′Blue fashion′ walks the runway in Nigeria | Africa | DW | 23.12.2018
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Africa

'Blue fashion' walks the runway in Nigeria

Come year-end and there's usually an occasion to step out in your finest, which could mean an outfit or accessories made of fish skin to counter the dirty side of fashion, as DW's Sam Olukoya saw on the runway in Lagos.

The fashion industry is reputed to be the second-largest polluter in the world. The pesticides and insecticides used on crops grown for fabrics, coupled with the chemicals used in the production process, can cause enormous damage to the environment. It is for this reason that some designers are turning to the oceans, seas and lakes for natural and sustainable materials to make clothes.

This new wave of so-called "blue fashion" has been making it onto runways at fashion shows between Paris and Lagos. Leather from fish skin has become a symbol of the growing trend, while clothing and accessories made of seashells and seaweed are also featuring in designer collections.

 Five fashion models showcase designs from a so-called blue fashion collection (DW/S. Olukoya)

African fashion designers are turning to the oceans for materials for their collections

African designers on board 

In Nigeria, one of the most popular natural materials sourced from oceans and lakes for "blue fashion" is fish skin. 

The outfits and shoes trending with shoppers at the Ikeja City Mall in the Nigerian metropolis of Lagos this festive season hint at how fashion is gradually going green as concern over pollution associated with it grows in Africa.

Read more: In search of eco-friendly fashion

Robert Popping of the Rift Valley Leather in Kenya is among the continent's leading designers who are embracing "blue fashion."

"Fish skin is a very interesting material, it has a very distinctive texture, it can be finished to give you either smooth leather or a leather with a very rough textured look," says Popping.

"It can be finished in fabulous colors and there are enormous opportunities, I believe, to develop this material as an alternative luxury material."

Three workers in blue aprons around a heap of pink fish with a bird circling above (OrbMedia 2017)

A catch of Nile perch, a large freshwater fish being filleted, salted and smoked on the shore of Lake Victoria in Uganda

Fish leather is a 'win-win'

One of his most popular skins is that of Africa's freshwater Nile perch. Popping combines the skin with cow hide to give some of his designs a uniquely striking texture and appearance.  

More than a dozen African Commonwealth member countries have pledged to work together to solve problems related to the ocean and to preserve it, as part of the Commonwealth Blue Charter.

It is becoming necessary for the fashion industry to use natural materials in order to curb pollution and its high levels of waste, according to Jeff Ardron of the Commonwealth Blue Charter.  

"Now we need to really rethink the way we do a lot of things. Fashion is extremely wasteful right now, one of the most wasteful industries, so many of the products require huge amounts of water – thousands of liters of water for typical jeans, for example," Ardron says. 

Read more: Can plastic recycling solve the fast-fashion problem?

"Also many of the higher fashion pieces are made to be worn only once. If you wash them they fall apart. If we can reduce that a little bit – and I don't pretend we will be able to fix it completely but if we can start reusing the products from fisheries, in this case from the fish leather – it's a win-win. "

No chemicals 

Jamil Walji, the lead designer for JW Couture of Kenya, recently showcased some of his work using marine materials. Walji says more and more of his counterparts and clients in the industry are taking to "blue fashion." 

"People are really looking forward and wish they would have more of this because they are finding something of a very different nature. How I incorporate it into my brand and the fact that it's all about sustainability is an extra bonus for them and that is what they like about it," says Walji. 

Read more: Giving up my filthy fashion habit 

Yinka Makinde is an African in love with "blue fashion" clothing and accessories. "I like the feel of the stuff and I like the fact that it is from nature. It has not yet gone through chemical reagents for processing. It is not bad, it is a good one," she says.

As fashion with a conscience focused on the oceans, lakes and rivers picks up a bigger following, it may come as no surprise if you soon spot a guest at a Christmas party, an office function or a church service wearing fish leather, shell or seaweed. 

Watch video 01:05

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