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Nigeria sees growing economic potential in mushrooming fashion industry

posted 9 Nov 2012, 07:57 by Mpelembe   [ updated 9 Nov 2012, 07:58 ]

From the catwalks of Europe, to stores in Asia and celebrity fashion trends in the US, African inspired fashion has taken root. Nigerian fashion designers are crunching the numbers and seeing the business potential of their unique style.

LAGOS, NIGERIA  (REUTERS) -  Fashion trends come and go but Nigeria's unique fashion sense seems to have stood the test of time.

Looking good and being Nigerian go together and designers are working to take that to the bank.

The Lagos Fashion and Design week 2012 recently held in the commercial city was one of many and more regular shows being held in Nigeria to showcase a wealth of designs and new styles.

The four-day event sponsored by Africa's largest telecommunications company, MTN brought together international fashion buyers and local designers.

With big sponsorship and a growing market for locally made clothes, designers are seeing increased demand and profitable business at home and abroad.

"It is rocking right now, I think that it is amazing what we're doing, I mean, I'm wearing Nigerian fashion and I'm wearing it over snickers, so we're rocking it, we're rocking it on stage, we're rocking it for every single major event right now, and that is awesome, that is so amazing, I mean our pieces are selling for over 10,000 naira (64 USD), we're making money," said Eva Alordiah, a Nigerian artist who attended the event.

The show attracted international retailers like Selfridges & Co. of the United Kingdom, giving designers a rare opportunity to secure sales.

Fashion experts say runway shows are good for exposure but getting clothes into stores is an even harder challenge.

Whether its Haute Couture or ready to wear, Nigeria's rich Ankara patterns, also common across the region are seen as one of the unique selling points for Africa.

Wunmi Olufeko is the creative director, for Design for Love a company that specializes in embellished accessories.

"I'm all for production in Africa, because that is what is going to push the economy, you know, the SME'S (Small and Medium Enterprises) are the ones who's going to push the economy, we can't keep waiting for the government to do everything, but things like this help bring the world to Africa and say oh, we're ready and you know, willing to do good work in Africa," said Olufeko.

But while the creatives seem to have found their footing, a struggling textile industry threatens to hold them back.

Once Africa's second largest after Egypt, Nigeria's textile industry provided employment to thousands and brought millions of Naira in revenue.

Before 1997 there were about 37 operational textile companies in Nigeria. Today there are only about 15.

There has also been an influx of mass produced fabric. About 80 percent of textiles sold at Lagos' largest textile market comes mainly from China.

China's textiles trade with Africa is an emotive issue in Nigeria. Many Nigerians blame cheap Chinese imports for the decline of local textiles mills in the past few decades -- although in reality chronic power shortages are also to blame.

The government banned importing printed fabrics and lace into Nigeria in 1995 but this is not being enforced.

Trader, Barry Montugho says illegal traders are even operating within the country despite laws that prohibit foreigners from dealing in certain businesses reserved for locals, like selling clothes.

Authorities recently arrested 45 Chinese illegal textiles traders.

"The Chinese have come to capture the whole business in Nigeria, things are not going well for the business men in the textile industries because the Chinese is doing everything, even in themselves, they are even selling per piece because we the indigenes, the Nigerians are not benefiting much but if the industries are located here in Nigeria, it will be better for us," said Barry.

Some young Nigerians have seen this potential are passionate about exploiting the fashion business.

Kola Kuddus, a local label targeting the modern African man employs about 30 people in it's production line.

The man behind this brand, 30-year-old Yusuf Kolawole Kuddus says designers must highlight the importance of the fashion industry and how, if regulated, it can bring valuable fashion-dollars into the economy.

"The fashion industry is so big, you have the fashion production, you have the textile production, you have the fashion designing, you have the fashion photographers, you have the fashion journalists, it's so big and it can actually take a whole lot of people into the system so if the government is being supportive, and we have private individuals because we know the government can't do anything, everything for us, if we have private individuals supporting the fashion industry, I'm very sure, in a couple of say, five years, we can guarantee another five or ten percent employment opportunity for people on the streets," said Kuddus.

Nigeria's fashion players are striving to be seen as part of the top fashion industries in the world, but this can only be achieved if the government recognises the sector's potential.