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From khaki to agbada: Dress and political transition in Nigeria

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... The subject of the fashion of Nigeria's leaders has generated substantial commentary in the non-academic media. Within the academic literature, however, Renne (2004) attempts perhaps what constitutes a lone and limited engagement of how Nigerian politicians saw the transition from military rule to civilian leadership in 1999 as a welcome shift from khaki (military garbs) to agbada (an originally Yoruba term meaning: free-flowing men's robes. The term itself and the dress type it represents are both widely used across Nigeria) (Renne 2004). ...
... Within the academic literature, however, Renne (2004) attempts perhaps what constitutes a lone and limited engagement of how Nigerian politicians saw the transition from military rule to civilian leadership in 1999 as a welcome shift from khaki (military garbs) to agbada (an originally Yoruba term meaning: free-flowing men's robes. The term itself and the dress type it represents are both widely used across Nigeria) (Renne 2004). The outcome of this combined academic and non-academic body of knowledge production has been the realization that through Nigeria's post-independence years, the nation's leaders have sought to identify markedly more with the dress code associated with their places of origin. ...
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Much research has been done on fashion globally; just as a lot has been documented from the study of politics and of politicians. In spite of these, few studies have found it compelling to interrogate the connexion between fashion and legislative politics in African contexts. This essay engages in a comparative critique of fashion appropriations in the Nigerian and South African National Assemblies by focusing on two respective parliamentarians namely Dino Melaye and Julius Malema. The analysis builds on the thin literature at the intersection between fashion and politics in the African experience. Through an examination of specific instances of fashion performances across the lower and upper chambers of the Nigerian and South African national legislatures; the essay argues that each instance of fashion appropriation is useful in subverting cogent parliamentary concerns, or in drawing parliament's attention to issues both critical and uncritical to the electorate. It draws on
... Rowland Abiodun goes even further by asserting that cloth (aso)-everything that is worn, including the outward appearance of objects-is the ultimate agency of regeneration among humans and the orisa (Abiodun 2014: 176). As Judith Blyfield and Elisha Renne, among others, have argued, the significance of the link between apparel, aesthetics, and social expression only expanded in the late-colonial and independence years (Borgatti 1983: 10;Nevadomsky and Aisien 1995;Byfield 2004: 33;Renne 2004). More recently, fashion is being recognized as an important aspect of African artistic expression that can offer insight on local histories as well as global networks and changing conceptions of tradition and modernity (Rovine 2015: 7;Rhodes and Rawsthorn 2007). ...
... It is my own personal statement to show everybody that I am comfortable with myself'. 4 Originally a Nigerian style of dress typical of Yoruba royalty, the agbada (see Renne 2004) has become fashion for 'big men' in Ghana too. The loose, anklelength, richly embroidered robe, worn over a tunic and pants, has large, flowing sleeves that can be draped over the shoulders or left loose. ...
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The old walled section of the Northern Nigerian town of Zaria known as Zaria City is renowned for the production of elaborately hand-embroidered robes, worn by men throughout Nigeria and West Africa. These garments are of some antiquity, yet they continue to be produced. None the less, there have been several changes in their production, including the introduction and expanded use of embroidery machines and new materials by men, new marketing practices, and women's hand-embroidery of robes. These changes are closely linked with political, economic, and socio-cultural factors, reflecting technological innovation, changes in gender-associated work, and the impact of federal import regulations in Zaria.
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In an environment in which the globalization affects numerous people in a direct way, in which quality decides over rapid business and in which individual partnerships are more important and long-lasting than narrow-minded price discussions, the strategy for specified high quality Austrian Embroideries is becoming more important. The motivation for this project is based on learning from history of more than 500 years of trading with textiles between West Africa and Europe. Still today, there are the same factors and mechanisms used for doing business. New things are as well absorbed instantly and transformed into the existing tradition. Also fashion is a typical western phenomenon; the things which are counting in the African world are the traditional ones. Traditional clothing still is a symbol of status, reputation, wealth, etc. Furthermore money for high qualitative and valuable products is still available than ever in this world. But the product itself must be developed, marketed and sold in a 100% true-package to the customer. Therefore, copied, cheap, low quality and secondhand textiles are only a way to be “decorated” in the correct cultural way even for people with little money. One of the only existing USPs of Europe is the richness of creativity. In this project, creativity is the main driver for staying in front of the competitors in the high-end African embroidery market. The project objectives therefore are the exploration of the niche for Austrian Embroideries, to recognize the key factors of designing embroideries for different African cultures and to identify the key factors for trading in West Africa. This first-time documentation, financed by the country Vorarlberg and the “Vorarlberger Stickereiwirtschaft”, the methodology is divided into three levels: Yesterday – Today – Tomorrow. The “Yesterday” part is developed based on existing literature in the fields of ethnography, cultural aspects, religion, art, strategy and marketing. This is followed by the “Today” part, which is a concentration on the actual situation in Vorarlberg, Europe, Africa, Asia and Near Middle East done in a qualitative way (e.g. observation, interviews, and photo documentation) directly in West Africa. Finally, the “Tomorrow” part consists of the combination of specific challenges for the Austrian Embroideries in West Africa as well as international best practices which lead to a positioning for the Austrian Embroideries and thereof important project propositions. This project can contribute to new knowledge by developing a research model in the future for specific high-end products. The conclusions derived from this model could be the recognizing of the importance of the eye-level, the awareness of the customers´ background in nation, religion, tradition, and the usage of the customers language to market the niche of the product successfully with different marketing activities.