One of Africa’s most notable fashion designers and a pioneer of Nigerian fashion is Folashade “Shade” Thomas-Fahm. The renowned designer is credited as Nigeria’s first professional fashion designer as well as the owner of the country’s first shop.
Born on 22 September 1933. Thomas-Fahm’s love for fashion began at the age of 12 when she started learning how to sew from a local dressmaker in Lagos whose shop was called the ‘Sisi Sewing Shop’. In 1953, she moved to England to study nursing but inspired by the boutiques in London, she decided to study fashion instead at St. Martins College of Art and Design, London. She became a qualified fashion designer in 1959—becoming the first Nigerian woman to acquire a professional qualification in fashion design.
While in London, Thomas-Fahm worked as a model for big brands in England, including Lux Beauty Soap. In 1960, she returned to Nigeria and opened a factory and the first fashion boutique in Nigeria under the name, Maison Shade (later Shade’s Boutique), in Yaba, Lagos. She became known for using traditional Nigerian textiles such as aso oke, adire, akwete and okene to design outfits of different styles. She is the originator of several outfits including women’s kaftan, the ‘boubou’— a style she created when she feminized the male ‘agbada’ for women by reducing the volume—and the transformation of the iro into a wrapper skirt.
Championing Nigerian fabrics and silhouettes, Thomas-Fahm designed for the cosmopolitan, working woman. Her boutique swiftly became the go-to place for stylish people in Lagos and she counted diplomats and royalty among her regular customers. Her work revolutionized women’s way of dressing in Nigeria.
Folashade “Shade” Thomas-Fahm is among the names being celebrated by the world’s largest museum of applied arts, decorative arts, and design – London’s Victoria and Albert (V&A) Museum.