Over the past decades, the Nigerian fashion industry has continued to rise in sophistication and size, garnering international interest. From ready-to-wear clothes made from locally sourced fabric to branded merch, the scene has remained as experimental and innovative as possible, giving space for collaborations and more defiant statements.
In 2019, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), recorded a 17% growth in the “textile, apparel and footwear” sector since 2010. This growth can be ascribed to both an increase in demand and initiatives such as the Lagos Fashion Week that continue to elevate Nigeria into the global fashion space.
We sat down with Jefe, creative director of Cruise Customs – a subsidiary of the Nigerian fashion brand Cruise Gang, to discuss his views on the Nigerian fashion industry, and his work at Cruise Gang.
What are your thoughts about the Nigerian fashion scene?
I feel like it’s an exciting scene. There are so many brands and outlets, especially young people like me who are going out there, changing the narrative, and doing what they want to do. It’s very exciting and I feel like in the coming years, we are in for a paradigm shift from the norm. However, there are certain things I would love to see done differently. The Nigerian fashion industry is dealing with something I’d like to call extreme role model culture. What this means is that almost everyone is doing the same thing, when in reality, innovation is a function of thinking outside the box and breaking the mode. As an artist, you have to do what has to be done, regardless of the backlash or negative reaction that your ideas might get, you put them out because you have the courage to be different. It’s okay to have people who inspire you, but you can’t really copy someone or follow their journey to a T because there are situations and circumstances that make someone do something in a certain way or build something up in a different way from what is attainable. I think it is important to always think subjectively about your mission and what you are doing, for the sake of your own journey.
So you feel like Cruise Gang is breaking the norm?
Well, yes. With Cruise Gang, we want people to realize that they can do whatever they want to. You can look good, you can put events together and still have fun. It doesn’t always have to be about business or money, everything doesn’t have to be so stuffy. The whole essence of Cruise Gang is to induce a certain energy rise. At the end of the day, it’s not rocket science, we just want to inspire people to do anything they want to.
What inspired Cruise Gang?
I didn’t really start Cruise Gang. My friend Mukhtar did in 2018 and I came on board about 7 months into the journey, but I was there in the beginning. One day we were just chilling and Mukhtar started talking to me about this idea he had. He told me what he wanted to do with the brand and I was interested because I like to think that I have always been fashion inclined. So when Mukhtar told me about it, instinctively, I told him I’d help out in any way that I can. Pretty soon, one of our friends was having a party and Mukhtar put together a capsule, he got a couple of fits done and we sold everything that night, and I feel like that was just confirmation for us.
How did you get onboard Cruise Gang?
I had a vision for what I wanted to do with fashion, and I spoke to Bams, who co-founded Cruise Gang with Mukhtar about it. When I explained my vision to him, it was in line with what they had in mind, and that birthed Cruise Customs. Cruise Customs is the more luxurious, more adventurous, and more collaborative side of Cruise Gang. Cruise Customs is where we give space to experiment and delve into other art forms.
Does this mean Cruise Gang extends beyond fashion?
Yes, it does, it’s a lifestyle brand at this point. In the not-so-far future, we intend to do a bit of architecture, interior decor, and different things. At the end of the day, Cruise Gang started with fashion, putting our emotions down and extending beyond that. We want to motivate the human consciousness and do things differently from how we’ve been thought because really, what’s stopping us?
What is the creative process for Cruise Gang like?
Cruise Gang has production lines in Abuja, Lagos, and the UK, where it all started. Cruise Gang was birthed in Birmingham UK and where we produce depends on the collection, the capsules, or the orders. Some of the materials we use are sourced here in Nigeria, for the Nigerian market, while some things are put together in the UK, based on the climate there, our market, and certain criteria we consider.
Talk to me about who you’ve worked with
We have many co-signs from top artists like Burna Boy, Zlatan, Mayorkun, Psycho YP, Alpha P, Eeskay and so many others. I remember around the time Burna received his first Grammy nomination, we sent him a capsule. He was attending a Grammy nomination party after his concert in Frankfurt and he wore one of our balaclavas. He broke the Grammy nomination announcement wearing that balaclava and I feel it was one of our highest points at the time because that piece was associated with one of the highest points in his own life. And him breaking the news to the world while wearing something we made meant so much to us.
As a fashion brand in Nigeria, what are some of the biggest challenges that you face?
Well, one of the biggest challenges we’ve faced is pricing. People think because you’re in the Nigerian market, you can’t put a certain price tag on your products. But at the end of the day, Cruise Gang emphasizes the quality and the difference that we provide, and not compromising on that is very fundamental to where our journey is leading us. Eventually, our quality will speak for itself and people will understand why Cruise Gang is different. We aren’t just selling merchandise, we are selling an ideology, a lifestyle. Our work is something we want to stand for many years, so we make sure that we do it in a way that through time, the integrity and allure of what we are doing won’t be lost.
Do you consider Cruise Gang a streetwear brand?
Streetwear is just a word to classify things, but at the end of the day, it’s all clothes that come from an idea. Whether it’s contemporary fashion or high fashion or streetwear, there was a design process put in that led to the result in your hands. The same way you design a dress, it’s all the same. Cruise Gang is a fashion house, and we explore fashion in the broadest sense of the word.
How does the intersection of music and fashion reflect on Cruise Gang?
Well, I believe all art forms essentially are the same, and art is synonymous with life. Any natural process bears a certain level of artistry to it, and it’s the same thing with music and fashion. When I design clothes, I’m trying to tell a story just like the next artist who is in the studio recording music. Fashion for me is a mode of expression, so you can get my insights from the clothes I make. I put my emotions into my clothes, just like lyrics in music. It’s really all the same to me. Depending on the artist we are working with, we have to design what embodies them and their story and the meeting point is art. Essentially, we are all different human beings with different mindsets, we can never fully understand each other, we can only try. Art and fashion are just a medium to bring you closer to our world and help you understand us to a reasonable level.
What is your vision for Cruise Gang?
Our vision for Cruise Gang is to elevate the fashion culture – first here in Africa then on the global scale. There is so much creativity here in Nigeria, Africa in general and one of the goals of Cruise Gang is to highlight that, bringing it to the global stage and elevating the fashion culture here. I believe that we have to change our mindset here regarding fashion before we can be seen as what we want to be seen as on a global level. At Cruise Gang, we intend to highlight creativity by bringing our ideas to the forefront through collaborative projects with other brands, both here on the continent and on a global scale.
How does your Nigerianess influence your work at Cruise Gang?
My Nigerianness will always reflect in my work because that is who I am. However, this doesn’t mean I create with any particular demographic or audience in mind. I believe art should be consumed exactly how it is produced, and the point of art is to connect with a substantial number of people. Art in its essence cannot connect with everybody, but those who understand where you are coming from – your niche, that is the entire purpose of art. When I create, I create with a free mind to pass my message across to whoever is paying attention.
What do you think the future of the Nigerian fashion industry will be?
Like I said before, the Nigerian fashion industry is so exciting to me. There are so many people putting in the work and I feel like, in the next 5 years, all these norms will be changed. The emerging fashion brands in Nigeria and Africa are a lot bolder these days, and it’s so inspirational. I see a lot of people doing good work and it motivates me to keep going.