* ‘Igbu, akwete, ange, aso oke, adire: dying traditional textile fabrics waiting for a lifeline’
* ‘Let civil servants wear Nigerian fabrics twice a week’
* ‘We need technology to take prints of traditional fabrics to global markets’
By Anote Ajeluorou
ON Sunday, November 28, 2021 at Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, a hybrid (virtual and physical) fashion show called FashionArtFusion Season 5 that incorporates a display of indigenous textile fabrics, fashion runway and art/photography exhibition will open to a select physical audience. The aim is to reawaken the dying art of Nigeria and Africa’s traditional textile fabrics that have fallen into bad times on account of neglect and preference for foreign textiles that now dominate the local market. One man spearheading this innovative reawakening is Mr. Austin Aimankhu who is in partnership with Lagos State Government for a revolution in resurrecting Nigeria’s indigenous fabrics, so their full economic potential can be realised. The show is powered by Luzol.
According to Aimankhu, ”FashionArt Fusion is a celebration of Nigeria’s textile culture and art. What we do is highly cultural. We celebrate great Nigerian fabrics on the runway. FashionArtFusion is a big project. It’s a runway event where we showcase Nigeria’s textile tradion. We have about 10 fashion designers who will come on stage to give their different interpretations of these local textiles. We will lace it up with entertianment, dance, music and all that; we’re culturally minded.
”So, it’s a project that tries, not only to celebrate, but showcase our textiles, our designs, and tries to create awareness about these things, and also take it to the next level of trying to empower and invest in the players who make these textiles – adire, akwete, asoke, ange, all over the country, as different cultures produce their own textiles.”
The founder of Luzol fashion house lamented that the indigenous textiles industries of Nigeria’s different communities have been abandoned and are reeling in the throes of death, even as Nigerians lap up fabrics from foreign lands. He is of the view that the unconscionable neglect these indigenous textiles have suffered should be reversed quickly for the economic and employment benefits inherent in them to materialise. Aimankhu also emphasized the huge role government should play to revive these indigenous textile industries, so they perform to their full capacity.
”In Edo, we have ‘igbu’; in the Igbo land, we have ‘akwete’; in Benue, we have ‘ange’ and so on,” he said. ”We have different kinds of these fabrics in most communities, and we believe that the culture (of making traditional textiles) is dying; there’s negligence. And it’s not just to say that Nigeria’s indigenius textile tradition is dying, we need to take it to the next level. I keep saying that Ghana has kente, but Nigeria has about 200 different indigenous textiles, but Ghana has taken its kente to the print level; it’s not the weave, but it’s the print. That’s why we’d like to work with government to say, ‘look, any intervention in this space without government’s input is a tough call, because government has to drive it, one way or the other.
”So, we’re working with the Federal Ministry of Information and Culture; we’ve always worked with Lagos State Government; they’ve always been at the background, but now they have come forward; so they are co-hosting this year’s event. That’s the whole idea: to say, ‘look, let’s celebrate our textiles, empower our people who produce these textiles, because it’s a huge, huge economic resource. Look, if you know the economcis of Nigerian textiles, you’d be amazed.”
Aimankhu lamented that while the owners of Nigeria’s indigenous textiles are asleep, foreigners have swooped in on them, with the result that they have added technology and money to make prints out of them that they now bring back to sell to us.
”Look at the ankara we wear that comes from Dutch, Holland,” he said ”it’s an Indonesian textile tradition. When the Dutch colonised Indonesia, they saw it, took it back to Holland and introduced technology to it, and now they bring it to us to buy. And I’m saying: are we going to wait for them to take our kente, akwete, ange, aso oke to Europe, introduce technology and money and bring them back for us to buy? Even the Chinese have taken aso oke and now they bring us the prints to buy, since we’re sleeping on what is ours, since we’re a people that are perpetually asleep.”
He called for not just awareness about the damning negligence, but also action on how to revive Nigeria’s endangered indigenous textile tradition, so all its benefits can be harnessed for the huge economic benefits inherent in it. He noted that only through an organised process spearheaded by government and cooperatives that empowerment would come for the benefits be fully realised.
”So, we want to create this awareness, see how we can create a market, organised, structured market for our indigenous textiles all over the world,” Aimankhu said. ”And this is not something one person can do; it has to involve government, so that these producers of indigenous textiles can be empowered through creating cooperatives that will say, ‘produce, whatever technology that can be introduced, get the technology to these producers, organise them in a structured form and allow them to produce. Can you imagine the kind of empowerment that process can bring? It’s all about empowerment.
”So, the show is about arts, a mix of arts and fashion. We have this Ducthman, Willem Vermeer, who has been able to capture a slice of Lagos life in photographs titled ‘Lagos Sorelines’; it will be curated by Kennii Ekundayo of Galleri Odumije; it’s also about tourism and he’s going to have an exhibition of some of the pictures he’s taken. That’s why the Consular-General of the Dutch Embassy will come to support his own. If we’re able to pull the stunt, perhaps Lagos State Governor will be there or else Madam Commissioner for Arts, Culture and Tourism will represent him at the event. So, there will be exhibition of fashion, different aspects and accessories of fashion. Nigerian textiles will be on display; that’s what FashionArtFusion will be.”
Aimankhu hails from the fashion designing tradition of the 1990s when the likes of Mojo Lexy-Eyes, King, and Kese Jabari held sway. As he put it, ”I’m a fashion designer myself and I will display my work; I was Kese Jabari’s manager for years; Kese brought me into fashion; we’re good friends. So I know all efforts that were made at that early stage. A great guy. When you look at that period and now, a lot has happened, a lot has been done, a lot of awareness has been created.”
So, how can indigenous traditional fabrics that are part of Nigeria’s cultural heritage be given pride of place in the country’s national life? That’s the question that agitates Aimankhu and other indigenous fabric makers and fashion designers who believe Nigeria has kept handing over what is culturally hers to outsiders to harness for their economic boon at the expense of Nigerian people. He has ideas how to reverse the urgly fashion trend, saying India provides a ready example how to truly dress Nigeria, so the country’s cultural identity is not lost as currently obtains.
”What we’re trying to push is to convince government to say, for instance, that ‘let all civil servants wear Nigeria in two days of the week’, and get other corporate organisations to also key into wearing Nigeria for some days in the week. It’s like India; they wear Indian textiles and take pride in them. When you lose your culture, you lose your identity. The big problem we have in Nigeria is that we are loosing our identity completely. I want people to know that culture is not pedestrian; it should be given the respect it deserves.
”It’s sad our people do not yet know the economics of harnessing our indigenous, traditional textiles; that’s why we can afford to abandon them; it’s so huge. Sadly, we’re not a deep-thinking people otherwise this show and what it stands for should have everyone queuing behind it to make it work. So what we’re looking at is a few corporate entities like the breweries, telecom firms coming in to invest in the producers of Nigeria’s indigenous textiles to make them really big.”
FashionArtFusion being a celebration of traditional textile fabrics, which is Nigeria’s cultural industry, the event will have the blessing of royalty. As Aimankhu put it, ”We know that kings are supposed to be custodians of culture. So we like inviting one king or the other. The other time, it was the Ooni of Ife, but this time, the Oba Oniru of Oniruland will be the royal father of the day for this year’s FashionArtFusion.”