Zainab Ashadu is putting Nigerian leather on the map. Literally. When we meet in her atelier in Lagos, Ashadu has just taken delivery of goat skins imprinted with a world atlas. Excited, she points out Nigeria to me.
She intends to use the leather to make a clutch bag that will sit on boutique shelves in London, Geneva, Dublin, Paris and Johannesburg, where her design brand, Zashadu, is stocked, and in Lagos, where she has a loyal following and a flagship store.
Ashadu is not only the creative director of Zashadu, a sustainable luxury label that creates handmade leather pieces that retail for a minimum of £180, but is also one of the leading figures in Nigeria’s leather design scene. It’s currently witnessing an explosive renaissance.
Author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie was seen carrying a Zashadu purse when she attended the Vanity Fair Oscars party this year, while British leather designer Bill Amberg was recently invited to Lagos to teach masterclasses on leather production to harness the industry’s burgeoning growth.
“Made-in-Nigeria goods are taking on a new shine,” says Femi Olayebi, founder of the Lagos Leather Fair and the designer of an eponymous handbag label. “In the past few years a surge of designers has conscientiously made grand efforts to offer beautifully made goods.” Now everyone wants a piece.
Fela Kuti, Nigeria’s most famous musician and political dissident, called the desire of many Nigerians to own European goods “Colo-mentality”: a legacy of colonial control where the colonised were made to believe all things West were better than whatever was produced locally.