“When I moved to the UK, it was such a cultural shock in the sense that it was all about the skinny girls,” Ojoma Idegwu of Dear Curves, an African brand that stocks in retail stores like Lagos and Abuja based 41 Luxe, says.
The now UK-based Nigerian says that her difficulty in finding clothes that flattered her, influenced the kind of clothes she creates for the brand, designing for the likes of Jazmine Sullivan and Gabourey Sidibe.
The bias of the fashion industry against plus-size people isn’t an untold one. What is underexplored is the effect that these global beauty standards have on women who are not in the west. Nigeria, the country in the world with the highest population of Black people, has not been immune to this prejudice.
As global conversations emerge on why the fashion industry should be more size-inclusive, Nigeria’s own fashion industry is also having a moment of reckoning and catching on to the fact that it cannot ignore a market that is estimated to account for close to a fifth of the country’s projected $4.7 billion fashion market.
Globally the plus-size market is estimated to reach close to $700 billion by 2027 with an impressive CAGR of 5.9% from 2021 to 2027. Although these metrics are impressive, Nigeria’s plus-size market still has room for lots of improvement, but there are those who are tapping into this potential.
Nigeria’s designers and events are normalizing plus-size fashion
Customer-centrism is everything, and designers have an integral role in cracking this billion dollar industry. “I just knew that I was tired of going into stores and not finding anything to wear. Gone are those days where you find clothing in very unflattering materials and styles,” says Kafilat Olamide Salisu ‘Kakah’ founder of Reign Lagos, a newly developed size-inclusive brand with a size chart that caters up to a size 32.
The underrepresentation of plus-size models on the global runway industry is extremely glaring and the Nigerian fashion industry is not left out. There are however those who are reshaping the narrative.
“After participating in over 14 shows in Nigeria and Abroad, it felt like a natural progression to move into having a platform where plus size diversity is fully celebrated,” Temi Aboderin, the founder of celebrated Plus Size Fashion Week (PSFW) Africa, tells Quartz. Although currently on a hiatus due to the pandemic, the event, running since 2017, has been home to a lot of aspiring plus-size models.
Sefi Oma faced discrimination as early as age 9 due to her size. As a teenager, her clothes wouldn’t fit, so she’d switch to her mom’s. This caused more bullying, and that made her disconnect. As an adult, she currently runs the successful Fatzine Entertainment, parent company to Curvy Models, a modeling agency that highlights plus-size people in Nigeria, and gives opportunities to them in spaces where they’re typically excluded.
Rather than the traditional shows organized exclusively for plus-size models, harnessing this market may need it to move into mainstream platforms like the celebrated Heineken Lagos Fashion Week, Arise Fashion Week, GTBANK Fashion Weekend, and so on; building some sense of inclusion.
“When these brands have zero inclusion—from both the designers and models as a whole, it shows that the word ‘inclusivity’ is just used on paper,” Kakah tells Quartz.
Retailers and stockists are a vital part of the apparel industry
Retailers play a key role at integrating the working functions of consumerism between the garment industry, and those on the plus-size. In 2020, research showed that the retail apparel market in Nigeria was valued at $4.8 billion, a growth rate of 5.5%, and an estimated value of $6.3 billion by 2025. This is proof that gluing the strands between retailers/stockists, the apparel market, and the prospective plus-size market will be a hit.
“Most African brands on the continent have found that the women they’re serving are not the typical size of the Western make-up of the women, making them more size inclusive,” says Ayotunde Rufai, co-founder of luxury e-commerce store, Jendaya, citing Imad Eduso, a Lagos based brand ready-to-wear brand whose designs premises on luxury silk-linen fabrics.
Jendaya currently stocks over 70 luxury African brands with not just a focus on west Africa, but across the continent. “In terms of how we operate, we work on a marketplace module, where we list items and inventory from partner brands and diverse designers across the world.”
The bespoke or made-to-order business module is also a way for brands to be size inclusive. It’s also a good way to minimize waste and push a certain angle of eco-friendliness, while helping designers produce clothes that flatter the bodies of consumers no matter their sizes.
“We’ve also taken from the Moda Operandi module, where we also have made-to-order designers like Abiola Olusola [a leading Nigerian clothing brand], making clothes based on size requests.”
What about plus-size consumers in Nigeria?
“Sometimes, getting clothes that flatter our bodies can feel like an extreme sport. Other times, it feels like luck,” says Efua Oyofo, a lifestyle writer and a plus-size consumer. Most times, in order to beat this stress, plus-size people go as far as collaborating with designers to get what they want.
Customers want to wear clothes that make their bodies feel flattered. Textures are important, and so are textiles, cuts, design aesthetics, and how the clothes feel on their bodies.
“I think there’s this perception that you shouldn’t wear ‘this style’ because your body type is not ‘this style.’ I understand to a certain extent that you need to dress for your body type,” says Reni Abina, founder of premium womenswear label, Rendoll, “but I also think that most outfits would fit most people if they’re supported well—be snatched in the right places or free in the right places.
According to Victoria Aigbobhiose, an independent plus-size model who’s graced the stages of Aboderin’s PSFW Africa and ELOY Awards, “One thing that made me feel really confident during the show, was the design I was wearing.” Aigbobhiose adds,“Brands need to start making the sizes of their clothes more flexible, and include us in mind during designing.”
Beyond this, there’s the price disparity plus-size people continue to face against their slimmer contemporaries. “I understand why these designers would make something a few thousand naira worth more for plus-sizes as it takes up more fabrics,” Oyofo says, “however, I still think that there needs to be some sort of democratization. It’s important to factor that, but it’s also important not to. It seems quite discriminatory.”
Designer, Abina, has a different thought on price disparity. “At Rendoll, every paying customer is the same, whether a size 4 or a size 20, and all our prices are the same. We don’t price based on size. The difference between making a size 10 and a size 18 dress isn’t more than a yard, so I think it’s a bias for people to charge significantly more for plus-size.”
Correction: An earlier version of this article credited Idegwu with designing outfits for Gabrielle Union, Loni Love, and Danielle Lee. This has been corrected to read that she designed outfits for Jazmine Sullivan and Gabourey Sidibe.