Team Players: A Tale of a Nigerian Football Fashion Collaboration

Catching up with Chekwas Okafor the creative force behind Onchek.com, the one-stop African fashion focused online retail destination is a bit of a challenge. For one thing, Chekwas is perpetually on the move, base camp might be New York City, but  if he’s not sourcing new designers across the continent, he’s knee deep in the practicalities of garment production, not withstanding the endless calls internationally to speak on the myriad of ways that the African fashion ecosystem needs to be supported and invigorated. But connect we do, and not a day sooner, especially as today, Lagos, Nigeria and the Diaspora are fever pitch for the forthcoming  World Cup in Russia and today in particular as the Super Eagles will face England in a friendly. Nothing connects the world on a more visceral level than the beautiful game and if you add fashion to the mix you are onto a winning combination, which is why Unity, the football inspired collection, available exclusively on Onchek.com and for those hardcore patriots, made in Nigeria too, is particularly exciting. However, there is more to the name than an exhortation of just how football binds in a way that nothing else quite can, as the design process was something of a Superstar collaboration with Chekwas collaborating with design titans, Adebayo Oke-Lawal of Orange Culture and Shem Ezemma of Shem Paronelli Artisanal.

unity-family-onchek

The premise for the collection was a case of Chekwas wishing to alter perceptions regarding production, innovation and quality. He elaborates: “I wanted the collection to show that we can source design locally, that the sports space can collaborate with Nigerian designers to achieve the same high quality design that can compete with any other outsourced design.” For Adebayo his decision was based on a more romantic notion as he cites: “The idea of celebrating collaboration , oneness and the tenacity of the Super Eagles.” And for Shem it was the idea of creating something that is truly bipartisan when he notes:  “Soccer is about the only thing that unites Nigerians you know; suddenly they put the whole tribal differences behind and unite as one. So I guess that idea was it for me.”

Photo: Kosol Onwudinjor
Photo: Kosol Onwudinjo

The ideas coagulated into a football shirt incorporating the national colours of Green and White and using black as a metaphor to both race and excellence. Apart from the legend ‘Unity’ which is as much a statement of intent as it is a celebration in spite of difference, is the map of Nigeria which acts as a graphic motif on the side of the t-shirts. Whilst running or indeed dancing, the nation remains close to you, the wearer. Adebayo also speaks of the challenge of combining form and function when he adds “I had to think – what would people be able to wear while playing a sport. Is has to be breathable  but I also  wanted the design to be beautiful.” The shirt more than achieves it as it would look welcome on a pitch, in a gym or teamed with a killer heel, agit pants or easy, breezy shorts.

For the shoe, Shem choose to re-imagine his brand’s N-100 sneaker model, but with football visible in design accents. He adds “It was more of an adaptation; picking ideas, from the aesthetics and key features like the extended flap, a higher hugging counter and a much more pronounced and definitive cut that mimics the silhouette of a traditional a soccer shoe.” However, because this is a Shem Paronelli Artisanal shoe luxury flourishes include an oiled nubuck leather upper, and instead of studs a smooth sole making it a favourite for men and women alike

Photo: OGB
Photo: OGB

Perhaps most significantly, the Unity Collection illustrates the power of collaboration,  and how it offers a potent riposte for those still stuck on the old adage of there being only room for one shining light  at any given time in the African fashion design space, or designers being too ridden with rivalry to work dynamically and effectively together.  Adebayo notes that he has always been “open to collaborations” and Shem adds “the vision kind of just resonated with me and I was like yeah, let’s do it.” It also does not go unnoticed that Adebayo and Shem hail from different parts of Nigeria, places whose norms, language, culture and aesthetics will have to a greater or lesser degree informed their  design language thus far and yet in this instance are harnessed to create a greater whole. Food for thought for others operating in other disciplines to be sure. However,  the designers’ ebullience is also echoed by Chekwas himself who sees the collection as just the beginning of future projects that Onchek.com will be championing in Nigeria and other parts of Africa. One cannot help but be excited about the age of collaboration, a buzzword and a feature of the fashion landscape for sometime, fully taking hold across the continent.

Photo: Kosol Onwudinjor
Photo: Kosol Onwudinjor

As Nigeria garners more interest both regionally on the continent as an incubator of talent, and globally as a key location for exploring and immersing oneself in the African aesthetic; long term and lasting improvements in the garment production industry can no longer languish as a conversation piece in the corridors of power and must find themselves as an action point providing measurable results. It is here that the Unity Collection has both distinguished itself and excelled as Onchek partnered with a factory in Apapa, Lagos which has benefited from Human Capital Development Consultancy training and management that in turn has been facilitated by Style House Files Creative Agency and supported by the Nigerian Export Promotion Council. In doing this, rather than seeking production in other global, some might point out cheaper locations, Chekwas has positioned the collection as an emblem of the possibilities for the fashion industry. An industry that with the right infrastructure, a favourable environment for investment and long-term strategic development has the potential to be both a creator of wealth and a catalyst for the diversification of the Nigerian economy.

Photo: Kosol Onwudinjor
Photo: Kosol Onwudinjor

There is also something cheering of thinking that the whole process, from ideation through to production happened in Lagos, arguably Africa’s fashion capital. For Chekwas this element was a non-negotiable aspect for the project: “This is our company’s philosophy. It is in our DNA that all the products we carry will be made in Africa. That’s the only way we can live our company’s purpose of “creating jobs and promoting culture through fashion”.” As the world moves increasingly to a more conscious form of capitalism, such an approach not only resonates with customers but also with notions of sustainability and economic inclusiveness. And for those of us who love our football and fashion with equal fervour, what to wear when Nigeria plays, just got made simpler.

 

 

Lagos Fashion Week A/W 2018 Day Two Review

Day Two at Lagos Fashion Week will probably be best as the day where epic waits nevertheless yielded visually worth it moments. But far more than moments at fashion week we are seeking first and foremost direction and options. Direction in the form of clearly thought out expositions of what we should be wearing and the transformative effect said items might have on how we feel and second options in how to wear them. Some designers chose to follow this rubric to stunning effect.

The evening commenced with Sisiano, a designer who like many on the night chose to present both women’s wear and menswear. In Planet Sisiano Autumn Winter 2018 is all about wandering around in a sea of powder pink, camel, mustard and white with a dollop of bottle and olive green. The silhouette for both men and women was for the most part fluid, think cowl shapes, asymmetric long line cardigans, and trousers that were low in the crotch, but did not delve into costume territory. So far, so pleasing, especially when designed for men with several high-notes including a velvet and chiffon pullover teamed with wide leg trousers which had me, my neighbour and someone behind me let out an audible sigh. Also clever, surprising and ever so wearable was a bottle green trouser with a tuxedo style stripe but a utility fit. The women’s pieces though nice enough, seemed more mixed in message and approach, with body con, frou-frou, and retro 70’s references all being put into the pot to mixed effect. However, it was no matter as the men’s pieces more than made up for it.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

too sent out a collection of mixed efforts. Known as a maestro of aso’oke she surprised with an opener of silk aquamarine long wrapped skirt and cropped balloon sleeved blouse before returning to presenting aso’oke pieces of varying lengths and strengths. One can definitely see the white dropped shoulder shirt dress mini finding a way and a special place into many closets. The same could be said for the trapezium rainbow shift dress, however, the a line thigh grazing skirts with matching cropped tops and the chiffon and aso’oke baby doll dresses less so. A series of long line waistcoats with trousers were again an attempt to show versatility – but within this particular collection, felt more like an add-on than an essential ingredient. An electric blue zig-zag cape top teamed with pale grey high waisted cigarette pant was beautifully executed and hinted at where the collection could have gone. Sometimes it  truly is a case of less being more.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

And then there was Kenneth Ize. The wait was epic, but it was obvious from the start that the show had the makings of something remarkable. Taste makers, style icons and retailers took their perches in the front row with Reni Folawiyo, Nkiru Anumudu, Ozinna Anumudu, Tola Adegbite and Yegwa Ukpo among those keen to see the collection, and presumably purchase. The collection was entirely made from either aso’oke, in this instance fashioned into rich psychedelic palette combinations from teal with mustard to aubergine with a gold shot egg-yolk and tye-dye cottons in indigo, black and canary. But this was not a walk down memory lane with fabrics that are part of Nigerian apparel history, but a re-fashioning and re-purposing which made every piece, seem to psychically shout ‘Buy Me And Change Your Life Forever!’. For the bold; there was a series of single breasted double vented jackets for both men and women, with slim-line pants that were oh-so-covetable.  For those who preferred things more subdued jumbo scarves, surely a bestseller in and of themselves and a glorious Missoni Who? flourish  were teamed with black and white aso’oke pants to giddying effect, and a men’s tye dye tunic was a clean re-imagining of trad: be modern and if your ankles can handle it,do it the Ize way and  forego trousers. Even the footwear, brushed leather sandals that came in complimentary colours to the pieces they adorned, were  straight no chaser, shoe fire. It is rare that a collection feels like a stupefying and delicious cocktail, which you feel you can drink from forever, without a dodgy hangover of  overkill. This was definitely it and one feels that the only words fit by way of conclusion  are thank you.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Phot: Kadara Enyeasi
Phot: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

Style Temple’s OG Okonkwo knows what the modern femme-fatale wants in her wardrobe playbook; pieces that are slinky, sexy and  work a charm late in the evening and this season she offered a collection of just ten pieces that would more than fulfil their demands but with some interesting additions. Show opener took us to the 18th Century with a white skirt that had a hoop petticoat silhouette and was teamed with a white bodice that was more adorned bra with capsicum orange lace trailing straps. It was such a strong beginning, but the concept was sadly abandoned for a series of silk jersey culottes, dresses and trousers that came out in palette pairs of electric blue, imperial purple and fuschia pink and white. Sleeves were asymmetric, with trumpet sleeves teamed with bare, some trousers featuring slits and some dresses coming with harness type ties. There were surprisingly, for an Autumn Winter Collection no coats or cover-ups offered, perhaps when you look this hot your life is a series of chauffeurs, private jets and perfect temperature controlled rooms, but the omission was a missed opportunity as too was choosing not to expand on the theme of corsetry, so intriguingly expressed in the first sequence of the show.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

With his increasingly growing portfolio in brand ambassador duties it can be easy to forget  that Adebayo Oke-Lawal is first and foremost Creative Director of Orange Culture, a brand that has done much to push the conversation of gender dynamics and simultaneously make pieces that are commercially successful. Unlike anyone else, he provided show notes drawing out the themes of precipitation, it’s transformative effect and the fact that grown men are never given a space to cry. It is always pleasing to see such touches, as apart from anything else it gives context and sets parameters of purpose not only for the collection, but also for the clothes. What are we seeing here? How will one feel when one wears it? These are important questions to be answered, especially when selling luxury. A set was created, with umbrellas suspended from the roof, perhaps to catch those tears of joy, and to hint at a collection that also offered pieces that indicated a change of season. Standouts, and there were a number, included an abbreviated trench coat with cowries shells on the belt hoops, a mustard single breasted jacket with a sole jumbo purple button as fastening, an oxblood apron skirt worn over trousers and a series of print two pieces that take you from day to evening with élan. Women’s wear, which I have always felt was not needed, just wear the men’s pieces a la Katherine Hepburn and be done with it, came in the form of long line tunics, which were competent but did not pack as much as a punch as the men’s pieces. Knitwear, continues to be a developing and welcome addition to each Orange Culture collection, with a pink and purple sweater with Pierrot style collar, hinting at the theme of emotional expression and inhibition seen in the Commedia Del Arte. The hero piece was however a claret and black long line tunic sweater which was masterful in its tessellation which created a chequer-board of skin and wool.

Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi
Photo: Kadara Enyeasi

The close of Day Two definitely felt as if there were plenty of reasons for consumers and industry players to be excited and the men’s pieces and collections were particularly strong. As with all creative disciplines fashion is principally about story-telling, and for the designers who conceived and charted a clear narrative arc for us to follow and created must-have pieces in the process, the future is bright not just here in Lagos but globally too. A definite case of watch this space and be happy you were there to witness the magic when it happened.