African fashion has catapulted itself to the ranks of fashion industry prominence. It has stamped its mark on the global fashion scene thanks to rising and influential African stars, such as the Kenyan Oscar-winning actress Lupita Nyong'o and the Nigerian musician Wizkid. The phenomenon of African fashion continues to prove to the rest of the industry its growth and prosperity. Specifically, Nigerian fashion has made consistent appearances over the past few years in well-regarded publications, from Vogue to the Huffington Post.
MINT sat down with the co-presidents of Stanford's Nigerian Students' Association (also known as NAIJA), Chiamaka Agali '19 and Peace Edem '19, to capture their perspectives on the Nigerian fashion phenomenon and other significant parts of the culture.
Left: Chiamaka Agali, Right: Peace Edem
How do you think Nigerian fashion has changed over the last decade?
Although there is still great emphasis on traditional Nigerian attire, a lot of young Nigerians have recently been putting a modern twist on these traditional outfits utilizing these Aso Ebi and ankara materials. Now, it is very common to see many western styles of fashion emboldened by vibrant African prints.
What would both of you say is the largest or most visible aspect of the intersection between Nigerian fashion and culture? Do you think the diversity of Nigerian culture is well-represented on Stanford's campus?
We would definitely say the entity of the Nigerian wedding. In typical Nigerian fashion, the bigger, the better! The same philosophy extends to Nigerian weddings. Here you are able to truly see the distinction in customs and traditions of the many tribes that make up Nigeria. Speaking of tribes, there are a lot of Nigerians on campus that hail from all parts of Nigeria, including Delta State and Akwa Ibom State. It's interesting and fun to learn about the various groups represented. Despite our ethnic diversities and different interests and goals, we Nigerians remain proud, hardworking, and headstrong.
Since you mentioned the various tribes that run throughout the large nation of Nigeria, can you discuss how beauty norms vary from tribe to tribe?
The various cultures of Nigeria have different definitions of beauty. For some it's being plump, for others a [tooth] gap is a sign of beauty, and oftentimes skin color (unfortunately) is tied to beauty. However, as the different ethnic groups become closer, modern fashion has evolved to include different ethnic identities. Modern fashion is no longer one ethnicity's to claim, but rather for all Nigerians. Despite this inclusive development in fashion, traditional, as its name explains, stays the same.
Agali is sporting a traditional headscarf that serves as a vital component of Nigerian fashion and culture.
How do you feel about American fashion publications, such as Vogue, catching up with the scope of Nigerian fashion, trends, designers, and cultural influencers?
I think it’s wonderful that Nigerian fashion trends are starting to take their rightful places as dynamic, stunning elements of both the ready-to-wear and high fashion world. What is even more beautiful is to see young Nigerian woman and men bring the beauty of their ancestral lineage to the forefront of global attention. The only unfortunate consequence is the fact that some people might use the powerful celebration of traditional Nigerian culture as a chance to continue cultural appropriation as we have seen with a number of high-profile fashion designers.
Thanks to the members of the Nigerian Students' Association for modeling their beautiful traditional attire.