‘Queerness isn’t a western concept’: Adeju Thompson is bringing genderless Nigerian fashion to the world

Written by Nadia Leigh-Hewitson, CNN

“There are very early examples of gender bending in African culture,” explains the designer behind the gender-fluid Nigerian clothes label Lagos Space Programme. “Queerness isn’t a western concept.”

From West Africa to Europe and past, non-binary clothier Adeju Thompson is showcasing genderless African style on the world stage.

Thompson, 30, who makes use of they/them pronouns, grew up in Lagos and, bar a stint finding out style design within the UK, has lived in Nigeria their total life. In 2018, Thompson based label Lagos Space Programme. “I’m always collaging different ideas, tying all these things together,” Thompson mentioned. “To highlight the queer community and also to make fun of myself and make fun of fashion.”

The result’s luxurious indigo-dyed natural materials and chic knitwear, offset by hanging sculptural handcrafted brass equipment that flirt with queer iconography.

Many of Thompson’s designs use adire, an indigo resist-dyed textile — a key part of conventional clothes worn by West African Yoruba individuals. The heritage textile is reimagined by Thompson, in a contemporary context, by making use of the dye approach to knitwear. Thompson calls this reinvention “post adire.”

‘We greet apparel earlier than we greet its wearer’

In the final 12 months, Lagos Space Programme has skyrocketed onto the world stage displaying collections in Lagos, Paris and Milan. In January, Thompson debuted their spring-summer 2021 assortment at Milan Fashion Week.

The assortment, known as “Aso Lànkí, Kí Ató Ki Ènìyàn,” takes its title from a Yoruba saying which interprets as: “We greet attire before we greet its wearer.” Thompson says the gathering responds to a turbulent 12 months of pandemic and socio-political unrest in Nigeria, by addressing group and shared identification by means of clothes, to remind those who they’re nonetheless collectively though they’ve been bodily remoted.

A hand-knitted “post-adire” cape shirt, manufactured from adire patterned material, dyed with pure indigo, paired with
Yoruba extensive trousers. Credit: Kadara Enyeasi

The designs are additionally knowledgeable by a interval Thompson spent in Osun in southwest Nigeria, a time of private revelation.

While there, an Osun excessive priestess confirmed Thompson two objects with nice religious worth: a dagger and a fan. In conventional ritual, Yoruba individuals maintain each objects, representing the stability between the femininity and masculinity within the particular person. “This was always a part of our identity,” Thompson defined.

“I was bullied as a child because I wasn’t very masculine, and I’ve always felt more connected to my feminine side,” Thompson instructed CNN. “There’s been a great deal of trauma for me around my masculinity, and I like that as an adult I can fashion the life I want, and I can easily mediate between both genders and create a space that works for me.”

“I’ve just always felt incredibly fluid in how I express myself, because it’s always felt very natural to me,” Thompson defined. “I’m just so aware on a historical and personal level the damage toxic masculinity can cause. It’s just not a space I connect with.”

“It’s so important for me to express myself and share my story through my work,” Thompson added. “(It’s) my contribution to the political and cultural conversation.”

Beyond the runway

During lockdown, queer British photographer Craig Waddell reached out to Thompson over social media, asking to collaborate.

“Usually when I show on my work it’s on Black bodies, but this photographer is a White non-binary photographer from London,” Thompson instructed CNN. “All the models they showed Lagos Space Programme on were White. When I design for Lagos Space Programme, the designs are for everybody.”

Adeju Thompson.

Adeju Thompson. Credit: Courtesy Konstantin Vulkov

This fall, the label will launch a group of designs at Nigerian high-end style retailer Alara. Celebrating modern design and queerness assembly heritage, the opening of the gathering will probably be within the type of an adire textile symposium.

The opening of the gathering is ready to coincide with Lagos Space Programme’s second displaying at Milan Fashion Week this September. “This time around, I specifically asked to show in their womenswear collection,” Thompson says, explaining their want to subvert gender norms on the occasion by utilizing non-binary and male fashions to stroll their designs.

Sophisticated and subversive, Thompson’s designs are additionally gaining traction past the runway. Earlier this 12 months, Lagos Space Programme was invited to exhibit within the Africa Fashion Exhibition 2022 on the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, scheduled to open subsequent June.

“I want Lagos Space Programme to champion conversations around gender, indigenous knowledge and highlighting an alternate narrative around the African experience,” Thompson mentioned.

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