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Nigerian Fashion Icons: Pioneers and Contemporary Stars

Nigerian fashion icons
Written by Omolola Akinyemi

Nigerian fashion designers have demonstrated uncommon creativity in their exquisite blend of cultural and Western-inspired fashion pieces. And not surprisingly, some notable Nigerian fashion icons are now celebrated both at home and abroad for the same reason. In fact, we are inspired to go down the memory lane to celebrate both pioneers and contemporary stars in the world of Nigerian fashion. 


We shall be highlighting a number of top Nigerian fashion icons who have so distinguished themselves through their eye-catching clothing designs. They are so skilled that they have become fashion stylists for local and international celebrities – some of them for decades. 


Pioneers of the Nigerian Fashion Industry


Shade Thomas-Fahm

First on the list is the very pioneer of Nigeria’s fashion industry. Victoria Folashade Thomas-Fahm was the first Nigerian fashion designer to ever open a fashion boutique in the country. The London-trained fashion stylist set out at first to become a nurse. Thus in 1953, she traveled from Lagos to England to that end. However, the appealing setup of fashion shops on the West End of London changed her mind. 

Shade returned to Nigeria after completing her training in fashion design, sometime before Nigeria’s independence. She faced the challenge of convincing her Nigerian targets to patronize local designs and fabrics, instead of focusing on British designs. Obviously she succeeded. When the sixties arrived, her clothing store in Lagos namely Shade’s Boutique, had become a popular destination for made-in-Nigeria garments. 

She specialized in the use of locally woven materials and native patterns, cut and sewn in contemporary styles. And her designs were renowned both locally and abroad. Shade created styles such as the wrapper skirt (from native wrapper) and ‘boubou’ (from men’s ‘agbada’). 

Shade’s success inspired other notable pioneers in the Nigerian fashion industry to emerge, right from the 1970s. They include top Nigerian fashion icons like Folorunsho Alakija, Abah Folawiyo, and Betty O.

Zainab Abah Folawiyo

Abah Folawiyo (nee Kuku) is a Ghanaian-Nigerian fashion designer born into a lineage of fashion designers. She grew up in Ghana and learnt the business of sewing from her mother. She was so passionate about dressmaking that she dodged enrolling into a foreign college (which her father planned), and ran away from home. In 1963, Abah participated in VC-10, a fashion award show in Ghana, and emerged the best designer. She won a first-class ticket to London, where she did an internship with a top UK designer. 

She returned to Nigeria in 1977, then proceeded to set up the renowned Labanella Fashion label in Surulere-Lagos. She specialized in creating alluring designs using Adire and Ankara materials. With time, she began to clothe many A-list personalities in Nigeria, and her designs became world-class pieces. She retired in 2004.

Folorunsho Alakija

Currently one of the wealthiest entrepreneurs in Nigeria, and a philanthropist, Folorunsho Alakija was born into a polygamous family. She completed a course in secretarial studies at Pitman’s Central College, London, before embarking on a 12-year banking career in 1974. By the time she ended her banking career, she was the Office Assistant to the Treasury Department of the International Merchant Bank of Nigeria (formerly First National Bank of Chicago).

Folorunsho decided to study fashion design at both the American College in London, and the Central School of Fashion. On completing her training, she set up the Supreme Stitches fashion label – which was renamed The Rose of Sharon House of Fashion in 1996. And she climbed up the social ladder to become the president and lifelong trustee of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria (FADAN). 

Beyond this, Folorunsho Alakija is a serial entrepreneur – with other established businesses in real estate, printing, and oil and gas industries. 

Elizabeth Okuboyejo (Betty O.)

Betty O. is a Scottish woman who came to Abeokuta, Nigeria in 1963 to discover and promote the Adire making business. She specialized in the making of indigo adire into various patterns, and empowered other women to do the same. She inspired many fashion designers to use Adire and Ankara for creating non-traditional styles. Her skill eventually evolved into sewing and fashion design. And Betty O. School of Fashion was later set up to train and empower young women in the fashion design business. 

Contemporary Nigerian Fashion Icons

Duro Olowu

Duro Olowu is a Nigerian with Jamaican roots. He created his exclusive clothing label in 2004, and has styled many international celebrities. 

Bridget Awosika

Bridget Awosika demonstrated a keen interest in fashion design and art from an early age. Thus, she ended up attending the Parsons School of Design in New York. She features a collection of elegant fitting dresses and gowns. 

Lisa Folawiyo

Lisa Folawiyo, a trained lawyer, decided to open her clothing label Jewel by Lisa in 2005. She is exceptionally good at creating modern designs with traditional Nigerian and African fabrics. Lisa has another fashion label namely Line J, which produces accessories (such as purses and jewelry) and custom luxury clothing. Lisa is also committed to using the highest-grade VLISCO Hollandais brand of Ankara to produce Afro-patterned but modern designs. Her designs are also well known internationally, and have been exhibited in New York and Paris fashion shows

Mai Atafo

Ohimai Atafo is a graduate of Agricultural Economics and Extension from the Edo State University. He also has a Postgraduate degree in Information Technology from the City University London. He worked with British American Tobacco and Guinness Nigeria Plc; but his taste for quality dressing led him into fashion design. It led him to further his studies (this time in fashion design) at the Savile Row Academy, Leeds, UK. 

Atafo has won many awards for his excellent and evolutionary sewing skills which cover men’s apparel and female bridals. He is also a celebrated stylist for local and international celebrities – including the likes of Ebuka Obi-Uchendu and Adesua Etomi.

Seyi Vodi

Seyi Adekunle (aka Seyi Vodi) graduated with a degree in Geology from the University of Maiduguri. He ventured into the fashion business during his National Youth Service Corps (NYSC) days. He began by sewing shirts and boxers for fellow corpers. Then in 2001 (following his completion of the NYSC program), Seyi set up his fashion design business. It was initially named ‘Testimony Fabrics’ and later renamed ‘Vodi’

Seyi is well known for his customized male costumes, created for top clientele which include Nigerian celebrities and key government officials. They include the likes of Richard Mofe-Damijo, Davido, and Kashim Shettima. 

Olorunyomi Makun

Nicknamed ‘Yomi Casual’, Olorunyomi Makun graduated with a certificate in Fashion Designing and Technology of Clothing at Auchi Polytechnic. Yomi’s elder sister accidentally registered him for Fashion Designing instead of Fine and Applied Art in the Joint Admissions and Matriculation Board (JAMB) exam. In spite of this, Yomi went ahead and studied the course. He graduated and set up his men’s clothing brand, Yomi Casual, in 2007. 

Yomi Casual is today one of the top fashion design labels in Nigeria. And he specializes in unique African traditional designs for men. He is a top choice amongst Nigerian male celebrities.

Victoria James

Victoria (or Veekee) James is a Biochemistry graduate of the University of Uyo, whose mother is a tailor. Thus, Veekee learnt the art of sewing high-grade dresses from her mother. She features a signature brand of well-carved dresses that fit the feminine figure, with adornments like beads, gemstones, and feathers. She combines her fashion design business with makeup, blogging, and wig making. 

Deola Ade-Ojo (formerly Deola Sagoe)

Deola Ade-Ojo studied Business Administration in Miami, Florida; with an additional Master’s degree in Finance and management at the University of Lagos. Her mother is the late wife of automobile mogul, Chief Ade-Ojo of the Elizade Group. Before she died, Deola’s mother owned a tailoring business named Odua Creations, thus becoming the inspiration for her daughter. Deola joined her mother in creating traditional male outfits and not long after, she set up her own fashion brand, House of Deola.

Deola is one of the biggest fashion names in Nigeria and globally. She specializes in African fabrics tailored into outstanding designs. She won an MNET Anglo Gold African Design Award in 2002. She was the first African woman to display her collections at the Time Fashion Week. She also set up her own standalone show at the New York Fashion week, the first Nigerian to have ever done so. 

Lanre da Silva Ajayi

Lanre da Silva Ajayi graduated with a degree in Business Administration at Coventry University. She further obtained a Postgraduate degree in Finance from the University of Leicester. Her mother being a tailor, helped Lanre to cultivate her passion for sewing in the years preceding her studies in the UK. 

Lanre launched her ‘Eponymous Label’ fashion brand in 2005. Her clothing label also features hairpieces, jewelry, and ready-to-wear pieces; and she particularly likes vintage fashion. Lanre’s collection was featured in the New York Fashion Week in 2011.

Folake Coker

The highly popular Tiffany Amber clothing line was created by Folake Coker in 1998. It is currently one of the top African fashion labels; and the brand showcases unique ready-to-wear women’s clothes with African patterns. What started out as a hobby during her undergraduate days has now attained international reputation. Tiffany Amber has featured in several fashion shows across Africa, Europe,.and the USA. 

Some other reputable Nigerian fashion icons in contemporary Nigeria include the following people: 

  • Frank Oshodi
  • Zizi Cardow
  • Ade Bakare
  • Lola Faturoti
  • Ituen Basi
  • Amaka Osakwe
  • Adebayo Oke-Lawal
  • Clement Enajemo



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About the author

Omolola Akinyemi

A Computer Science graduate of UNILAG, I hail from Ekiti state of Nigeria. An astute teacher, learner & admin assistant of many years experience. I love technology, innovation, and Nature. A problem solving mentality is important to me. The future is only seconds away, and I believe I can define the future now. You can also.

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