With Love From Lagos

Get to know Lagos Fashion Week founder Omoyemi Akerele and the designers KOIBIRD discovered in this megacity

Words by Helen Jennings at Nataal

Images via Lagos Fashion Week

KOIBIRD is proud to partner with Lagos Fashion Week for its SS20 edit. Established almost a decade ago by Omoyemi Akerele (who is also founder of fashion development agency Style House Files), the annual event has become an influential showcase not only for Nigerian labels but for designers from around Africa and the diaspora.

For Omoyemi, it’s been essential to go past the glamour of the catwalk to make LagosFW an incubator for young talent and a tangible tool for building the Nigerian fashion industry. So whether that’s taking designers to Pitti Immagine, hosting pop-ups in stores or inviting international buyers such as KOIBIRD to attend LagosFW, her pioneering approach has been instrumental to putting Lagos on the fashion map. Here we talk to Omoyemi and introduce some of the LagosFW designers exclusively stocked with us this season. 

KOIBIRD: What makes Lagos special?

OMOYEMI: Lagos is home to over 20 million people with a youth that’s currently estimated to be over half of the population. The energy and confidence in this bustling city cannot be rivalled. Since the launch of LagosFW in 2011, we have consistently and carefully worked to position Lagos as the melting pot for creativity on the continent. The city and its people lure you in with our resilience, grit and determination to succeed beyond obstacles imposed by our environment.

KOIBIRD: And it’s this energy that leads African fashion?

OMOYEMI: Sometimes, it feels uncomfortable to label fashion from the continent as African or Nigerian. What does this really mean? The phrase leaves itself open to interpretations that are oftentimes not beneficial to key players on the scene. The continent is filled with style, from the sartorial choices of everyday people to the vibrant and rapidly evolving music and art scenes. Our fashion stands out because, like the scene, it also tells a story. It tells the story of our dynamic culture, of historical references and commercial viability. It tells our story of innovation, of trade not aid and of the finest artisans. It’s a story of job creation, collaborative efforts and empowering people.
There’s currently so much uncertainty out there considering the position we all find ourselves in with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and it forces us all to ask one of the most pertinent questions of our time. What next?

I believe the energy we must take into the next phase is one of a deeper understanding that the entire value chain is deeply connected on a global level and the actions of one element of that chain can and will create a ripple effect that reverberates across the world. It’s this mindfulness we constantly seek to emphasise with all the projects at SHF | LagosFW. We must all not lose sight of the overwhelming need to create that much needed balance between the people, the processes and people that make up this sector. 

KOIBIRD: Handcraftsmanship and sustainability are clearly very important to the designers you work with.

OMOYEMI: LagosFW has worked to celebrate our heritage of craftsmanship, which is expressed by the diversity of the world-class designers that we present. Their creativity is reliant on the continent’s vast and rich natural and human resources, coupled with skills that have been passed down from generation to generation. We work with stakeholders towards strengthening our ecosystem by building communities and fostering collaborations that can gradually begin to define a sustainable future. Considering the current pause on the global supply chain, retail and logistics in general, we must adopt a more considered approach that ensures every hand that’s involved in the process benefits properly from it.

“We have consistently and carefully worked to position Lagos as the melting pot for creativity on the continent”

KOIBIRD: What future goals are you working toward?

OMOYEMI: The future starts with you and I. The current pandemic has given all of us time to slow down and we must reassess everything. Post pandemic, it cannot be business as usual. We believe our greatest task at SHF | LagosFW lies in moving the conversation beyond creativity to adding value to the industry. We need to nurture knowledge acquisition, skills development and job creation on the continent. The future lies in creating thriving fashion businesses through productivity and innovation. The future is ensuring that the fashion and apparel sector rises up to be a key driver of African economic growth, opening doors for ancillary sectors such as agriculture, textiles production, manufacturing and retail to thrive. The future is developing intra African export markets, accessing untapped local and regional markets.

KOIBIRD: How helpful is it for African labels to work with a retailer like KOIBIRD?

OMOYEMI: This collaboration with KOIBIRD is an opportunity for designers we work with to be introduced to new customers through a purpose led store that’s a destination for curated fashion from different parts of the world. This strengthens our vision to provide access to opportunities for the sector with our official partner, the Nigeria Export Promotion Council. We encourage brands to build so that the international fashion market and pan African fashion scene can co-exist side by side. Designers must learn to straddle both markets with ease and understand how to position their brands for continued success. 

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