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CAN RED CARPET FASHION IN NIGERIA EVER BE FULLY SUSTAINABLE?

While we await the return of red carpet fashion, the coronavirus pandemic has heightened conversations around sustainability and the need to protect our ecosystems from further degradation. Sustainability is how we produce and consume clothes or any other fashion product that reduces negative environmental impacts, and while the term is becoming a buzzword in the corridors of fashion and flattened into another talking point, it is yet to break into the consciousness of most Nigerian celebrities.

As a red carpet host at this year’s AMVCA (Africa Magic Viewer Choice Awards), Toke Makinwa wore a custom-made Gert-Johan Coetzee gown, which must have been flown into the country – imagine the carbon footprint on this dress alone. The award show itself was held in the looming, sinister shadow of the Coronavirus, the fashion twisting after the iconography of the pandemic. From blinged-up face masks to elbow-length sheer gloves, celebrities tried to imprint their own style.

Toke Makinwa at the 2020 AMVCAs in Gert-Johan Coetzee

And not one celebrity wore something we had seen before. All those newly minted clothes and accessories came off as a little grotesque, especially in the wake of a ravaging pandemic, where fashion has been unravelled again as a major culprit of environmental pollution. Italy and China, two of fashion’s epicentres in manufacturing, saw a decline in waste and carbon emissions when both countries went into lockdown to mitigate the spread of coronavirus.

What’s the red carpet if celebrities aren’t asked, “what are you wearing?’” or “how long did it take you to dress up?” by overzealous TV hosts who still won’t know the meaning of ‘upcycle’ if a dictionary hit them in the face. In other parts of the world, though, larger shifts are happening.

At the 2020 Oscars, Timothée Chalamet ditched the Oscars’ hallowed, sartorial codes for a tracksuit made from recycled nylon; Lauren Dern and Jane Fonda both reached into red carpet pasts to wear gowns; and at the BAFTAs, parts of Saoirse Ronan’s dress came from leftover fabric. Another example is Tiffany Haddish, who is now famous for wearing her Alexander McQueen gown multiple times.

Actor, Timothée Chalamet on the 2020 Oscars red carpet

Granted, Nigerian fashion designers send down celebrities on the red carpet to show off their latest collections, mannequin-ing these pieces to as many eyeballs as possible – and these famous faces can be relied upon as an advertising tool. As celebrities, the interactions with these clothes are quite purely superficial and gluttonous, driven by an overarching Instagram compulsion to digitise moments before they evaporate.

On the other hand, fashion brands are not as transparent about their claims in strengthening their sustainability credentials as they project. While most don’t have the capacity to vertically integrate their own supply chains – that is, take charge of each stage of production – we still see questionable fabric choices that clearly don’t take the environment into consideration.

“I think transparency is important on the part of the brand,” Ebuka Omaliko, creative director of artisanal shoe brand Maliko Studios, says. “When they are transparent enough, the customer knows this is what goes into making their clothes or shoes and they are able to talk about it anywhere, even on the red carpet. It’s also not a question for celebrities; it’s something that people need to start imbibing.”

Dressing up celebrities for the red carpet is hardly ever a one-man sport, and stylists can also champion sustainability by acquainting themselves with textile composition and creating portfolios that focuses on upcycle/recycle culture that can be sent to clients. The red carpet, for all its razzle-dazzle, can be a place to have conversations about how fashion degrades the environment and the need to humanise the people that make these garments. Armed with this knowledge, celebrities can negotiate better sartorial choices with designers, and have them rejig their design philosophies.

“Shopping mindfully and responsibly,” Ebuka adds, “sustainability should be a lifestyle.”

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