Accepted paper:

Fashionistas and Sartorial Fakery: Sewing shops and the enchantment of self in Calabar, Nigeria


Juliet Gilbert (University of Birmingham)

Paper short abstract:

In Calabar, a city in southeastern Nigeria, young women lament the difficulty of buying fashionable clothes. The cheap ‘Aba-made’ and ‘China-made’ goods in the market are considered poor imitations of the real thing (‘UK-made’ clothes) and, sold in bulk, do not allow young women to stand out from the crowd.

Paper long abstract:

Wanting to showcase their unique selves as prescribed by God – and to be known as a ‘fashionista’ – young women learn to sew. Doing so, they overlook the parts of the market that sell clothes for those that sell off-cut materials, and exchange factory-made knock-offs for their own creations that copy the sartorial designs of clothes found in foreign magazines, films and websites. This paper examines how young women in Calabar learn to sew in order to create outfits that allow what they believe to be their true selves to be revealed. As the discussion focuses on young women’s desire to be unique, it exposes the creative process that is contingent on knowing the balance between innovation and imitation. Compounding the insecurity that permeates everyday life, standing out from the crowd therefore requires a form of artisty that hinges on the tensions of authenticity and fakery, global and local, and revelation and concealment.

panel P012
Dis/enchantment and the popular arts in Nigeria