Victoria Omoronike Aduke Folashade, popularly known as Shade Thomas-Fahm was born on September 22, 1933. She is often described as the first contemporary fashion designer in Nigeria.
The former president of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria moved to England in 1953 to further her studies after her completing her primary and secondary education in Lagos. She was to study nursing under a British Council sponsorship program. However, her plans changed when she was captivated by outfits on mannequins in fashion store windows on the streets of London. “I knew there and then that fashion was my calling,” she said.
As a result, Thomas-Fahm enrolled herself at the Barrett Street Technical College to study design and then went on to expand her knowledge at St Martin’s College of Arts (now Central Saint Martins) in London.
After studying fashion in London, Shade returned to Lagos, Nigeria in 1960 and opened her own factory and boutique – Maison Shade (later Shade’s Boutique), which became a go-to place for Nigerian-made outfits of different styles.
Using locally woven and dyed textiles such as aṣọ-òkè, àdìrẹ, akwete and okene, Shade transformed traditional pieces like iro and buba into a wrapper skirt by adding a zipper and created ‘ajuba now popularly known as the ‘boubou’. In addition, she made a pre-tied gèlè (headwrap). Shade made fashion easy!
“I was always putting one style up against the other style. For instance, I would look at the European skirt and then I would put it up against, in my mind, the Yoruba ìró… Both clothe a woman’s lower half, and in similar ways, but with distinct differences. Both styles had something to learn from the other.” Shade said.
Although the modern styles became known locally and internationally, it was no easy feat for the trailblazer. The pioneer had a hard time convincing Nigerians to buy local fabrics and designs because people were only drawn to western clothes.
During the colonial era, local clothing was not widely accepted or associated with pride instead the British culture and style was regarded as the norm. Unfortunately this preference did not wear off immediately after Nigeria’s independence in 1960. In an interview with The Nation, Shade said:
“The years of the colonial rule also gave many Nigerians a complex, about wearing Ankara dresses or the tie and dye. When I returned to Nigeria at that time after my studies abroad, I had a hard time trying to convince Nigerians to wear dresses made with local fabrics, because we were under British rule, we always felt that the English culture was better.”
The narrative changed when Shade’s designs began to catch the attention of European and cosmopolitan women living in Nigeria and soon after, the local population began to show interest in the idea.
Shade has gone to receive several awards, recognitions and held notable positions including Lifetime Achievement award at Arise Magazine’s Fashion Week in Lagos (2011), President of the Rotary Club of Victoria Island from 2009-2010, President of the Fashion Designers Association of Nigeria.
Passion and effort work magically. Shade decided to pursue her passion and she turned out to become a pioneer in her chosen profession. She knew what she truly wanted and would excel in so she wasted no time acquiring the necessary skills and knowledge to thrive in the field.
Furthermore, she was an advocate for what she believed in. This relates to business in general when entrepreneurs are frustrated because their target audience are not buying into their idea. In some cases, target consumers do not understand the value that you are proposing to them until later. The point is that one should never give up when faced with such challenges.