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Chief(Mrs)Folashade Thomas Fahm, a proud African who advocates for the restoration of the African Fashion’s pride and beauty, is one of our foremost fashion designers and a promoter of our local fabrics....
Chief(Mrs)Folashade Thomas Fahm, a proud African who advocates for the restoration of the African Fashion’s pride and beauty, is one of our foremost fashion designers and a promoter of our local fabrics. She was the first in Nigeria to open a boutique. She was also one of Nigeria’s earliest industrialists. Mrs. Fahm who used to be a model, is a real symbol of an African woman. Excerpts from our chat with her:
"I AM from Lagos State and was born in Olushi near Ita Faji, Lagos, over 72 years ago. I am from a polygamous home of two wives and an inherited lady (widow of my paternal uncle). My mother had five girls and two boys, while the second and the inherited wife had a girl each. The family was a total of nine children. Growing up in Nigeria was fun, love, beautiful and we worked hard but we did all the normal things that growing up entails. I attended Saint Peter’s Primary School, and Baptist Academy Secondary School, Lagos. I also attended the New Era College off Tinubu Square, Lagos. I got my O’level papers at the London Polytechnic where I also studied English and Mathematics. Then I went to Barrett Technical College for Fashion /Art, also in London and then to Saint Martins College of Technology, London, and graduated with a Diploma in Fashion Design, in 1959. I am a widow with a son who lives in London.
I went to London in honour of the provisional admission I had in St. Mary’s hospital, London, to study Nursing, but the modern well-fitted shops of the West End of London captured my imagination. I admired the beautiful clothes and accessories in the shops, and this brought out the innate artistic trait in me. Having always been a dreamer from childhood, I envisioned myself and other ladies in those beautiful clothes and accessories and immediately, I changed my mind from training to be a nurse to training to be a fashion designer. I’ve always preferred being creative.
While a student of Fashion Design in London, I worked as a dish washer and later a waitress in a restaurant situated in a building called the ‘The Lion Corner House.’ In the restaurant, I was paid three guineas (three pounds, three shillings) per week, in addition to free lunch and dinner. Later, I got an employment in Stenoff & Sons, a reputable couturier in London, providing beautiful couture furs for the wealthy. In Stenoff & Sons, I started work as a tea girl and from there, I graduated to stitching, hemlines and sewing button holes. I learnt what it takes to run a successful fashion house, especially a couture outfit through working with Stenoff & Sons. I was later introduced into modelling. I modelled for several products including Lux Beauty Soap. I was paid three pound sterling for just posing and this was high at that time. I combined modelling with schooling and working at the couture house. As a fashion artist, I sketch objects (fashion line) that I see and I modify it. After modifying it, I start to think of how to produce it, what it would look like and how people will accept it.
I came back to Nigeria in 1960 in the spirit of restoring African fashion. I opened a fashion shop at Yaba Industrial Estate and I named it Maison Shade. I partitioned the space into a large factory with different singer sewing machines; an office and a dressing room. I later got two shops at the ground floor of Federal Palace Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos, and I named it Shade’s Boutique. It was the first of its kind in Nigeria and so, Nigerians were amazed. People came from different parts of the country and made bulk purchase of fashion materials from my factory. I had about fifty workers in my factory.
I created many quality African designs and gained the attraction of many elite women and even men and thus, gradually influenced their dress code. I actively propagated the wearing of African designs. Some of my creations include; the transformation of iro and buba into wrapper skirt, the adaptation of men’s kaftan into women’s, the creation of the gele into pre-tied head dress, the creation of accessories such as hand bags, belts and shoes using African fabrics, and the creation of the ajuba, now popularly known as the boubou from men’s agbada.
My marital life suffered a lot because I devoted much of my time to my work, but I was lucky that my son was in London. My fashion art was a sort of national orientation to make people realize that we have to develop our own fabric. If the western people can bring us their own fashion and we accepted it ,we should be able to make them accept ours. I had to work on our fabrics and fashion. Before then, Nigerians were favouring imported things and fabrics. We are talking of poverty alleviation but I wonder how it can be achieved when we are busy sending the money abroad. I worked on our fabric and it became accepted by the elites and not just the local people. Today, our fabrics are used all over the world. Our young men are really trying in terms of using the adire and ankara, and I admire them for that. I was shocked when I found out that our textile factories are closing down from 150 to about 11. Yet, we find boys on the bridge hawking. This shouldn’t be happening in a country as big as ours. I also love western things, but we have to develop our own culture and our things just as the western people did.
Our young girls live by what they see on television, but they should know that those things are done in the studios, and later the white actress puts on her suit or jacket to go walk outside. Most Nigerian girls expose their tummy, upper part of their breasts, and the upper part of their hip. People don’t dress like that on a good street of England. It may be true that eligible men are scarce , but it doesn’t mean that girls must have to dress exposed before they can win a man’s heart. Even on the beaches where the western people go nude, policemen are there to protect them from sexual harassment, but in Nigeria, you can walk the length of three to four streets without finding a police man and that’s the reason why people complain of being raped. There doesn’t seem to be a life in Lagos now compared to the freedom with which people moved in the years past. Everybody now lives in fear. I won’t say I am retired from working even though I’ve closed down my factories, because I still do some work. I am in several NGOs such as Women Caucus, Soroptimist Club of Eko, The Concerned Women, Ladies Friendly (serving the church), and the Association of Virra. In these NGOs, we render several humanitarian services and empower a lot of women and girls by training them for several vocations.
I joined these clubs because I felt one should have an input and contribution where one lives. The adire of now is very good with fast colours. In fact, it improves in quality and pattern everyday. I feel fulfilled that after I revolutionized the adire, Nigerians began to use and value it. Even our president wears it to places and it shows that he is proud of his country. Although I don’t want to be involved in politics, I would like women to go fully into it, because when a woman is fulfilled, she gives out her best so that her children’s future would not suffer. Women in high positions such as Prof.Dora Akunyili, Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, Hon.Abike Dabiri and many others, are really doing their best.
Educationally, life has decayed and people now pay to pass exams. Children no longer respect elders. My philosophy of life is to be kind to people, respect authorities and mix with elders, juniors and even your mates so as to learn from all spheres of life. Women should be hardworking and put in their best in whatever they do, because whatever you sow, you will reap. Youths should not be blinded with easy money, because it is not going to be possible anymore. There is now what we call due process which must be followed before one gets a contract.
I joined these clubs because I felt one should have an input and contribution where one lives. The adire of now is very good with fast colours. In fact it improves in quality and pattern everyday. I feel fulfilled that after I revolutionized the adire, Nigerians began to use and value it. Even our president wears it to places and it shows that he is proud of his country. Although I don’t want to be involved in politics, I would like women to go fully into it, because when a woman is fulfilled, she gives out her best so that her children’s future would not suffer. Women in high positions such as Prof.Dora Akunyili, Dr.Ngozi Iweala Okonjo, Hon.Abike Dabiri and many others, are really doing their best.
Educationally, life has decayed and People now pay to pass exams. Children no longer respect elders. My philosophy of life is to be kind to people, respect authorities and mix with elders, juniors and even your mates so as to learn from all spheres of life.
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