them. 

Words by Helen Jennings at Nataal

Nigeria gained its Independence from Britain in 1960 and with this moment came a swell of pride and national identity. Well-to-do Lagosian women enjoyed mixing local attire with Western fashions and turned to the city’s true fashion pioneer, Shade Fahm, to be best dressed.

Fahm originally moved to London to train as a nurse but the capital gave her new aspirations and she studied fashion at St Martins School of Art instead, where she also worked as a model. She returned to Lagos in 1960 to launch the Shade’s Boutique chain offering modern versions of traditional styles using local hand dyed and woven fabrics such as aso oke, okene and adire. The pre-tied gele (Yoruba head wrap), turning the buba wrapper into a zip-up skirt and adapting a man’s agbada (kaftan) into a woman’s embroidered boubou were all her fashion firsts.

“At the time Nigerian women wore imported dresses, they thought African wear was their mother’s thing. But I was young and my dreams were tall,” Fahm told me in an interview for the book New African Fashion. Fahm was patronised by Nigerian royalty and professional women alike and sold her designs worldwide. In addition, she helped to establish the Fashion Designers’ Association of Nigeria (FADAN).

Among her contemporaries and those that followed in the 1970s and 1980s include Abah Folawiyo, Betti O and Folorunsho Alakija as well as textile artist Nike Okundaye, all of whom have helped to create Nigerian rich fashion’s archives. 

Images courtesy of Shade Fahm from New African Fashion.

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