Women's History Month Series : Folashade 'Shade' Thomas-Fahm Nigerian fashion pioneer
Our first feature of the month is African fashion pioneer and Nigeria's first modern fashion designer; Victoria Omọ́rọ́níkẹ Àdùkẹ́ Fọlashadé Thomas-Fahm also known as Folashade "Shadè" Thomas-Fahm.
A foundation was laid for what the vibrant and burgeoning high fashion scene coming out of Africa that the world began taking notice of within the last 7 years.
Shadè, “who defined Nigerian style in the 1960s and was known for her use of indigenous fabrics. Organizers say Thomas-Fahm’s re-evaluation of indigenous textiles and silhouettes came at the emergence of independence for many African nations and women, symbolizing an affirmation of African culture and identities.”
In the summer of 53' Shadè began her educational career in the field of nursing in London, England. But very soon after arriving in London she happened upon a shop window displaying dresses She can famously be quoted as saying, “I knew there and then that fashion was my calling.”
After her moment of clarity and the decision to change her career she began her studies in Fashion and returned to Nigeria to open a production and fashion house called Maison Shadè later renamed Shadè.
At the time that Shadè debuted her brand of fashion in Lagos in the 50's and 60s it was not as well received at the start in the climate at the time with the newness of Indepence and the promise of a bright future many Nigerians had lost a sense of their identity due to the impact of colonialism on the country. Many saw Western fashion and British culture as superior compared to indigenous culture and this idea extended to fashion. Shade expressed how everything Western was being praised and nobody seemed to care about our own indigenous-produced materials. “I just never felt that way.”
Sade's celebration of indigenous textiles and the reimagining of styles like the ajuba now popularly known as the 'boubou' set her apart and set a standard and legacy of elegance and innovation for the future. We admire and pay homage to Shadè who showed us the necessity of telling African stories through textiles that were created by her native people and the pride of African culture through women's fashion and for her foresight and cultural pride at such a pivotal time for Nigerian identity.
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