I want to be as patriotic as the next Nigerian who wears ‘Ankara’ to work everyday but then I find that the price of a shirt from a Nigerian designer can buy me a round ticket to Ghana.
A little while back, I decided to join the ‘buy Nigerian’ band wagon, so I contacted an urban menswear designer and saved up to buy a super dope 'Aso oke' suit, only to find out a few weeks later, when I was ready to buy, that the prices had been increased.
I asked why and he explained that the fabric being used, ‘Aso oke’, is a rare commodity these days. As such, especially in these economically unstable times, the price of producing 'Aso oke' has shot through the roof.
In addition, the production of the pieces is localized to one specific area, from where they deliver and distribute to other parts of Nigeria. So, when they factored in the rising costs of production and delivery, they had to inflate their prices to counter the margin pressure.
Now, as much as my thrifty mind wants to argue further about how the prices could be balanced out with the costs, I have to be honest with myself. The prices of a lot of Nigerian fashion designers are actually quite reasonable if you take into consideration what it costs to make the clothes.
Don’t get me wrong, I am not neglecting the fact that there is a serious economic instability that is affecting all Nigerians, both home and abroad, which makes your stomach turn when you hear some designer say 100k for a dress that could cost 50 or 60k.
However, we, Nigerians have to remember that as the customer cannot get fuel and they have to queue in line for hours, the fashion designer has to queue twice as much for fuel for their cars, generators at home and generators at work. The point is the economy is coming down as hard on them as it is on us, so we should give them a break.
Also, let’s get real for a minute, we Naija people like to have everything on a platter of gold; free things everywhere. Sorry to break it to you, the world doesn’t work that way. Be fair every now and again. Don’t ask a bespoke designer to give you heaven and earth and expect that you will pay as low as Mr. Lagbaja who bought off the racks. You’ve asked for more so naturally you will pay more.
Another truth is this: we all dream of owning a million dollar house but we all can’t afford it right now. Thus, a huge part of the issue is just accepting the fact that we can’t afford certain designers right now. We’ll keep praying though.
Nigerians need to educate themselves on the difference between a mass producer or ready to wear designer and a bespoke or luxury designer. Ready to wear and mass production is always cheaper than luxury brands, so know your financial strength and where it belongs.
If you’re going to meet a ‘Taryor Gabriels’ for a custom made suit, you should have it in mind even before going that part of what you are paying for is the exclusivity. Likewise if you are going to buy a dress off Lisa Folawiyo’s racks, you are buying the fact that she makes her prints from scratch and you won’t find them in the market or at any other store except at a JBL store.
But not so fast designers, especially our young ‘urban, cool, modern and artistic’ designers. It’s amazing that you get featured in Vogue from time to time but that won’t put food on your table. Designers have to justify those cut throat prices they put on their pieces.
So, yes, you do spend a lot in producing and so you price accordingly but the way you must justify your prices to your customers is by functionality and creativity. Hence, we want to spend (maybe more than normal) on clothes that we can actually wear out and about with decent quality. This is where brands like H&M thrive.
I understand that as a designer you may be exercising your creative abilities and have a specific aesthetic but the mark of a great designer is the ability to adapt art to reality and the reality in Nigeria is that most people aren’t into the super urban trends and styles. They just want functional. If at all they will be spending money on clothes in these times, they definitely want to spend it on wearable pieces.
As a designer, you cannot go to Balogun and buy fabrics and use it to sew clothes and tag it 150k, how? Or to take someone else’s collection, call it ‘inspiration’ and tag it 200k. Finally, designers need to know the difference between runway pieces and store pieces. Even the best like Gucci and Chanel may put on an artistic show for the runway but then you’ll find less artistic, more wearable pieces at the stores.
Bottom line, designers, step up with your designs and quality and consumers, give designers a break.