Last week, I attended the Guaranty Trust Bank Fashion Weekend in Lagos Nigeria on assignment. This fashion show is one of the biggest fashion shows in Africa, second only to the Lagos Fashion Week. The show is the flagship fashion show of the Guaranty Trust Bank, one of Nigeria’s leading banks which has positioned itself as a creatives-friendly brand, often relying heavily on the creative industry for publicity and running programmes such as the GTBANK Food & Drink.
My attending was supposed to provide a window view into the African fashion scene. While there were no hard and fast rules as to the goals of that assignment, one of the primary ones (at least to me), was to assess the sustainability of the fashion show and perhaps “sow the kernel” of sustainability in fashion somewhere in there.
While I was excited about attending the fashion show, I was less than optimistic regarding its environmental sustainability or its ethical fashion features. As I wrote in a previous article about African ethical fashion labels, while many have sustainable practices, it does not feature in the top list of priorities for them. Thus, the chances of the show leaning towards sustainability (which would pretty much mean that the whole industry is sustainable) were slim.
At the end of it all, I found that the following remains as true as ever:
1. Faster fashion remains king
The first and biggest indicator of this was that the show was primarily for the ready-to-wear mass made fashion brands. While these brands are not exactly the ‘’sweatshop-mass making’’ fast fashion tycoons, they do not exactly worship at the altar of sustainability, artisanal or handmade slow fashion either. These brands made up the bulk of the pop-up vendors on display as well as the designers exhibited on the runways. There was a smaller section, outdoors reserved for artisans and brands selling handmade clothing items.
This section received quite the attention, both from the organisers and guests alike. However, by virtue of it being reserved to that section, it was automatically an after-thought; the place where shoppers went at the end of their shopping and only to see the “cute artsy stuff”. On the other hand, the modern faster fashion (not to be confused with the West’s fast fashion) brands occupied centre-stage in the main hall as the mainstay of the fashion weekend.
2. Sustainability is for sales
This is not to say though, that there were entirely no thoughts towards environmental sustainability and ethical fashion. Attempts at any form of sustainability were the individual efforts of the brand owners. This came mostly in the form of faux grass in the displays and cane display stands. A few vendors went as far as selling handmade shirts, bags and dresses (for exorbitant prices of course). When I enquired as to the reason behind their choices in the display and wares, I came away with the understanding that those efforts at “sustainability” were more an attempt to attract customers with “African branding” rather than a representation of the fashion brand’s ethical culture.
3. In the end, it really is all about branding and publicity
More than humans, more than clothing items, what featured the most in the fashion show was plastic. This came in two major ways; hand fans and plastic bottles of water. At the entrance gate, each guest received a complimentary plastic hand fan. On stepping inside, each guest would be confronted by waiters wheeling carts of cold water in branded plastic bottles. These bottles were small, cold and literally lifesavers. While the need for the water and the hand fans was fairly obvious (the temperature was over 95 degrees Fahrenheit, or 35 degrees Celsius), and the gift highly appreciated – but did they really have to be plastic? Now, most of the attendees were grateful for the fans and would eventually take them home at the end of the show, but many more would certainly discard theirs before leaving the show. I believe the major deciding factor was the fact that those two avenues would be the most far-reaching ways of selling the GTBANK brand (asides, of course, naming the fashion show after your bank).
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T A I B O B A C A R Elegance was the theme of his collection. The models looked regal in cuts of satin, chiffon and bejeweled hair bands, while accessorized with Taibo Bacar sunglasses, shoes, bags and belts. ?: @eva.al.desnudo #GTBankFashionWeekend #AfricasFinest #PromotingEnterprise
In my opinion, the major reason for this is that most fashion shows are still really not under the control of creatives. These shows are bankrolled by massive corporate behemoths, and maybe they always have. Going by past experiences with such corporations, it is easy to surmise that while they are interested in uplifting the arts, a huge part of that desire stems from their need to sell their brand. In light of this, branding stunts such as branded plastic water bottles tend to be acceptable. In this case, the corporate sponsor of the fashion show – Guaranty Trust Bank – did not spare any effort in maximizing the publicity for their brand even as in the case of the plastic bottle, at a cost to the environment.
While I came away from the fashion weekend with mixed feelings, I was positive in my admiration of the bank for such an initiative. It may be graded poorly on sustainability, but the bank alongside its partners for the show certainly bagged high points on creating platforms for designers and the fashion industry. In the coming weeks, I hope to reach out and initiate a conversation with them on how the show can be made more sustainable in the near future.
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