Lagos, Nigeria | AFP | 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.
– ‘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.
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.
“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.
The high cost of cheap fashion”: there’s no greater cliché in the popular discourse about ethics and fashion. Countless books, articles, documentaries, and online social spaces are devoted to presenting and reinforcing this idea.
For its purveyors, the phrase is meant not only as a wake-up call but a call to action. “The high cost of cheap fashion” alerts consumers to the degrading labor conditions and environmental practices that are involved in the production of cheap trendy clothes, or so-called fast fashion. It implores consumers to quit shopping at fast-fashion retailers, to stop being duped by cheap prices and the short cut to fashion trends.
What may feel like a fashion steal, we’re told, is actually robbing workers of a living wage and safe working conditions, and robbing legitimate designers of their creative property. Like fast food’s convenient but empty calories, fast fashion offers a quick but ultimately empty fix. Paying more for clothes, fast fashion critics insist, is not only the ethical thing to do — it is the fashionable thing to do.
Opposing fast fashion is intuitively appealing. It often springs from a genuine desire to make the world a better place, to limit exploitation, and foster creativity.
But it’s critically flawed. To decry this low-level, already stigmatized market is to either misunderstand or intentionally ignore the structural relationships and realities of the larger fashion system. Anti–fast fashion stances give rise to racist, class-biased, and ahistorical myths about garment workers, budget fashion consumers, and luxury fashion. And in doing so, they leave intact the very practices they’re intent on decrying.
New York, NY. purpletwinkie / Flickr
Fast fashion is only one market within a massive apparel industry. While it’s undeniably a commercial powerhouse, its cultural influence is negligible. Its business model is based on seeking out — not defining — cultural trends and then producing and delivering them months or sometimes days before peer and upmarket competitors. In this way, fast fashion markets play an important, if under-recognized, role in sustaining the larger apparel industry. Mass-market versions of luxury designs compel elite consumers and brands to search for new trends in order to distinguish themselves from the mass market.
Despite their crucial role, however, fast-fashion designs generally don’t capture headlines or public attention unless: (1) they’re accused of copying a luxury brand; (2) a luxury brand is caught replicating a fast fashion garment (as with Saint Laurent’s recent knockoff of a Forever 21 dress); or (3) they’re the subject of an anti–fast fashion news story.
The central myth of anti–fast fashion discourse is that low prices signify low standards of production (and a lower-quality product), while high prices indicate high standards of production (and a high-quality product). This is what economists call “the Veblen effect,” named for Thorstein Veblen, who in 1899 theorized that expensive goods appealed to elites as status symbols.
Today, more expensive fashions are still associated with higher-status consumers whose tastes are not just “better” but also morally superior, ethically discriminating, and knowledgeable about the “high costs of cheap fashion.” Anti-fast fashion campaigns urge consumers to avoid budget retailers to show that they stand against the exploitation of fashion workers and intellectual property theft. Those who don’t heed their call and switch to buying more expensive goods are complicit in the horrors of fast fashion.
Yet it isn’t just fast fashion brands that copy other designers or use sweatshop labor. These practices exist across the industry, from budget to luxury fashion. It’s not uncommon to find workers in the same factory producing both fast fashion and luxury fashion garments, or to find them making both the “original designs” and the fast-fashion versions.
And severe worker abuses and health and safety violations have been repeatedly reported in factories making clothes for the likes of Prada, Burberry, Valentino, Calvin Klein, Ralph Lauren, Donna Karen, and Tommy Hilfiger. The presence of a high-end fashion label does not automatically mean that labor rights have been observed.
In fact, the working conditions in some mass-market companies are actually better than those in some upscale companies. A journalist citing an online consumer resource called GoodGuide finds that “Levi’s and Nike got much better overall scores than Givenchy and Céline. H&M fared better than Donna Karan.”
What fast-fashion critics miss is that all apparel companies are enmeshed in a system of global capitalism, and all are subject to its profit-driven logic. Worker exploitation and health and safety violations plague the entire industry.
Invectives against the amorality or stupidity of fast-fashion consumers (predominantly but not exclusively working-class and poor people) misses this entirely, while giving a pass to elite consumers whose clothes are just as likely to be produced in deplorable conditions. Anti–fast fashion messages end up blaming poor people — the victims of global capitalism — for the ills of global capitalism.
Urging working-class and poor people to shop at Barney’s instead of Forever 21 suggests that the least powerful consumers are responsible for fixing the depredations of capitalism. But buying more expensive clothes based on some misguided code of ethics does nothing to reduce global capitalism’s racially gendered divisions of labor, opportunities, and rewards. Fashion cycles — crucial for turning the wheels of capitalism — will roll on even if poor people go into (more) financial debt.
Often, shaming fast-fashion consumers takes on a racist cast. In contemporary anti–fast fashion campaigns, black, Latina, and especially Asian women and girls are represented as passive and powerless victims of sweatshop fashion. This one-dimensional stereotype obscures the years of labor activism, organizing, and protest and replaces it with a savior narrative in which wealthy, enlightened, American and European consumers are rescuing poor, immigrant, and/or Third World women of color from the sweatshop — all just by shopping. But garment workers have never been just passive witnesses.
From the Triangle Shirtwaist Strike in New York City in 1909 (the largest work stoppage in the United States at the time) to the massive Chinese Ladies Garment Workers strike in San Francisco’s Chinatown in 1938 (which lasted fifteen weeks) to more recent actions by workers in and from the Philippines, Cambodia, India, Bangladesh, and Indonesia, garment employees have long resisted oppressive conditions.
And as active agents, they’ve engaged with the very fashions they produce. Garment workers, the vast majority of whom are women and girls, are some of the first people to see fashion trends emerge, evolve, and die out. They’re structurally, if not socially, positioned ahead of the fashion cycle curve. Their embeddedness in the global apparel and fashion media systems also means they’re surrounded by the cultural meanings and significance of prevailing aesthetics.
The actual and promised pleasures of shopping, getting dressed, and feeling beautiful, sophisticated, and hip are not confined to the consumers of the advanced capitalist world or to elite fashion markets.
The Limits of Ethical Consumerism
My intention isn’t to defend fast-fashion brands. My point is simply that any critique of fast fashion’s exploitation, inequality, and abuse must indict elite markets as well.
Critics should also be cognizant of the limits of ethical consumerism. Calls for change that emphasize individual rather than systemic reform are, at best, empty gestures, and at worst, sanctimonious moralizing. Any meaningful consumer activism must work in solidarity with garment workers. It must organize its efforts around the explicit demands of garment workers themselves. Consumer activism that focuses on shaming fast-fashion buyers, or rashly calls for boycotts of specific companies, risks undermining workers’ organizing efforts.
International unions have been urging fashion brands around the world to sign onto legally binding agreements for living wages and worker safety. Two of these agreements are the Bangladesh Accord on Fire and Building Safety and ACT (Action, Collaboration, Transformation), an initiative launched by the global union IndustriALL.
Who are the current signatories of both agreements? Predominantly fast-fashion brands (including H&M, ASOS, Inditex [Zara], Primark, Target, and TopShop). Luxury goods conglomerates Gucci Group and LVMH are conspicuously absent.
The first-of-its-kind nine day fashion sale by online shopping website Flipkart, ‘Fashion Days Sale’ begins today and there is something for all kinds of fashion addicts. The end-of-season sale that will go on till June 18, has some pretty steep discounts on some of the biggest brands of fashion clothing and accessories. Products like jeans, t-shirts, tops, dresses, sports wear for both men and women, sunglasses, watches and even , bags, sports accessories and footwear from brands like Addidas and others, are on sale at Flipkart.
Here are some of the deals that you just can’t afford to miss today:
1. Upto 60 per cent discount on makeup and beauty products from Maybelline, Lakme and other top brands. Products like foundation, eye liner, mascara, lipsticks, eye shades, nail polishes and even makeup brushes are available at huge discounts.
2. Upto 70 per cent off on travel and trolley bags, suitcases, backpacks and handbags from Giordano.
3. Skmei, Sanda, S Shock and other sports watches are available for under Rs 999, starting from as low as Rs 470. The sale also features fashion watches from Timex and Fastrack at discounts that go up to as much as 80 per cent.
4. Running, hiking, trekking and other heavy duty and normal sports shoes from Wildcraft, Nike, Fila, Adidas, Reebok, are also available on discounts that go up to 50 per cent.
5. Casual tops for women start from Rs 300, with discounts of as much as 70 per cent. There is a discount of upto 50 per cent on women’s tunics as well.
There are additional discounts for payments application Phone Pe and also HDFC customers who use the shopping card to make purchases. The sale is expected to rake in big monies for the website that is looking to clear its stocks with this end-of-season sale. The website has done something different this time, by curating wardrobes according to preferences of shoppers with sections like Diva, Workaholic, Sports Guru, etc.