by 

La Chica Moda

The fashion industry sells fantasy, and while you might be one of those strong enough to resist the spell they cast, but for the average person, it could prove quite alluring. The designer shows in the major fashion cities can be likened to live-action remakes of the fairy tale books you grew up reading. The collection stories come alive for the 40 or so minutes that you sit watching the gazelle-like models strut the runway in regal gowns or provoking pieces from the Alexander McQueen of old (RIP). The publications go mad for the coming weeks, raving about designers that wowed them and dragging those who deserve it. Celebrities adorned in the designers they came out to support and titbits from some of the best after-parties you weren’t invited to are on every other glossy page. The industry saw how well the runways, better still the hallowed ‘fashion week’ was selling the dream. They had consumers in a trance and found a way to leverage this. Fashion Week became ripe for spin-off consumer events such as the London Fashion Week Festival (nee London Fashion Weekend) and Vogue’s Fashion’s Night Out – an opportunity to even further grow the trade.

Coming back home, we see a slightly different approach to growing the trade. Lagos Fashion and Design Week (LFDW) adopted the latter strategy when it launched – a smart one by the way. Rarely do you see major fashion week platforms starting off with consumer-focused events mainly because of the powers that be, or rather used to be. Big press and international retailers solely determined the fate of designers at a point and theirs was the only approval really sought. One strange non-approving side eye from Anna Wintour during your show could mean your collection was toast. But this top-down model has been disrupted by social media and e-commerce, which has led to the rise of influencers driving the ‘what’s hot’ and global direct to consumer retail options that reduce the power of the big retailers. Now I don’t know if LFDW thought about all of these before launching but I couldn’t have done it better myself. LFDW understood that the Nigerian fashion market was at an infant stage, with little to no authoritative publications or other media formats to get the word out effectively- there was no pull to get the international cohort into Lagos and consumers needed to be educated on the potential of the industry because the value in our designers wasn’t clear. To mitigate these structural issues, fashion week here cannot just be accessible to an exclusive few. Who would this few be and can they even make the required impact?

LFDW had a vision- it was going to be a catalyst for the growth of the sector.  However, it is one thing to organise a show for about 40 journalists and 20 buyers in a transformed abandoned warehouse and it is another thing to organise a similar fashion event open to the public. In most cases, you need corporate sponsors to make such events possible and the larger organisations are often eager to sink their teeth into such ventures attracting hoards of consumers. With corporate funding comes expectations, and if the sponsor fails to truly understand the vision, things could go awry quickly. Some sponsors eat away at the purpose of the events in the name of corporate branding and if you fail to meet their terms, they might just go off and replicate it.   

So is GTbank Fashion Weekend really a threat to Lagos Fashion Week?

I think the real question is, are they really even in competition with each other or has each in some way carved a unique offering and space in which they occupy? I would say that for now, at first glance, they may seem to be offering something similar but underneath it all, the difference is in the purpose.

Having met LFDW Founder, Omoyemi Akerele and followed her career for a while now, I see the heart, blood, sweat and tears that goes into LFDW and the other platforms she ventures into. Very rarely do I meet people in this industry that truly just want the creatives to flourish. For her, it is about creativity, designers who can go the distance and those who know that the fashion calendar has no place for haphazard collections. She understands the art, but also the commercial elements. Show her that and she is willing to invest in you. LFDW is passionate about the fashion value chain and its sustainability. Other programs like Fashion Focus for younger designers, Green Access to encourage social, economic and environmentally sustainable fashion brands and Lagos FW Showrooms are evidence of this. Here, we have a platform that understands what the global fashion industry expects. The platform is not without flaws of course. For one, I think the production could be better. However, LFDW is setting a standard for designers that will serve them well. LFDW is important for the export of our fashion culture and nurturing our young talent because it cares, but when you try to merge this with consumerism while still trying to convince people about the value of the art and craftsmanship, the slope could prove slippery. 

On the other hand, GTBank is a very commercially focused entity. They are probably better suited (financially and otherwise) to produce the sort of experience such consumer targeted events require. They can afford to fly in Vogue UK’s Publishing Director, Vanessa Kingori and Dapper Dan without thinking twice, rent out much bigger spaces, manage an army of vendors and hire enough people to be better organized. This is not to say that LFDW cannot do the same, I just think it might have outgrown this. What GTBank Fashion Week lacks in true purpose it makes up for in scalability and a shameless understanding of consumerism, which is an important part of actually growing the fashion industry within Nigeria. LFDW has taken a while to hack the commercial aspect, even though its roots trace back to a strong consumer focus (tickets to the shows are open to the public). I think the strategic priority of LFDW should shift away from the final consumers in the medium term, but I understand that consumers are another source of funding and the industry is not big enough just yet to garner more of a pull from the kingmakers.

LFDW allows designers truly bask in their creativity and this creates the allure likened to the Paris, Milan, New York and London Fashion Weeks; not quite the same but it is on its way there if the LFDW Autumn/Winter 2018 presentations are something to go off of. LDFW crawled, so GTBank FW could run and that’s that on that. GTBank is living off of the emotional appeal LFDW has created and it is using this as an avenue to push brands that are more affordable to Nigerians with its trade show like format. I have no problem with this. In fact, I think it is important to have this if we are to fulfil the dream of Nigerians buying Nigerian fashion brands much quicker. Someone needs to keep the consumers engaged, while the other works on improving the quality of our art and how it is presented to the world. LFDW has credibility and that is still a key currency in the global fashion industry so it can still hold its own in a slightly different way. It has the power to lure in those buyers and international press that can make a difference for our talented designers, particularly those at the higher end of the market. We need the world to come to us and experience our fashion in its fullness without chasing. If not, to the rest of the world we will remain an up and coming market.

There is no reason why both platforms can’t work in synergy, London Fashion Week and London Fashion Week Festival are doing this brilliantly and the British Fashion Industry is better off for this. Yes, both events are technically run by the same body but we are no strangers to collaboration, especially at such a tender stage like this, where growth is key. LFW and GTBank FW both have unique roles to play in changing the commercial value of fashion in and out of Nigeria.