Inside Lagos’s Fashion Scene with Designer Irene Agbontaen

Janelle Okwodu

Fashion in Lagos is booming, but don’t just take our word for it. Irene Agbontaen, the founder of TTYA London—a brand specifically catering to tall women—has seen the changes firsthand. Currently based between Lagos and the UK, Agbontaen has familial roots in Nigeria and a close connection to the nation’s artistic community. Over the years, she’s watched the growth of an “unapologetic DIY creative culture” that has enlivened Lagos Fashion Week and brought international attention to the city’s entrepreneurs and designers. “The energy and vibe of the people is what makes Lagos so special,” says Agbontaen. “We are in an important time where the creative industry in Nigeria is getting the spotlight it deserves. It’s my home, and every time I go, I connect with more and more people who are taking their careers into their own hands—it’s so inspiring to see!”

In keeping with that collaborative spirit, Agbontaen joined forces with British-Nigerian designer, Tokyo James for a joint show in the middle of Lagos Fashion Week. First introduced on a shoot two years ago, the pair became fast friends thanks to their shared interest in designing pieces that could resonate with those previously excluded from the fashion conversation. “We both wanted to use our platforms to continue inclusivity for all within the industry,” says Agbontaen, who sought to create wardrobe essentials with a vibrant twist. To bring that idea to fruition, they sourced all materials locally and kept their manufacturing process within the community. Though the choice resulted in a few difficulties—the team spent two days in the town of Mushin, on the mainland during the rainy season while awaiting fabrics—the experience was unforgettable. “The great thing about a collaboration is having someone else to lean on,” says Agbontaen. “Being a solo designer can sometimes be lonely as everything rests on you, so I enjoyed bouncing ideas and overcoming challenges together.”

Of course, there’s more to enjoy in Lagos than the collections. With each trip, Agbontaen takes time out to experience the city’s culinary and beauty hotspots, indulging in protein treatments at KLS Naturals and getting her amala and seafood okra soup at Yakoyo. Here, she takes Vogue along for her trip—from backstage at her big show, to dining with the city’s political elite.

PHOTO: RODERICK EJUTAMI
PHOTO: RODERICK EJUTAMI

My Lagos Fashion Week experience began with ‘The Gathering’, a Fashion Business Series Dinner hosted by Heineken Lagos Fashion Week. The dinner was filled with creatives and international guests such as sustainability activist Bandana Tewari. [Here I am] with Adebayo One of Orange Culture and Denola Grey.

PHOTO: RODERICK EJUTAMI
PHOTO: RODERICK EJUTAMI
PHOTO: RODERICK EJUTAMI

Day two took me to Surelere, to the women I work with at the dyeing pits. Lola and Dami are the only two women that work at the dyeing pit, and this is the second year I’ve worked with them on fashion products. They use the traditional Adire tie-dye technique on modern-day silhouettes. We worked on the Black History Month Nike jersey and exploring fashion through heritage.

PHOTO: RODERICK EJUTAMI
PHOTO: RODERICK EJUTAMI
Photo: Roderick Ejutami
Photo: Roderick Ejutami
Photo: Roderick Ejutami

For Lagos Fashion Week, TTYA teamed up with Nigerian designer Tokyo James on a capsule collection. Inspired by our cultural merge of a Nigerian heritage with a Western upbringing, the collection sourced all materials locally and included everything from vegan leather trenches to power tailoring and organza. New music sensation Rema, DJ Spinall, and Team GB Olympic champion Perri Shakes-Drayton walked the show.

PHOTO: RODERICK EJUTAMI
Photo: Roderick Ejutami

Before our show, Orange Culture also showed an amazing collection, titled ‘Goodbye To Me.’

Photo: Roderick Ejutami
Photo: Roderick Ejutami
Photo: Roderick Ejutami

On my final day, Tokyo James and I hosted a dinner with the British Deputy High Commissioner to Nigeria, Harriet Thompson, at the British High Commission Residence in Ikoyi. We invited some of our creative peers to a conversation on how we can open the channel for Nigerian creatives, both in Nigeria and the UK diaspora. Among the guests were cultural consultant Grace Ladoja MBE, photographer and creative director Stephen Tayo and Teni Zaccheaus co-founder of Native magazine.

Originally Appeared on Vogue