There’s an international fashion show that occurs just once every two years but has grown into a magnet for both established international designers, like Yves Saint Laurent and Jean Paul Gaultier, as well as aspiring local up-and-comers. No, it doesn’t take place in Milan, Paris or even New York City. Welcome to Niger — the land better known for battling Boko Haram and al-Qaida than grooming fashionistas.
Known as the Festival International de la Mode en Afrique (or FIMA), the event — its catwalks and accompanying trade show — now attracts 60,000 visitors, double the attendance it had before moving to Niger’s capital city, Niamey, in 2007. It was pioneered by African fashion legend Alphadi, who’s known for his fusion of Saharan and Western styles, and has stretched to four days (from just one) to showcase young global designers, the next generation of African talent, established names and a final day for music. (This year’s show in November is set to feature Nigerian Afro-pop singer Yemi Alade.)
For tomorrow’s de la Renta or Versace, though, this festival has become a crucial space for Niger’s local talent to get a spot in the limelight. Fashion schools don’t exactly abound in this West African country, after all, although festival organizers are looking to change that. In fact, they’ve just broken ground on a new school, says festival general manager Moulaye Seidnaly. And while the country still faces plenty of development woes, its little-festival-that-could is “weaving together a peaceful Africa with education and industry,” Seidnaly says, with the hope of pushing forth change as it promotes local goods and designers.