Earlier this year, drawn by the booming fashion scene in Lagos, Ade Samuel made her way to the continent’s most populous city. Her mission? To connect with creatives who share her fervor for combining fashion design with her Nigerian heritage. Seeing the roadside coconuts, the street hawkers balancing a month’s salary worth of varied merchandise on their heads, and markets brimming with vibrant prints adorning aso-ebi cloth confirmed for Samuel that the scene hadn’t changed much—Mother Nigeria was as bustling as when she had last visited it, in 2019. A global pandemic had forced the stylist to postpone previously planned trips to the homeland, but the photo portfolio she assembled on her recent return was surely worth the wait.
“For this photo project, I brought together some of Nigeria’s most decorated photographers, designers and stylists, to create a visual look book that reminds everyone of why we are at the epicenter of subSaharan Africa’s teeming fashion landscape,” Samuel says. In her portfolio, she showcases the work of fashion designers from the West Coast of the U.S. to West Africa and beyond, including Weiz Dhurm Franklyn, IAMISIGO, Donna Tyler, Aaboux, Bearded Genius, Ninie and Gëto.
No stranger to editorial and runway, Samuel and her work have been featured throughout the diaspora, with a focus on Nigeria, Ghana and South Africa. Fashion is a substantial business on the continent; the combined apparel and footwear market in subSaharan Africa totals some $31 billion, according to Euromonitor International, and Nigeria accounts for 15 percent of that, at $4.7 billion.
“Across the continent, designers inspired by their environment are creating beautiful pieces,” Samuel says, noting that current styles represent our evolving world, with sustainable textiles, bolder hues and inclusive, expressive designs.
Despite the social upheaval and economic hardships in Nigeria, Samuel steadfastly believes that such obstacles cannot take away from the country’s rich culture and unrelenting grit. “There are creative professionals there committed to pushing the culture forward and keeping traditions alive,” she says. Nigerian Afrobeats star Joeboy, who took part in her photo shoot, smiles as he recalls wearing Adire, an indigo-dyed cloth originated by the Yoruba people, and regally designed slippers. “I felt like a king,” he says. “It feels good that I get to represent the creativity of Nigerians, and Africans as a whole. There’s so much undiscovered talent, and any chance to represent us on a larger platform is always a big deal.”
For her part, Samuel says she feels grounded when she’s in Nigeria, though her fast-moving schedule there is similar to her pace back in the U.S. The main difference, she notes, is a level of peace and enjoyment that suffuses her as soon as she touches down on African soil. This project, she says, is her way of giving back—a love letter to the creative vibrancy of the homeland.
This article originally appeared in the September/October 2021 issue of ESSENCE magazine, available on newsstands now.