A remarkable designer weaves stories through fabric in the bustling heart of Lagos, where the vibrant tapestry of Nigerian culture intertwines with the modern rhythms of city life. Ejiro Amos-Tafiri, affectionately known as EAT, has emerged as a creative force to be reckoned with in the world of fashion. Her journey is one of unwavering commitment, relentless passion, and a profound desire to redefine African fashion globally.
The fashion industry is a formidable force, shaping trends, cultures, and economies on a global scale. According to McKinsey & Company, the fashion industry delivered a 21 percent revenue increase in 2020–21. However, in Africa, a continent rich in diversity and untapped potential, we find a burgeoning fashion landscape poised for exponential growth.
Africa’s fashion industry is enjoying a renaissance, celebrated for its fusion of tradition and modernity. McKinsey suggests significant growth potential, particularly in Nigeria, affirming the creative prowess of designers like Ejiro Amos-Tafiri. They embrace the continent’s cultural richness and sustainability, poised for success in an evolving fashion world.
“My signature style is constantly laced with storytelling. Beyond the movement of the fabric, I like typical traditional dress forms, especially Nigerian traditional dress forms.”
Ejiro’s journey begins with an intimate understanding of drapery, a love affair with fabrics that dance and tell tales of tradition and heritage. Her creations move, they flow, and they captivate. “It doesn’t matter how stiff or fluid a fabric is. I have a passion for flowing with fabrics,” she explains. In a world where fashion often prioritises rigidity and structure, Ejiro’s designs are an ode to the fluidity of life, a celebration of the beauty in motion.
She says, “Regardless of what type of fabric I’m using, they always move, and that is my design ideology. Everything has to move,” Ejiro’s approach is a dynamic contrast to traditional fashion. She doesn’t just design; she crafts narratives and stories that embrace the essence of Nigerian culture and, in doing so, reach out to the world.
The Iro and Buba reimagined
“They think they’re just wearing a dress and a draped skirt, but that’s exactly what I wanted.”
Ejiro believes traditional Nigerian dress forms are integral to our culture and are positioned to shine with global recognition. “When I reimagined the iro and buba, it went viral,” she recalls, “I am happy now that the whole world is now wearing iro and buba, and they think they’re just wearing a dress and a draped skirt, but that’s exactly what I wanted.” It was a moment of triumph, a realisation of her dream – to see the world embrace Nigerian traditional dress forms with the same ease and fervour as suits and kimonos.
In the 21st century, global fashion has transformed traditional styles, and Ejiro’s reinvented iro and buba exemplify this. Her designs bridge past and present, honouring her heritage while embracing tradition’s evolution.
“If you look deep down into our culture, you would see that culturally, we pass down clothes from one generation to another. It doesn’t expire. Like your grandmother’s aso oke or woven cloth, you pass these things down, and the more you acquire these things, you pass them down to other generations as well.”
In Africa, fashion is an expression of identity rooted in tradition and heritage. Nigeria’s 250+ ethnic groups each have unique cultural and fashion traditions. Ejiro Amos-Tafiri revitalised the iro and buba, an attire from the Yoruba people, to celebrate Nigeria’s diverse heritage.
Embracing indigenous fabrics
In an era where the fashion industry is under scrutiny for its environmental impact, Ejiro Amos-Tafiri has taken a unique approach. Her commitment to sustainability goes beyond trends; it’s ingrained in her heritage.
“Our typical traditional ways of producing clothes are super sustainable. It is slow and intricate, it is detailed, it has stories, and it has a heart.”
Ejiro passionately explains her perspective on sustainability: “Sustainability is something that Africans should be teaching the rest of the world. I don’t think it’s something we need to adopt because it is who we are by default.” For centuries, Africa has thrived on a culture of sustainability. Historically, the continent’s fashion industry has followed a model that values preservation and longevity.
Amid global fashion’s environmental concerns, Africa’s traditional fashion practices offer a sustainable alternative. A MoMAA journal notes Africa’s history of eco-friendly practices, including natural fibres and recycling in fashion production.
Ejiro sees this tradition as a source of pride. She adds, “Our typical traditional ways of producing clothes are super sustainable. It is slow and intricate, it is detailed, it has stories, and it has a heart, so people don’t throw it away.” Indeed, African fashion has always thrived on craftsmanship, quality, and narratives that breathe life into each piece. Unlike the disposable culture prevalent in the Western fashion industry, Africa has held onto the sustainability ethos, where clothing is passed down through generations.
The fashion industry is urgently shifting toward sustainability. The UN Framework Convention on Climate Change states that fashion uses more energy than aviation and shipping, contributing to 10% of global carbon emissions. The linear take-make-waste model is harmful and unsustainable. Fashion is transforming sustainably, focusing on ethics, responsible production, and circular economy principles. Brands are reassessing supply chains, materials, and waste management. Designers and consumers are embracing the reduce, reuse, and recycle concept.
“A lot of the work I’ve done in the past 5 years has been consciously Nigerian. Now, I’ve come into my own; I can chart my own course.”
Ejiro’s approach goes beyond design; she weaves lasting stories through traditional fabrics like aso oke, plain fabric, and tie-dye. She supports local artisans and indigenous communities, infusing cultural significance into her creations.
When Ejiro says, “I feel like we can slow down and do other things,” she is not merely referring to the pace of fashion production. She advocates for a return to the essence of fashion, where every piece carries meaning, not just as an item of clothing but as a storyteller of culture and heritage. She adds, “We are not one to throw out things and were not one to throw out things or produce clothes for producing sake.”
Africa: The Next Fashion Frontier
Africa, with Nigeria at its core, is the emerging fashion frontier. McKinsey’s insights reveal a rapidly evolving global fashion landscape, with Africa’s promise as a key player. Ethiopia aims to achieve $30 billion in textile sector export revenue by 2030, investing in production acceleration. The garment sector is also growing in South Africa, Mauritius, Madagascar, Nigeria, Ghana, and North Africa, solidifying Africa’s influence globally.
“The fashion industry in Nigeria is already a global phenomenon. In the next 1-5 years, it will completely unravel. There is no doubt that it is the next frontier. Africa is the next frontier, and Nigeria will be at the heart of that.”
Africa offers a vast, untapped market for the fashion industry. Its diverse cultures, traditions, and tastes present many opportunities for designers and brands. According to McKinsey, Africa’s fashion industry could reach $15.5 billion by 2030.
However, to fully capitalise on this potential, the industry must undergo a significant transformation. Ejiro speaks passionately about the need for education: “The danger of popularity is when you get to an international stage, you flop. Few people can talk honestly about their processes and designs because they don’t know what they’re doing.”
Education is key to success, and in Africa, it’s vital for the fashion industry. South Africa and Ghana prioritise fashion education. However, in Nigeria, there’s a growing focus on fame over genuine education.
“I didn’t go to any fancy school, but I went to Yaba Tech. I worked with Tiffany Amber, and I worked with Heart of Africa.”
The fashion industry, both globally and in Africa, faces the challenge of maintaining standards while fostering innovation. Ejiro’s journey is a testament to the power of education. She didn’t attend a prestigious design school; instead, she honed her craft through hands-on experience. “Now, I didn’t go to any fancy school, but I went to Yaba Tech. I worked with Tiffany Amber, and I worked with Heart of Africa. In my very first year, I was on the cover of Complete Fashion, and I started dressing celebrities. I represented Nigeria at a United Nations event, and I went on to represent Nigeria at the Olympics. If you are prepared, you will do amazing, and you will have staying power,” she asserts. Education, whether formal or experiential, is the foundation upon which the future of African fashion will be built.
“I hope that we will come together and recognise that. Whether from the old to the upcoming, education will make us stand out and stand toe to toe with international designers because we have what it takes.”
The potential of Africa’s fashion industry is undeniable. It’s a stage awaiting its stars, designers who will not only create exceptional pieces but also showcase the beauty, culture, and traditions of the continent to the world. Ejiro’s journey inspires aspiring designers. It is a story of resilience and determination and a testament to the transformative power of education.
A vision for the future
“It’s time we empower the next generation of African designers.”
Ejiro’s vision extends beyond the world of fashion. She is not content with only creating beautiful garments; she seeks to inspire, empower, and give back to her community. In her own words, “I feel like I’ve been blessed to live this dream, to set out to do this in a time when it wasn’t accepted.”
As she turns 40, Ejiro Amos-Tafiri is embarking on a new chapter of her journey. She shared her excitement about her upcoming projects: “Fashion week is coming up, and I’m unveiling the biggest collection I’ve ever done – 60 looks. Pray for me. I’m having my first solo show, and I will take it around Nigeria. It is going to be a travelling show.” Fashion week is not just a runway event for Ejiro; it’s a canvas for storytelling.
But Ejiro’s ambitions extend beyond the runway. “I started my foundation this year when I turned 40. I feel like I have to give back,” she says. Her foundation is not just about philanthropy; it’s about education. Ejiro is passionate about sharing her knowledge and experience with the next generation of designers. She understands that, in Africa, self-reliance is the key to success. “If we don’t help ourselves, no one else will,” she affirms.
Her foundation’s initiatives include conferences and mentoring schemes for young designers. These programs are designed to nurture emerging talent, equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to excel in the industry.
The designer’s model and muse
Africa’s fashion industry stands at the precipice of a remarkable transformation. The continent’s rich cultural heritage and untapped potential are poised to reshape the global fashion landscape. Ejiro Amos-Tafiri passionately asserts, “Africa is the next frontier, and Nigeria is going to be at the heart of that.”
In fashion, three remarkable women stand out: Ejiro Amos-Tafiri, Rebeca Fabunmi, and Beverly Naya. They are interconnected in their creative journey, each playing a unique role in shaping the African fashion landscape – The designer, the model, and the muse.
To discover the complete picture of their stories, we invite you to read their profiles and in-depth interviews. Delve into the connections, shared passions, and dedication these women bring to fashion. Their stories go beyond clothing; they represent empowerment, sustainability, and the boundless potential of African fashion. Get to know them better, and let their creativity inspire you.