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Using Fashion and Art in Nigeria to Encourage Waste Reduction and Sustainability

Creatives in Nigeria, are dedicated to ethically fusing fashion and art in a way that will last for our future generations. Their own brand, which emphasizes resource preservation, combines conventional materials with modern art motifs.

Climate change refers to a change in the average conditions — such as temperature and rainfall— in a region over a long period of time. Understanding how our decisions affect the environment is crucial as we work towards a more sustainable future. People in Nigeria don’t truly comprehend that climate change is an issue because of the societal challenges they face. It is perceived as being uniquely Western. It’s something the country must take very seriously.

Nowadays, Nigeria does not produce nearly as much greenhouse gas pollution as the United States and China, it produces the 3rd highest amount of GHG in Africa—just behind South Africa and Zambia. In 2016, Nigeria was solely responsible for 0.97% of the total GHG emissions in the world. Nevertheless, Nigeria has been significantly impacted by climate change in the last decade. That extra heat is driving regional and seasonal temperature extremes, reducing snow cover and sea ice, intensifying heavy rainfall, and changing habitat ranges for plants and animals—expanding some and shrinking others. Corresponding to the World Bank data, temperature in Nigeria increased to 27.67 Celsius in 2021 from 27.43 Celsius in 2020. Rainfall is experienced throughout the year in Nigeria, with most significant rainfall occurring from April to October and with minimal rainfall occurring from November to March. It’s clear that the next chapter of Nigeria’s story can’t be written without addressing climate change head-on. The goals of climate change adaptation are to reduce risk and vulnerability to climate change, strengthen resilience, enhance well-being and the capacity to anticipate, and respond successfully to change.

Remarkably, the four pillars of sustainability are human, social, economic and environmental. The precise negative environmental impact of the fashion industry remains unknown, but it is sizeable. The industry’s boundaries spread globally and its multitiered supply chain remains complex and opaque. Still, thanks to trade liberalization, globalization, and enduring cost pressures, very few brands own the assets of their upstream factories, and most companies outsource final production. In the meantime, as opposed to our current linear model of fashion production with environmental impacts at every stage, where resources are consumed, turned into a product, then discarded, sustainable fashion minimizes its environmental impact, and even aims to benefit the environment. That’s right, the goal is a circular fashion industry where waste and pollution are eliminated, and materials have been used for as long as possible, then reused for new products to avoid the need to exploit virgin resources.

Apparently, the fashion industry is an amazing way for creatives to communicate. With every new collection a designer can offer you a new dream, desired aesthetic and a fresh personality. But with time garments and styles come back or are only inspired by fashion we have seen before. Well, this is when we need to revise completely. By reusing, deconstructing and recycling second hand materials, as anything like offcuts and remnants of other fashion houses or firms. Repurposing old archived stock of material as well as a focus on experimentation with unconventional materials will create something new. Although, using materials in this way requires even more innovative design skill and technical knowledge, challenging designers to use this material approach to create refined and timeless pieces. An expert states that sustainable fashion is not a constraint to fashion, but rather a catalyst to bring more creativity and real innovation into this sector. Put simply, it is fashion that is ethically made and environmentally friendly.

As, sustainable clothes will ultimately not necessarily be more expensive than name-brand apparel, for which we frequently pay high sums for the image but infrequently for the quality or sustainability. Young, urban fashion buyers are actively looking for sustainable solutions, but the majority of shoppers are unconvinced. In reality, many people find it difficult to define “sustainability,” as there are a number of varied, intricate aspects to take into account. However, as millennials and Gen Zers approach the age and income brackets where they may start incorporating their eco-aware attitudes and ideals into their wardrobes, this may change. In response, brands, may develop more transparent messaging and sustainable business practices.

Nigeria is well-positioned to take advantage of this expanding opportunity as it is still Africa’s largest economy and perhaps the continent’s largest fashion consumer market. Due to the manner that local fashion brands now conduct business, this is the case. Fabrics and clothing are typically manufactured by hand and using human labour. There is an extremely minimal production waste because most tailored clothing is created just for the client. Because of this, Nigerian fashion firms are in a better position to gain from implementing sustainability into their business model.

Indigenous design is rooted in sustainability

In the meantime, every ethnic group in Nigeria has a cloth that is often woven or embellished by hand. Local designers should take advantage of this by reflecting inward, honouring their legacy honestly, and offering it to a worldwide market. However, the term “hand-made” is frequently used in ethical fashion. In Nigeria, we already practice this. The majority of locally produced clothing is made with hand-finished textiles and other items. Nigerian artists create cloth patterns by hand and buttons from materials like wood, ebony, and ivory. Cotton is also the main material used, locally. They make them into thick textiles like the Asooke worn by Yorubas, the Akwete worn by Igbos, or the Igbu (Ukpon Esan) worn by Esans in Edo State. These fabrics are extremely opulent and convey a particular Nigerian story.

The second-biggest non-oil state economy in Nigeria is Ibadan, which is the capital of Oyo State. It is the fourth largest state economy overall in Nigeria. Designers in Ibadan, a city known for its rusty roofs, are debating the implications of climate change for their organizations, their neighbourhoods, and the future of fashion and the arts. In this sustainability-related field, Susa Africa spoke with active Nigerian talents. Their responses are diverse, but they are all driven by the same mentality: Nigerians don’t need to look outside of their own past for future solutions. Model of this perspective in action range from switching to a zero-waste production strategy for art to adopting traditional textiles like Adire, a resist-dyed cloth primarily used by the Yoruba people.

The Green Fashion Factory, a startup harnessing the waste of the earth and turning them into treasure. Described by the founders, “the main mission is to inspire conscious living through circularity with sustainable practices to preserve our planet and make a positive impact in the industry and the community at large.” The team work with different types of waste ranging from tyre into furniture, fabric offcuts and nylon woven into beautiful cloth, shoes, bags and accessories, and other waste like glass, paper, pet plastic etc. Established in 2020 by Oladejo Ramota Yetunde, with her sisters, Abiodun Aminat Oladejo (The Oladejo Sistas) and a Nigerian based in Australia, Dr Abigail Foluké Badejo, an award-winning Behaviour Change Researcher driven by her core values of Social Justice, Dignity and Equity as well a passion for complex problem-solving for transformative social impact.

Abiodun is of the opinion that quality, style, or sleekness should not be sacrificed for sustainability in the fashion industry.

“The fashion industry is one of the most polluting industry. Alone, it accounts for up to 10% of global greenhouse gas emissions. Every day tons of unwanted clothing end up in landfill. 8 million tons of used clothes are collected in Europe and North America alone = 50 Billion t-shirts on landfills create long lasting damage to the soil and create problems including soil and groundwater contaminated with toxins. In the meantime, it is estimated that people are buying 60 percent more clothes and wearing them for half as long. Clothing and textiles that are not recycled or reused ends up in the landfills which takes up valuable space and release harmful gasses into the environment. Likewise, plastic fibres are polluting the oceans, the wastewater, toxic dyes, and the exploitation of underpaid workers. Fast fashion is big business, and while the environmental costs are rising, experts say there is another way: a circular economy for textiles. We are proud to be a sustainable and upcycling brand that is making a positive impact in the fashion industry, at the heart of the brand is upcycling- a process by which we transform fabric offcuts into new fashionable pieces, by this process, we are able to reduce textile waste and minimise environmental impact of garment production.”

They source fabric waste from fashion houses and transform it into unique, high quality shoes, bags, art pieces and accessories using traditional techniques. She said, “we believe that sustainable fashion should not come at the expense of style, sleekness, or quality, we strive to create pieces that are both fashionable, classic and long lasting. By using high quality materials and working with skilled artisans, we are able to create pieces that stand the test of time.”

The Green Fashion Factory team work with small scale artisans, paying fair wages, according to her, by doing so we are able to support local communities and promote sustainable economic development, by working with local communities, “we can create a more equitable and sustainable fashion industry that benefits everyone involved.”

But “sustainable art, the creative practice of making artwork that are not harmful to the environment as well as works that address topics such as climate change, waste and social issues.” Experts claim that sustainable art is a growing and flexible method of thinking about what it means to create art, rather than a set of rigid standards. They say, this involves using sustainable materials and processes, salvaged or recycled products, recycled and reused materials, and recycled and reused materials. It also complies with a sustainability objective.

The Oladejo Sistas are interested in ecological art creation in addition to fashion. Ramota and Abiodun are artists that produce captivating works of art from trash gathered from their neighbourhood. The raw and vibrant works of art are proof of their talent, inventiveness, and capacity to turn trash into something lovely.

“One of the unique aspects of our brand is that each piece is one-of-a-kind, each piece created is unique with its own story, this is not only environmentally friendly but also adds a special touch to our products that cannot be replicated in mass produced pieces. We are dedicated to reducing waste and promoting Sustainability in our production process, one way we achieve this is through the use of waste materials in our signature artpieces – “Oladejo

“Through our products, we are able to show people the incredible possibilities that exists when it comes to waste reduction and upcycling, we believe that by demonstrating what can be achieved with waste materials, we can inspire others to think creatively about their own waste reduction practices. When people see the creative and beautiful products that can be made from waste materials, they are always amazed and excited to learn more about sustainable fashion, they are often motivated to think differently about their own consumption and waste generation. By showcasing the beauty and potential of sustainable fashion, we believe every person has the potential to make a positive impact on the world.”

Via education and inspiration, Abiodun believe that, they can encourage more people to make sustainable choices and she said “our products have been just one way we are able to share this message.” “The Green Fashion Factory takes a bold, ethical stand against fast fashion and labour exploitation in the Fashion industry’s supply chain and also promoting our long heritage of weaving. Focus primarily on SDGs 1, 8, 9, 12, 13, and 17.”

It is clear that sustainability offers a platform for the fashion industry to capitalize on in order to enhance both the local economy of Nigeria and the economic opportunities available to them, as well as to promote Nigeria’s culture and legacy on a worldwide scale. If Nigeria develops a robust and reputable national brand internationally, it might have a significant economic impact and encourage sustained growth in the upcoming years.

Cover Image: Art made with fabric waste by Oladejo Sistas. Photo: Abiodun Aminat Oladejo  

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