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Folashade ‘Shade’ Thomas-Fahm has been called one of Africa’s most important designers, and a pioneering figure in Nigerian fashion. The legendary designer, who celebrated her 88th birthday on 22 September 2021, is reputed for owning the first boutique in Nigeria and for being the first professionally-trained fashion designer in the country.⁠

Born Victoria Omọ́rọ́níkẹ Àdùkẹ́ Fọlashadé Thomas on 22 September 1933, Thomas-Fahm’s love for fashion began at the age of 12 when she started learning how to sew from a local dressmaker in Lagos whose shop was called ‘Sisi Sewing Shop’.

At 19, while in class four and waiting for the Cambridge Junior Certificate exam result to enter High School or Technical College, she found herself pregnant. The boy she gave birth to, in 1952, was named Joachim Kofi Branco. After his birth, she relocated to Kano in Northern Nigeria to be close to the son’s father. She returned home shortly after, when she realized that the man had another woman he was involved with.

In 1953, she moved to England to study nursing but after being inspired by the boutiques in London, she decided to study fashion instead at St. Martins College of Art and Design, London. She became a qualified fashion designer in 1959—becoming the first Nigerian woman to acquire a professional qualification in fashion design.⁠

While in London, Thomas-Fahm worked as a model for big brands in England, including Lux Beauty Soap. In 1960, she returned to Nigeria and opened a factory and the first fashion boutique in Nigeria under the name, Maison Shade (later Shade’s Boutique), in Yaba, Lagos. She became known for using traditional Nigerian textiles such as aso oke, adire, akwete and okene to design outfits of different styles. She is the originator of several outfits including ‘boubou’— a style she created when she feminized the male ‘agbada’ for women.⁠

At the beginning, she had a hard time convincing Nigerians to buy local fabrics and design, because people felt that British culture was better. But little by little, she became an influential designer and dressmaker in the Lagos fashion scene. Her work also started to get international recognition. One of her designs, for instance, was featured in the Singer International Fashion Catalogue on paper pattern cutting and easy sewing. Her work was featured in the exhibition and one of her designs won the Singer Award.

Her enduring impact will be celebrated at London’s Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum. Set to open next year, its Africa Fashion exhibition will commemorate past and contemporary African designers including Mali’s Chris Seydou and Ghana’s Kofi Ansah.

She is a former president of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria and received a lifetime achievement award at Arise Magazine’s Fashion Week in Lagos in 2011. In an interview the fashion legend had with The Vanguard in 2015, she said:

‘Going back memory lane, I could say, those of us that came back before and just after the independence portrayed one mind- to develop Nigeria. We came back with the hope of bringing out what we had learned, to develop where there was need for development and to make Nigeria better’.

Her awards include President of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria, Lifetime achievement award at Arise Magazine’s Fashion Week in Lagos (2011), President of the Rotary Club of Victoria Island from 2009-2010.

Credits: The Republic Journal, Wikipeadia, Trojan News

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