Meet The Nigerian Lawyer-Turned-Style-Powerhouse Who's Turning Lagos Into A Fashion Hub

Nigerian fashion power player Omoyemi Akerele speaks to Okayafrica on the heels of the 2015 Lagos Fashion & Design Week.

Omoyemi Akerele (Photo Credit: Claudio Bonoldi)

Omoyemi Akerele has an impressive resume. As the founder of Lagos Fashion & Design Week (LFDW), the lawyer-turned-style-powerhouse is widely credited as being a pivotal force behind the Nigerian fashion industry. Her development agency, Style House Files, works with Nigerian companies on brand positioning and retail strategies. Even though her tenacity and strong work ethic have led to success, she jokingly says that she should have taken the easy way out. “It's a lot of work and it never ends.”

In just five short years, Akerele has managed to turn LFDW into a full-on, four day fashion fête boasting almost 70 designers at their most recent Spring/Summer collection. What makes this year special? “Five years ago it was about trying to get people to understand that fashion is a business,” Akerele tells us. “We had a more laid back attitude towards fashion. It was more entertainment-geared or presented as the idea of fashion as entertainment a bit more versus the idea of fashion as a business. For us, that's something that's changed.”

Fittingly, this year's event was more of a celebration, says Akerele. “It's just a year that we decided to focus on celebrating–and when I say celebrating, it means celebrating the industry and celebrating the baby steps that we have made. The industry is not what is was five years ago when we came on the scene” says Akerele.

She adds “When we look at the structure of LFDW as a whole we are also evolving and sort of coming into our own. We realize that there is a conscious need to focus on contributing to other areas that will nurture or position LFDW for greater success. Be it the areas of manufacturing or working with stakeholders to help designers have easier access to finance or getting the designers together a lot so they can share ideas, brainstorm and network.”

In New York City, fashion week is exclusively for media, bloggers, buyers, socialites. Getting a ticket for the average person is near impossible. In Lagos, however, the fashion spotlight is squarely on the consumer. “We have to make it open to the public. They are the one's buying, they are the consumers of fashion. They walk into the designer’s studio to do all the shopping and the buying.”

Ejiro Amos Tafiri At Lagos Fashion And Design Week 2015. Photo: Kola Oshalusi (Insigna)

For designers on the continent, in addition to struggling with manufacturing, agonizing startup costs and a host of other issues, one of their biggest pain points is competition from larger brands making their way into Africa. Think of lower-priced brands such H&M and Forever 21. How can designers compete? According to Akerele, though, there's room for everyone. “We need to ensure that production, manufacturing and distribution is in place for designers, and that consumers understand the need to support Nigerian designers or brands,” she says. “At the same time understanding that it's OK to support international brands. It would be really cool to see how people mix and match.”

Considering that fashion is still a niche industry in Nigeria, it's not surprising that sponsorship is an integral part of making the shows happen. "It's easier to raise sponsorship for music and sports–there's still that mentality that fashion is frivolous," Akerele says. "It's tough trying to get people to understand that we are trying to do is different and that it's not just about getting designers together and then just moving on. We cannot do anything without a sponsor. From trying to get a venue, to production, to models needing to get paid , hair and makeup—it's a lot of money.” For the 2015 edition of LDFW, Akerele & co. teamed up with with Heineken. “It's beyond sponsorship it's about a partnership. How can we all come together to help build this industry and take it to the next level?”

A recurring theme throughout our chat with Akerele was her goal to turn Nigeria into a fashion hub. “It's about the industry, it's the bigger picture. It's about everyone coming together to do what they need to do for this to work. If you think in isolation about what you need to do you will never get there.”

Makho Ndlovu is a Zimbabwean born blogger living in New York City. Follow her on Twitter at @MakhoNdlovu.

Arts + Culture

This Stunning Series of Self-Portraits Explores Love And The Concept of Letting Go

Cape Town photographer Meet The Internet shares a few images from her exhibition.

Cape Town photographer Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana, who is known online as "Meet The Internet," does not take the topic of love lightly. "Most of us rushed into it," she says, "and we started dating without understanding what love is."

Her latest photography series, Love Through My Eyes is, is a reflection on how people around her deal with love, from staying in toxic relationships because they fear being alone, to those who build walls around themselves in fear of heartbreak and are hence unlovable.

"We come from broken families," says Ngqoyiyana. "Some with no fathers at all, so we go out yearning to be loved by a man and pray for better experiences than what we see our mothers go through. We get our fair share of hurt, we watch people come to our lives, we share our bodies with them and when it's enough for them they leave. We even start understanding and forgiving the cycle."

This cycle is reflected in the photos. In most of them, the color red is prevalent, symbolic for love. And the main subject, which is the photographer herself, is elusive, hiding her face either with a mask or red ropes, which could symbolize the blinding effect of love and how it can suffocate you.

Ngqoyiyana wants the images to focus on both sides of love. "I like the concept of balloons," she says, "because from a young age it kinda teaches us the concept of holding on to something and letting go. Obviously letting go is never fun, hence we cried when we would see our balloons fly away."

Ngqoyiyana got into photography by taking behind the scenes photos in music video sets. Her first gig as a photographer was a matric ball, and she recently started directing music videos.

The photos for Love Through My Eyes took "roughly three weeks" to make, and are all self-portraits. A confessed shy person, for a long time Ngqoyiyana wasn't happy with her appearance. "I can be whoever I want to be with self-portraits, and I am not so conscious about the way I look," she says.

"When I started taking pictures I was at a stage in my life where I was depressed and anxious, because I didn't have a career, and with no tertiary education," says Ngqoyiyana. "I felt I was "wasting away," she says. "Self-portraits were more of an escape, or a 'pretend like I am doing more than I actually am.' But after seeing the reception on the Internet, I did more."

Love Through My Eyes ran for a day on the 10th of November in Observatory, Cape Town. As a result of the amazing reception, says Ngqoyiyana, more prints of her work are on the way.

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Photo courtesy of Siziphiwe Ngqoyiyana

Follow Meet The Internet on Instagram and Facebook.

Blinky Bill 'Don't Worry.' Source: Youtube.

Watch Blinky Bill's New Video for 'Don't Worry'

The Nairobi producer releases the humorous visuals for his second single.

Blinky Bill dropped his long-awaited debut album, Everyone's Just Winging It And Other Fly Tales, last month and it's clearly been well received by fans in Kenya and all over the world.

His latest music video for the hard-hitting single "Don't Worry" was filmed in Detroit and directed by his usual collaborators Osborne Macharia, Andrew Mageto and Kevo Abbra.

Blinky prances around Detroit's Heidelberg Project—an outdoor art installation created to support the surrounding area's community—lighting up the vibe of this aggressive song.

"The song is called Don't Worry and I feel like the vibe we created with the visuals is in tune with the spirit of the song, which is just about staying in your lane and minding your business," the Kenyan artist mentions. "I like that it takes a song that is serious and aggressive and makes it a little more fun."

This video is an instant mood-lifter and definitely worth the view.

Watch Blinky Bill's new music video for "Don't Worry" below.

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Photo still via YouTube.

Falana's New Music Video for 'Ride or Die' Is a Must-Watch

The Nigerian singer returns with her first single in 4 years in this Daniel Obasi-directed work of art.

Falana couldn't let the year wrap up without making a statement.

The Toronto-raised Nigerian singer recently dropped the music video "Ride or Die"—her first single in 4 years—directed by Daniel Obasi.

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