Five Contemporary Fashion Brands Led by Nigerian Women
Fashion may seem like a lifestyle and industry dominated by women – they make up majority of fashion and retail employees, and make up to 80% of all fashion purchasing decisions, spending 226% more than male shoppers – but the truth is that most of the world’s leading fashion houses are headed up by men. About 14% of the top 50 major fashion brands are run by women. But, as with many industries and areas of business, fashion certainly has many innovative and smart women who are working within it and creating some of the most interesting collections around.
The Nigerian fashion industry has greatly grown in size and reputation over the last decade, with the country’s contributions accounting for 15% of the $31 billion that the African fashion industry is worth, making it the fastest-growing sector on the continent. This is down to the new generation of designers and creatives at the forefront, many of them women.
From self-taught designers to students of the craft and business women using their skills to run globally minded operations, below are five Nigerian brands headed by talented female designers who are pushing the African narrative forward through fashion.
Teni Sagoe, co-founder and creative director, CLAN
Contemporary ready-to-wear brand CLAN was founded by three Nigerian sisters with serious fashion pedigree: Teni, Aba, and Tiwa Sagoe learned the trade of the fashion industry from their mother Deola Sagoe, of the highly coveted Nigerian brand Deola. As young girls, the Sagoe sisters watched their mother become successful in the fashion industry through which they learned the importance of hard work and dedication, developing a keen eye for design along the way.
The oldest, Teni Sagoe, serves as the designer and creative director of the brand, after abandoning her plans of becoming a corporate lawyer and choosing to express the beauty of Nigerian culture and empower women through clothing. CLAN, which recently celebrated 10 years in the business, produces minimalist yet elegant designs with a creative edge for the modern woman: think shift dresses and sharp suits and smart separates. The perfect ambassador for her work, Teni can often be seen wearing her designs for CLAN at various events, from weddings to vacations.
Dumebi Andrea Iyamah, founder and creative director, Andrea Iyamah
Back in 2011, when Dumebi Andrea Iyamah was just a 17-year-old student, she founded her eponymous line of chic swimwear and resortwear for women. Iyamah taught herself how to tailor out of her desire to create an African brand that could appeal to a global audience. Today, the designer runs her business operations internationally, splitting her time between Lagos and Toronto.
Season after season, Andrea Iyamah delivers colorful pieces that balance African design sensibilities with modern femininity, creating stylish swimsuits, dresses and separates for the ever-evolving woman. The brand’s signatures include motifs inspired by Iyamah’s African heritage, nature, delicate draping and sleek silhouettes rendered in vibrant mood-boosting hues that inject a touch of glamor into any wardrobe.
Kanyinsola Onalaja, founder and designer, Onalaja
Nigerian-born Kanyinsola Onalaja did not grow up wanting to be a fashion designer. Although she had a talent for drawing and was exposed to the textile industry by her mother, her initial plans were to study law in the UK. Eventually, Onalaja decided to pursue her creative calling and went on to study fashion design at Italy’s prestigious Istituto Marangoni fashion school, before starting her namesake brand in 2014.
Her love of craftsmanship and textile is evident in her designs for Onalaja, which are full of shimmering evening gowns, sequinned dresses and textured separates. Fusing her Nigerian heritage with Italian design and a British sensibility, Onalaja designs “wearable art” for modern women. “The most important thing for me is representing my culture and my heritage because I think a lot of people have a vision of Africa and, within the pieces, I would like to tell people about the Africa they don’t really see… It’s not all what you see in the media,” she says.
Abiola Adeniran-Olusola, founder and designer, Abiola Olusola
Born and raised in Nigeria, designer Abiola Adeniran-Olusola credits the well-dressed family members she was surrounded by with her interest in fashion. Abiola studied fine art and fashion at the Paris outpost of Istituto Marangoni, and returned to Lagos to start her eponymous label in 2017. Describing her brand as “a contemporary women’s wear brand that re-visits vintage Yoruba style and sub-cultures from a minimalist approach… It’s easy, approachable, chic with some unexpected details,” Adeniran-Olusola brings her designs to life with adire fabrics, minimalist silhouettes and traditional craftsmanship. An advocate of Nigerian craft, Adeniran-Olusola produces all her garments locally and makes use of Yoruba textiles by incorporating tie-dye, batik and stamping prints into her designs.
She has shown her collections at Lagos Fashion and Design Week and GTB Fashion Weekend, and received accolades including nominations as designer of the year 2019 by Fashions Finest Africa and an Emerge ALÀRA Fashion finalist.
Salt and Sunscreen
Pinghwa Okorie, founder and creative director, Salt and Sunscreen
Launched in 2019 by Pinghwa Okorie, Salt and Sunscreen is a swimwear brand based on the beauty of an African woman. Designing with the feminine physique and accentuated curves of the Nigerian women she comes across every day in mind, Okorie crafts swimwear to suit and flatter all body types, with an emphasis on comfort and style. “Growing up in Lagos, it was hard to find swimwear that I loved and felt comfortable in. I wanted to create something that was soft on the skin, that was high quality and sophisticated, and that’s how Salt and Sunscreen was born,” Okorie says.
Specializing in one-piece swimsuits, bikinis and coverups, Salt and Sunscreen offers flattering, versatile and chic pieces rendered in bold colors, florals and abstract prints. Embracing slow-fashion practices, the brand’s pieces are all made in Nigeria from high-quality lycra and shaped to suit all women. “As a beach lover and traveler, I’m always looking for pieces that are fashion-forward and chic. Now I can bring that beauty and style into pieces for all women,” says Okorie.