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In Africa’s fashion capital, Lagos, ‘trad is swag’

Lack of space in Lagos, a sprawling megacity of 20 million inhabitants, has meant there are few shopping centres and ready-to-wear clothing stores are hard to find/AFP

Lagos, Nigeria, Jun 14 – Leggy dancers in tight shorts, bottles of Moet champagne and flashy cars feature in Nigerian pop icon Wizkid’s bling-bling music videos.

But the singer himself has now swapped the Versace T-shirts and low-slung jeans that show his underwear for traditional African dress — a new youth trend in fashion hub Lagos.

Last year, Vogue voted Wizkid “Nigeria’s best-dressed pop singer”, a particularly coveted and prestigious title in a country where appearance is all important and competition is fierce.

Clothing that used to be considered only for the old or for people out in the provinces is setting the trend in fashion, from the Yoruba agbada, a large, triple-layered robe worn in the southwest, to the Igbo “Niger Delta” embroidered collarless shirt from the south, and the northern Hausa babariga, a long tunic worn with an embroidered asymmetrical hat.

In recent years, this traditional clothing — or “trad” as it’s dubbed — can be seen in offices as well as nightclubs, and at weddings and business meetings.

“It’s the in-thing now,” Wizkid told Vogue magazine.

“When I’m back home, all I wear is African fabrics. I get material from different parts of Nigeria — north, west, south — and I mix it up,” said the 26-year-old superstar.

Lack of space in Lagos, a sprawling megacity of 20 million inhabitants, has meant there are few shopping centres and ready-to-wear clothing stores are hard to find.

Economic recession and the free fall of the naira currency has put paid to wealthy Nigerians’ shopping sprees in Dubai, Paris and Milan.

Instead, they’ve had to make do with what’s on offer locally, sending the popularity of roadside tailors soaring.

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‘Trad is swag’ 

In 2012, Omobolaji Ademosu, known as B.J., left his job in a bank to set up his own line of men’s clothing, Pro7ven.

In two tiny workshops in Ojodu, on the outskirts of Lagos, his dozen employees cut, sew and iron a series of orders to the sound of a diesel generator.

B.J. calls his style “African contemporary”.

His work includes magnificent made-to-measure agbadas with embroidered collars, which can sell for up to 150,000 naira ($475, 420 euros) each.

“Trad is swag,” smiled B.J.

“Any day, I can switch from Yoruba to Igbo to Fulani, I’m rocking it! It’s the Lagos spirit, there is no barrier, we are one.”

When attending professional meetings in business and politics, dressing in the ethnic outfit of your host is a sign of respect that can really pay off — or at least win big contracts.

Nigerian President Muhammadu Buhari’s election campaign in 2015, for example, featured him in a variety of traditional outfits from across the country.

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With more than 500 ethnic groups, Nigeria is able to draw from a huge catalogue of fabrics, styles and jewellery.

The beauty of each ethnic look is a source of pride, which has begun to extend beyond Nigeria’s borders.

In early May, Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, a spokesman for South Africa’s Economic Freedom Fighters party, posted a picture of himself on Instagram, dressed in a dark “Niger Delta” outfit, complete with wide-brimmed hat and gemstone necklace.

His numerous and enthusiastic female fans were quick to comment with emoji hearts, affectionately calling him “Igwe” —  an Igbo prince.

Retained ‘African Pride’ 

“Even in Paris, young people from the diaspora want to present themselves as African princes now,” said Nelly Wandji, owner of MoonLook, an African fashion boutique in the upmarket Rue du Faubourg St-Honore.

“Nigeria is clearly the leader in fashion in terms of style, creativity and number of recognised designers,” she said on a recent visit to Lagos.

“Lagos Fashion Week has dethroned Johannesburg. Nigerians have remained much more authentic, they have retained ‘African pride’, whereas South Africa is very Europeanised.”

Wandji, who is French of Cameroonian heritage, said the fashion trend was due to the African diaspora, of which Nigerians were the main ambassadors by sheer weight of numbers.

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“Young people from the diaspora are the drivers of African fashion, they have reappropriated their culture and made it trendy because it’s seen in Europe or the United States,” she said.

Gloria Odiaka, a petite woman in her 50s, is the successful owner of a luxury traditional fabric shop in Lekki, a well-heeled Lagos neighbourhood.

“The young generation are into native wear and they look gorgeous,” she said.

“My sons study in Canada and when I go visit them they say, ‘Please, Mommy, buy us some trads, I’m done with Canadian T-shirts’,” she said with a laugh.

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