Fashion in Nigeria

Fashion in Nigeria has always been diverse and unique, reflecting its many ethnic groups, religions, and cultures. Recently, the Nigerian fashion industry has developed more participants, exposure, structure, presence, earnings, and training. Many now work in the industry as clothing designers, fashion models, clothing stylists, fashion photographers, makeup artists, hair stylists, cosmetologists, and fashion journalists. Magazines devoted to fashion in Nigeria are now common. Nigeria's New Fashion Week has grown in attendance, with long streets dedicated to fashion retailers in the major cities of Nigeria.[1]

Traditional clothing vs. Western clothingEdit

Recognition for Nigerian fashion has been slow in the global fashion industry, which is mostly based in North America and Europe. Many assume that Africans only wear traditional garb or using clothing solely functionally (to cover the body and protect it from environmental factors).[2] Yet, in many African countries, clothes have historically been decorative as well as scarring, painting, tattooing, or jewelry.[2]

There are definite distinctions between traditional Nigerian clothing and Western clothing in Nigeria. Traditional clothing signifies which ethnic group one belongs to, and can indicate one's gender, class, religion, tribe and region. For instance, city and rural dwellers in Nigeria can easily distinguish Eastern Nigerian ways of dressing from Northern Nigerian or Western Nigerian ways. This is because the different lifestyles call for different clothing styles.


Pre-colonial fashionEdit

Nigerian traditional clothing has reflected the cultures of Nigeria's hundreds of ethnic groups. In pre-colonial times, Nigerians wore their traditional garb all of the time. In modern times, many Nigerians only wear traditional clothing for special occasions, or to work on Fridays, and also for religious gatherings e.g. in the church or the mosque.

Edo nationEdit

Edo people in traditional clothing

The Edo People are made up of the Binis, Afemais, Esan, etc. The Benin Kingdom is one of the oldest and culturally rich pre-colonial African Kingdoms. Edo traditional clothing has lots of color and the people often wear beads, which symbolize royalty and freedom.[citation needed]

Urhobo/Isoko NationEdit

The Urhobo people and Isoko people are major ethnic groups in Nigeria's Delta State, migrants from the Edo nation, according to oral history. Combined, they make up the fifth largest ethnic group in Nigeria. They have very similar languages, cultures, and traditional clothing. Many wear Georgian wrappers and lace shirts, accessorized with cowboy hats, walking sticks, and beads on the hands and neck.[citation needed]

Yoruba NationEdit

A Yoruba bride

The Yoruba People occupy South Western and North-Central Nigeria, living in such states as Lagos, Oyo, Ekiti, Kwara, Kogi, Ondo, Ogun, and Osun. They are one of the three major ethnic groups of Nigeria. The Yoruba men traditionally wear a "Buba" and "Sokoto", sometimes with an "Agbada", an oversized cloth worn like a jacket and a "Fila", a traditional cap. Women on the other hand wear a "Buba" and "Iro" and tie a "Gele" over their heads and "Ipele" over the shoulders. The Gele and Ipele must match. "Buba" is like a shirt for men and a low round neck top for women.[3]

Igbo NationEdit

An Igbo man

The Igbo People—an umbrella term for groups such as Mbaise, Ika, Aniocha, Ikwerre(disputed), and Orlu—occupy South Eastern and parts of South-Southern Nigeria, living in such states as Anambra, Enugu, Imo, Abia, Ebonyi, Delta, and Rivers. The Igbo are one of the three major ethnic groups of Nigeria. The stereotype about Igbos is that they do well in business. The Igbo women dress with beads. Some Igbo groups tie a white wrapper across their shoulders.[citation needed]

Hausa/Kanuri/Fulani NationEdit

The Hausa people, Kanuri people, and Fulani people occupy Northern Nigeria. They have similar cultures, clothing, and languages. They are the largest grouping in Nigeria and make up the major ethnic group. The men dress with a Kaftan or Jalabiya.[citation needed]

Ibibio couple in trad

Efik/Ibibio/Annang/Oron/Eket NationEdit

The Efik people and Ibibio people occupy Akwa-Ibom and Cross-River States in South-Southern Nigeria, migrants from Cameroon in pre-colonial times, according to oral tradition. Their dress resembles that of the Igbo people, with some major differences.[citation needed]

Ijaw NationEdit

The Ijaw people occupy Bayelsa, Rivers, Delta, Akwa-Ibom and Ondo States. They make up the fourth largest ethnic group in Nigeria. They have cultural similarities with the neighbouring Itsekiri and Urhobo/Isoko people and dress like them.[citation needed]

Itsekiri NationEdit

The Itsekiris are a minority ethnic group whose people occupy Delta South. Itsekiris live in Warri North, Warri South, Warri South West, and Sapele. The Itsekiris were originally Yoruba people, but migrated and mixed with the Edo, Urhobo, and Ijaw people as well as the Portuguese. Itsekiris dress like the Urhobos and Ijaws. Their royalty put on white with a colored girdle depending on the occasion.[citation needed]

Colonial and post-colonial fashionEdit

During colonialism and into the modern period, Nigerians slowly began to adopt Western styles of dress, including blouses, skirts, dress pants, and wigs. This transition was especially prevalent in schools and government, however fashion in the rural areas has not changed significantly over this period.

In his 1971 song, "Gentleman," Fela Kuti mocked Nigerians who rejected their native garb for English suits when they achieved success.[4] His confident lyrics, "I no be gentleman at all-o, I be Africa man, original", provided commentary on those who had inferiority complexes about their non-Western cultures and lost their roots.[4][5]

Over time, Nigerian fashion began to mirror the country's status as an independent nation.[4] Nigerians embraced traditional clothing in urban areas, professional work environments, and church.

Textiles and weavingEdit

Weaving in Nigeria is traced to Eastern Nigeria. Archaeological evidence of early textiles supposedly woven from brass and leaf fibers has been discovered and they date over a thousand years. But whether strips were woven simultaneously or individually is difficult to say, as no further evidence was available to corroborate this.[2]

Kano cloths is the 1590s, was said to be used as currency. Researchers such as Barth (1851) observed that dyed and woven cotton were the main products of Kano. He described over 20 different kinds of cloth made in Kano and all its environs.[2]

During the later part of 1800s, locally woven fabrics were exported to other parts of Nigeria and other countries. This was sadly reduced by the large imports of printed cloth from England, which could be purchased more cheaply than hand-woven fabrics. Still, the hand woven cloth remains treasured for important ceremonies and events. This was bolstered by the nationalism generated by the independence in 1960.[2]

Example of an ankara dress

There are two primary types of weaving done on two different types of looms, in Nigeria, especially in the Western region. While men and youth use a narrow, horizontal loom with meddles and treadles to weave strips of cloth infinite yardage, the women are primarily responsible for growing and processing the fibre for weaving. In towns like Oyo and Ilorin, the people plant, cultivate and harvest cotton fibres. They also spin and dye.[2]

Ankara fabric, not referring to the capital of Turkey of the same name, is a 100% cotton fabric filled with vibrant patterns and African motifs. It is commonly referred to as Dutch wax or Holland wax, African print, or African wax prints.[6] Ankara print Fabrics are made through an Indonesian wax-resist dyeing technique called Batik.In this technique, methods are used to "resist" the dye from reaching all the cloth, thereby creating a pattern. The lack of divergence in color intensity helps with the determination of the (front) right and (back) wrong side of the fabric. Ankara print fabrics are most often sold in 12 yards as "full piece" or 6 yards as "half piece". The fabric company/producer, The type of fabric/product and registration number is printed on the selvage of the fabric, to notify people of the quality and to protect the designs from imitators.[6]

The wax fabric can be sorted into categories of quality due to the processes of manufacturing. The colors comply with the local preferences of the costumers. Some wax prints can be named after personalities, cities, building, sayings or occasions.[6] The Nigerian textile industry is very strong, and nearly all the cloth produced in Nigeria goes to clothing the large Nigerian population.[7]

Ankara Print fabrics can be worn for both regular outings, and some people wear it as "aso ebi" for special occasions such as birthday celebrations, weddings, balls, etc. Aso ebi is a Yoruba word and means "clothes of the family". Family members, relatives and close friends usually dress up in the same print for a special occasion.[6]

There has also been a reawakening of Nigerians to fashionably embrace local fabrics like aso-oke,[8] adire, and Nigerian wax. Some designers, like Ituen Basi, opt to only use Nigerian wax in their designs; she has even designed a line of ankara footwear, jewelry, bags, and accessories. This print craze recently caught on with the Western fashion world and this time, Africa, specifically Nigeria, has become a major muse.[1]


Embroidery is like a stamp of African aesthetic on an outfit. Modern designs are given exotic embroidery patterns in order to marry western and African imprints. The history of embroidery in Nigeria dates back to centuries, and it has become integral part of Nigerian dressing. Among the Nupe and Hausa research has proved that embroidery has been a long tradition and it is used on many types of garments, from Hausa farmers cloths to riding robes and ceremonial apparels.[2]

The embroidery done on men's clothes is traditionally made with dark stitches with asymmetrical and non-representational designs. Gorgeously, voluminous robes, intricately embroidered are a symbol of prestige and rank for men in Nupe and Hausa communities. Designs of the Nupe embroiders are well known and prized by Nupe and Hausa people. Three types of stitches are primarily used. They are the chain stitch, the buttonhole stitch and couching. The stitching is done with either imported or silk thread on either imported or hand-woven cloth. Often, silk thread in its own creamy color called Tsmia in Hausa is used for the most prestigious Rigona robes on hand-woven narrow band cloth which is most times, creamy in color.[2]

There are still other types of embroidery designs in the country. These embroidered cloths are used as bedspread, tablecloth or wall hangings. Some artists say the colorful and cheerful cloths are the examples of "folk art". But the Hausa call it "Hausa bridal sheets". What is note worthy in these cloths is that the embroidery designs and traditional house decorations have similar motifs.[2]

Embroidery was not also natural to the Igbo but surface designs for body paintings were easily converted to embroidery designs for table linens in the Igbo town of Arochukwu. Yoruba men have also used some embroidery on clothing, round the neck of their traditional agbada.[2]


There was time in Nigeria when headgear popularly called "gele" (another Yoruba word) was almost compulsory for Nigerian women. In the 1950s and 1960s, gele was for the fashion diva of that time, the ultimate headgear. The women proudly wore gele to the admiration of other women from other climes.[2]

The glory of gele was however, highest in 1960, the year of Independence. Lagos was agog that year and to reflect the festive mood, Nigerian women wasted no time in upgrading the fashion to catch the euphoria of the moment. Different headgears also came in with the euphoria one of which was Onilegororo. This was one of the sky-scrapping head gears and it marked a new level of sophistication and the status symbol for society women. Today the members of the wealthy elite are easily identifiable by their fancy clothing and hairstyles.[9] Onilegororo, after the independence, was quickly replaced by Flora Azikiwe, the style, in honour of late First Lady and wife of the president of the new republic. From then, it became the vogue to name headgears after public edifices and personalities, from Nnamdi Azikiwe to Johnson Aguiyi-Ironsi, Yakubu Gown, Eko Bridge and National Electric Power Authority (NEPA). NEPA, patterned after the statute of Sango, god of thunder and lightning, which is the logo for NEPA, came into being in the 70s as a mark of recognition of the once mighty corporation. In appreciation of the beauty and architectural excellence of the National Theatre, a replica was fashioned by the lists which became known is National Theatre headgear.[2]

But after the euphoria of independence warned, the love for headgear waned too. By the 1980s, following the ban on importation, the inflow of headgears reduced dramatically and with it, the imagination of the ingenious stylists whose fort it was to come up will names and styles. The Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) played a significant role in demise of the gele. The fall of the national currency, the naira, forced the prices of gele out of the reach of the average Nigerian woman. The urge then was to satisfy the stomach. This out weighed the desire to spend some time for fashion, as it also required expensive accessory. Gele, to many people, became an occasional wear for Sundays, parties, weddings and other special occasions.[2]

The changing circumstances in the affairs of the gele gave way to a deeper westernization of the average Nigerian teenager's dressing that very rarely do young women wear gele or traditional attire show in their wardrobe. So, while the gele is for grand occasions like the Christmas and special events, the vogue for her is the hat, the ultimate headpiece. The anger against this is not the appreciation of western dressing but the total rejection for what is African. This danger has perhaps, made some fashion hat designers create a modern version of the gele.[2]

Further researches and studies in the art of hat making have led to the introduction of relevant and constant invitations. The innovations have made hats come to stay as part of modern Nigerian fashion, leading to introduction of "group hats", uniform hats. Hats are made of different materials such as cynamay, a soft material dyed into a variety of colors and shades. Cynamay can be moved, twisted and cut into different shapes. It is light and suitable for the African weather.[2]

There are also straw hats, the knotted style and the pail boxes. Some are designed with feathers and flowers such as roses and ornament, like sequins. About 80 per cent of the materials are imported. But the preferred hat colors, many people say, are silver, gold and platinum. But hat the colors in vogue are hot pink, lemon and orange.[2]

Notable fashion designers and housesEdit

Nigerian publications such as Flair West Africa (formerly called True Love Magazine), Genevieve, TW and Arise; websites like,,,,, showcase and promote Nigerian fashion.[1] Nigerian fashion has created female entrepreneurs and has improved the Nigerian economy by creating jobs and opportunities.[10]

The Nigerian fashion industry according to designer Maki-Oh suffers from, "Mediocrity, electricity [problems] and quality control." There are no bodies regulating the fashion industry and there are no government incentives to support newcomers. There are issues of finishing which nearly every designer suffers from as most of them rely on self-taught tailors. The result is an expensive price tag for less than perfect products.[1]

Helen Jennings notes, "the success of the new generation of designers, models and fashion scenes around Africa is a reflection of Africa's success as a whole. The continent is gradually emerging as a global power thanks to increased trade and investment between Africa and the rest of the world and improved political stability and economic growth in burgeoning democracies such as Nigeria."[11]

The Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN) is the recognized body for the Fashion Designers Profession and was duly incorporated in 1989 by the then Federal Ministry of Trade and Corporate Affairs. The formidable association of fashion designers now has state chapters all over the country.

Here are some of the notable Nigerian fashion houses/centers of today:

Duro OlowuEdit

Born of a Jamaican mother and a Nigerian father, Duro Olowu was raised in Lagos. He arrived on the London fashion scene in 2004 and has impressed the right people with his vibrant mix of African prints, seventies tailoring, and unlikely color combos. A high-waisted patchwork boho dress—known as the "Duro"—put the brand on the fashion map, and became a cult item in 2005 after being discovered by American Vogue editor Sally Singer and Julie Gilhart of Barneys.[12]

The patterns and colors of his designs, which are sold to concept stores like Ikram in Chicago and Biffi in Milan, seem intrinsically African, but they are often European.[13]

Deola SagoeEdit

Sagoe began designing in 1989 and has gained international notoriety for her lively, and colorful designs. She was recently appointed to represent Nigeria in a new international campaign organized by the United Nations World Food Program. The campaign, titled "Catwalk the World: Fashion for Food.", began in Nigeria in April 2006 and recently staged an event in Ghana which brought celebrities like Damon Dash, his wife, designer Rachel Roy, and Ghanaian-born, London-based designer Ozwald Boateng. The campaign's goal is to raise money towards halving the number of hungry people in the world, particularly children, by 2015. Sagoe frequently exhibits her couture collection at Cape Town Fashion Week and has been an invited guest of New York Fashion Week in the past. Sagoe has won the "Africa Designs" and the MNET/ Anglo Gold African designs 2000 awards for which she was nominated by Andre Leon Tally, US Vogue editor.

Lisa FolawiyoEdit

She started her label "Jewel by Lisa" in 2005 from her home, after which she became an internationally recognised name and brand, having showrooms in Nigeria as well as New York.[14] Her collections are also showcased in the US, the UK, Nigeria and South Africa.[15][16] She won the Africa Fashion Award in 2012 and was featured in Vogue Italia, the holy grail of fashion worldwide. In 2015 she was featured in the prestigious BOF500, which is a list of fashion brands that are shaping the international fashion scene. She was one of a few Nigerians who made it on the list.[16] Lisa Folawiyo has a background in law, which she studied at the University of Nigeria, Nsukka.[17][18][19][17]

Maki Oh by Amaka OsakweEdit

Osakwe studied at the Arts University Bournemouth where she received a BA in fashion studies. In autumn/winter 2010 she launched her label. Inspired by rural Ghana's Dipo rites-of-passage ceremony, during which girls taking part are partially naked and ornately adorned, Osakwe has played with cloaking and ornamentation using traditional African fabrics. Recently her label was discovered by the U.S. fashion scene in 2012, when she presented her designs at the New York Fashion Week.[20] She relates the legacy of their country with one, if they dyed their brands by hand with indigo leaves and painted the pattern with a paste made from cassava. Adire is the traditional method.

International stars such as singers Beyoncé and Rihanna or Hollywood actress Kerry Washington have discovered the Nigerian designer outfits for themselves. U.S. First Lady, Michelle Obama, well-known being a style icon, wore during summer 2013 trip to South Africa a blouse of Nigerian designer Maki Oh.[21][22] Her designs also have been worn by the likes of Solange Knowles and Leelee Sobieski and by Nigerian TV presenter Eku Edewor. One signature of her brand is that it's dyed by hand using the traditional textile arte process Adire. Another is her way of combining Western silhouettes and native materials and motifs—to wit, a lace-blouse-and-pencil-skirt set appliquéd with unsettling raffia eyeballs.[23] She was named Designer of the Year by African fashion magazine ARISE.


Founded in 2006 by Patience Torlowei.[24]

Mai AtafoEdit

a Nigerian bespoke fashion tailor and an alumnus of Leeds-based Savile Row Academy.


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