“There are very early examples of gender bending in African tradition,” explains the designer behind the gender-fluid Nigerian clothes label Lagos Area Programme. “Queerness is not a western idea.”
From West Africa to Europe and past, non-binary designer Adeju Thompson is showcasing genderless African trend on the world stage.
Thompson, 30, who makes use of they/them pronouns, grew up in Lagos and, bar a stint finding out trend design within the UK, has lived in Nigeria their total life. In 2018, Thompson based label Lagos Area Programme. “I am at all times collaging totally different concepts, tying all these items collectively,” Thompson mentioned. “To focus on the queer group and in addition to make enjoyable of myself and make enjoyable of trend.”
The result’s luxurious indigo-dyed natural materials and chic knitwear, offset by putting sculptural handcrafted brass equipment that flirt with queer iconography.
Lots of Thompson’s designs use adire, an indigo resist-dyed textile — a key part of conventional clothes worn by West African Yoruba folks. The heritage textile is reimagined by Thompson, in a contemporary context, by making use of the dye method to knitwear. Thompson calls this reinvention “submit adire.”
‘We greet apparel earlier than we greet its wearer’
Within the final yr, Lagos Area Programme has skyrocketed onto the world stage exhibiting collections in Lagos, Paris and Milan. In January, Thompson debuted their spring-summer 2021 assortment at Milan Vogue Week.
The gathering, known as “Aso Lànkí, Kí Ató Ki Ènìyàn,” takes its title from a Yoruba saying which interprets as: “We greet apparel earlier than we greet its wearer.” Thompson says the gathering responds to a turbulent yr of pandemic and socio-political unrest in Nigeria, by addressing group and shared id by way of clothes, to remind those that they’re nonetheless collectively although they’ve been bodily remoted.
A hand-knitted “post-adire” cape shirt, made from adire patterned material, dyed with pure indigo, paired with
Yoruba broad trousers. Credit score: Kadara Enyeasi
The designs are additionally knowledgeable by a interval Thompson spent in Osun in southwest Nigeria, a time of private revelation.
Whereas there, an Osun excessive priestess confirmed Thompson two objects with nice religious worth: a dagger and a fan. In conventional ritual, Yoruba folks maintain each objects, representing the stability between the femininity and masculinity within the particular person. “This was at all times part of our id,” Thompson defined.
“I used to be bullied as a toddler as a result of I wasn’t very masculine, and I’ve at all times felt extra related to my female facet,” Thompson instructed CNN. “There’s been quite a lot of trauma for me round my masculinity, and I like that as an grownup I can trend the life I need, and I can simply mediate between each genders and create an area that works for me.”
“I’ve simply at all times felt extremely fluid in how I categorical myself, as a result of it is at all times felt very pure to me,” Thompson defined. “I am simply so conscious on a historic and private degree the harm poisonous masculinity could cause. It is simply not an area I join with.”
“It is so vital for me to precise myself and share my story by way of my work,” Thompson added. “(It is) my contribution to the political and cultural dialog.”
Past the runway
Throughout lockdown, queer British photographer Craig Waddell reached out to Thompson over social media, asking to collaborate.
“Often once I present on my work it is on Black our bodies, however this photographer is a White non-binary photographer from London,” Thompson instructed CNN. “All of the fashions they confirmed Lagos Area Programme on had been White. After I design for Lagos Area Programme, the designs are for everyone.”
Adeju Thompson. Credit score: Courtesy Konstantin Vulkov
This fall, the label will launch a group of designs at Nigerian high-end trend retailer Alara. Celebrating up to date design and queerness assembly heritage, the opening of the gathering can be within the type of an adire textile symposium.
The opening of the gathering is about to coincide with Lagos Area Programme’s second exhibiting at Milan Vogue Week this September. “This time round, I particularly requested to indicate of their womenswear assortment,” Thompson says, explaining their need to subvert gender norms on the occasion by utilizing non-binary and male fashions to stroll their designs.
Refined and subversive, Thompson’s designs are additionally gaining traction past the runway. Earlier this yr, Lagos Area Programme was invited to exhibit within the Africa Vogue Exhibition 2022 on the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, scheduled to open subsequent June.
“I need Lagos Area Programme to champion conversations round gender, indigenous data and highlighting an alternate narrative across the African expertise,” Thompson mentioned.