Models present creations by Fruche during the Lagos Fashion Week on October 25, 2018.

Models present creations by Fruche during the Lagos Fashion Week on October 25, 2018.

Photo by PIUS UTOMI EKPEI/AFP via Getty Images.

How Nigeria's Struggling Economy is Impacting its Fashion Industry

The country’s fashion brands are attempting to weather the economic storm by adapting and innovating.

From the COVID-19 pandemic to the #EndSARS protests, and the recent elections, Nigeria has weathered its fair share of challenges. The country is currently battling further crises, including fuel scarcity and the policy to unify the dollar exchange, pushed by President Bola Ahmed Tinubu. All of these have affected how industries in the country operate, and the fashion industry is no exception. “It’s a crazy experience for fashion brands right now,” Frank Aghuno, founder and creative director of Fruché, tells OkayAfrica. “Fuel prices have gone up exponentially, especially with the power shortage situation. These things have affected the production process globally, and have slowed down sales for a lot of us.”

Nigeria's struggling economy has always cast a shadow on the vibrant and thriving fashion industry, and with the recent inflation rise and devaluation of the national currency, there’s been a significant impact on not just consumers but the entire production of goods and services. As a country, Nigeria heavily relies on imports for various fabrics, textiles, and accessories that are integral to its diverse fashion landscape. However, the devaluation of the naira is exacerbating the inflation situation. The weakened currency has driven up import costs, forcing designers and retailers to adjust their prices upward.

Luxury brands like the eponymous loungewear label Banke Kuku have been in the Nigerian market for well over a decade, and have experienced the economy’s rise, fall, and everything in between. Besides producing both in and outside of Nigeria, the brand has offices set up in Lagos and in Europe, making it easier to fulfill orders from where they originate. Still, they’re not immune to the issues that arise as a result of Nigeria’s economy.

“We metaphorically have price hikes almost every single week,” Kuku tells OkayAfrica. “It’s a global crisis at this point, and a lot of it is due to the set-up of the country, but also [from] COVID. [The economy] has been in this unstable period for a while, and has always experienced these fluctuations. What we have now managed to do is [try to] sell widely to more international markets, since their economies seem to be more stable than ours.”

Looking outward, thinking global

In this economically strained environment, some fashion brands are attempting to adapt and innovate. Many brands, such as Abiola Olusola, Lagos Space Programme, This Is Us, Emmy Kasbit, Kenneth Ize, and Fruché, are deepening their focus on locally sourced materials and sustainable production methods, which not only help reduce costs but also resonate with the growing eco-conscious consumer base.

Collaborations with Nigerian artisans and craftsmen have also gained traction, offering unique and culturally rich products that stand out in a globalized fashion market. Fruché, for example, works with a long line of freelance artisans who contribute to the brand’s garments, based on their expertise. However, due to the economy, they now have to cut down on the amount of people they work with, and focus mostly on items made to order. “It’s not like they’re cheaper to make,” says Aghuno, “but it just helps us focus on the important stuff and cut down the waste. We save money, time, and fuel.”

Serving clients outside of the Nigerian market has been a staple of brands like Ian Audifferen’s Tzar Studios. When he founded the contemporary label, a decade ago, he wanted to build a brand of global significance. The majority of his clients are Nigerian and Pan-African, but many of them are beyond the continent, too.

Practicality and trends

“When I first began to ship globally and sell in naira, I realized that I was running at a loss every time I converted the currencies,” Audifferen says. “So, years ago, I decided to begin to sell in dollars, and use the currency as the benchmark for my pieces. In a way, no matter what the exchange rate was, I would not really be affected.” In retrospect, Audifferen’s pivot to a business model that places pricing based on the dollar currency has mostly shielded his brand from Nigeria’s economic troubles, and helped him navigate these new challenges.

While fashion brands might look overseas for their markets, they still have to run their businesses within Nigeria, and issues such as the increase in transportation costs can hamper their staff, making fulfilling orders harder and, in some cases, slowing down delivery.

In a downturn, consumers can become more budget-conscious, prioritizing practicality and longevity over fleeting trends. “With the reactions that could come from a few [customers] on why products are priced the way they are, we try to circle back to them; to help them see that they’re getting value for their money,” Audifferen says, “and I have always received some really good feedback on my pieces. When there’s that quality stamp on it, people pay [if] they can afford it.”

Nigeria’s fashion industry has attracted attention worldwide because of its innovation and embracing of local styles. Economic prosperity helps foster this, but while the country continues to navigate its financial woes, its designers will continue to do what they do best–adapt as they create.