Naomi Campbell's affinity for Africa, Nigeria in particular, is no secret. The supermodel has made numerous trips to the continent and has been linked with some prolific Nigerian stars including Wizkid and Skepta.
Last year, she shutdown Arise Fashion Week when she arrived and hit the runway for select designers like Tiffany Amber and Lanre Da Silva. Little did we know that her appearance would spark a series of fortunate events that would position Africa as the next fashion capital of the world with international luxury brands like Gucci clamouring to support emerging design talent.
This year's program was noticeably more insightful with the introduction of the Fashion Talks, a series of panels with fashion greats like ex US Vogue Editor-at-large Andre Leon Talley, owner of luxury concept store ALARA Reni Folawiyo and designer Ituen Basi as well as people from the banking and finance sector to bring much-needed perspective to the business side of fashion.
During her panel, Naomi revealed that luxury label would begin a design talent empowerment incubator which would take place at the University of Lagos. The news was music to the ears of those struggling for opportunities in the Nigerian fashion industry.
The initiative comes as part of Gucci's Diversity Initiative which came in response to their blackface scandal which happened in February. An emergency meeting was called by Dapper Dan, a member of the Gucci family and a black fashion icon from the 80's, to discuss the pertinent matter of diversity at the fashion house.
Their first step towards creating a more diverse and inclusive company was to be more inclusive in their hiring therefore, Gucci committed to hiring global and regional directors of diversity and inclusion. The goal with this initiative is to find a Global Director of Diversity and Inclusion and execute strategies to foster a more inclusive company.
Gucci’s second step in their plan was to create a multi-cultural design scholarship program aimed at creating more employment opportunities for underrepresented groups. This scholarship program has reached the shores of Lagos.
No doubt, Naomi's influence is clear. Although Nigeria has the raw talent to begin with, many would agree that we struggle with infrastructure and positioning ourselves properly. With the challenges we face in this country from financial opportunities such as loans for SME's and logistical issues making it difficult to import and export textiles and materials, we had struggled to establish our industry in the way it deserved to be.
With Naomi turning her attention towards empowering designers and creatives from the talent, it's causing the rest of the word to sit up and take notice. At one panel, Segun Awolowo, Executive Director/Chief Executive Officer of Nigerian Export Promotion Council announced that the government had passed a bill which would remove the import tax on ankara making it easier and less expensive to acquire the material.
This year, Naomi brought in American designer Pyer Moss, Colombian fashion designer Esteban Cortazar and Asai to name but a few. Supermodel Liya Kedebe and the Editor of British Vogue Edward Enninful also landed in Gidi at the behest of Miss Campbell who was keen to show them all that we had to offer. Having these international designers walk on our stage, international editors sit front row and report on it in their respective publications and popular models wear our clothes, gives legitimacy to our industry and in an impassioned speech, Naomi promised that Arise Fashion Week 'will be henceforth known as the official Lagos Fashion Week.'
Instead of us fighting to be recognised on international territory, we can be recognised and uplifted right here at home. Naomi's influence, her belief in the sheer talent of Africans as a whole, might just be the awakening of an industry.
No longer will we have to fight for relevance because slowly but surely, African is becoming the epicenter of it all.
Africa to the world!