Founded by Iretidayo Zaccheaus and co-signed by Virgil Abloh, the annual event is dedicated to the rising labels exploding out of Nigeria
On an overcast Sunday afternoon in mid-December, thousands of young Nigerians – dressed to be seen in slashed and spliced denim, vintage sportswear, and Y2K-indebted accessories – made their way into the sprawling space in Lagos where Nigeria’s biggest streetwear convention, Street Souk, takes place. Spread across three massive interconnected tents, hundreds of Nigerian streetwear brands congregated to display their wares, with attendees snapping up tickets for the rare opportunity to shop some of the most exciting homegrown talent all under one roof.
Founded by Iretidayo “Ireti” Zaccheaus in 2018, Street Souk was a direct response to the lack of spaces dedicated to incubating and platforming the exploding streetwear scene in Nigeria. The idea sprung from a trip to her mother’s annual fashion souk, also in Lagos. “I was like ‘Yo, this is going on for the older generation and I definitely feel like I can do this for the younger generation’,” she recalls. “I put the word out on my socials like ‘If you have a clothing brand in Nigeria, hit me up’, and that was how it all got started.”
Zaccheaus describes the early days of Street Souk as exhilarating; rife with the stress that comes with starting an ambitious project, but also filled with the freedom of having zero expectations from anyone. Now in its fifth year, the playing field looks very different. Street Souk has quickly become one of the country’s most anticipated events of the year and the only event of its kind dedicated solely to the country’s streetwear community. “It’s the only one of its kind right now because it’s not a festival, it’s not a beach party, it’s a streetwear festival that kind of incorporates everything else into it,” Zaccheaus explains. “Also, it’s not every day you see so many young people come together to celebrate streetwear, and that is what is so different about [Street Souk].”
So far, the convention has grown from 40 vendors and 1,500 attendees in its first year to over 115 vendors and more than 5,000 people in attendance. The late designer and visionary Virgil Abloh – whom Zaccheaus followed closely when she first began to discover her passion for streetwear – endorsed the event, calling it a key part of the continent’s “youth-driven fashion renaissance”. In 2020, Street Souk developed a partnership with Off-White to create a limited collection championing young Nigerian women. A key piece from the collab was a mustard yellow t-shirt bearing the slogan “I SUPPORT YOUNG NIGERIAN WOMEN” – a riff on Abloh’s “I Support Young Black Businesses” project, which was dedicated to supporting and uplifting talent from the Black community.
“It had the most positive impact on Street Souk’s trajectory,” Zaccheaus says. “That was just my second year and I had the biggest co-sign you could ever get in the industry. Once Virgil says you are legit, you are legit. It made me take myself a little bit more seriously and understand that what I am doing is bigger than myself,” she adds.
Each year, Street Souk brings together established and emerging Nigerian streetwear brands from within and outside the country. On the line-up this time around was WafflesnCream, made popular for blazing the trail for Nigeria’s emerging skate scene, as well as Vivendii and Motherlan, both of which have found global success across the course of the last couple of years. Joining them was Mowalola, who returned to Lagos to show select pieces from her eponymous line. “I loved seeing everyone put their personality into their designs and stalls, it was really beautiful,” the British-Nigerian designer explains of the experience. For her, the event marked a rare moment she could bring her brand closer to her home turf.
“Once Virgil says you are legit, you are legit. It made me take myself a little bit more seriously and understand that what I am doing is bigger than myself” – Iretidayo “Ireti” Zaccheaus
Alongside the list of more established labels, Street Souk is growing year on year with new additions and blossoming new ventures joining its ranks. For emerging brands like WWYD, being a part of Street Souk for the first time, was “an incredibly overwhelming but exciting experience. But most importantly, having the opportunity to introduce a different perspective of streetwear fashion to Street Souk’s community is thrilling,” says creative director Ayanfe. Nigerian fashion brand Pièce et Patch, which was founded by multi-hyphenate creative Wavythecreator and crafts recycled materials into one-of-a-kind fashion pieces, also made its debut for 2022, and confirms it will likely be back for 2023. “It gives room for everyone to be seen, and encouraged vendors to be as creative as possible with their stalls,” a spokesperson for the label tells us.
More than 70 per cent of Nigeria’s 206 million population is made up of young people under 30, making it a prime hub for both local and global creative expressions. And with over 15 million Nigerians living in the diaspora, the country continues to benefit from a rich cultural exchange. From music to film, arts and now streetwear, young Nigerians are continuously exploring new creative terrains and interpreting them in an authentically Nigerian way.
Street Souk’s commitment to championing homegrown brands taps into that sentiment. Where previously making it ‘big’ in fashion has often meant young designers leave for Paris, London, or New York, nurturing homegrown talent is a way to instead grow Nigeria’s own burgeoning scene. “Even though the big fashion platforms aren’t really tapping in with us correctly, it’s going to be a matter of time before they can’t ignore what is going on here.”
This is especially likely as Street Souk is playing a vital role in enriching Nigeria’s creative scene in general. “[Street Souk] plays an important role in keeping the creative ecosystem together. From creating a platform for brands to connect with creatives of all forms to onboarding fashion enthusiasts to the Nigerian streetwear community,” Ayamfe explains. And though it’s now five years strong, According to Zaccheaus, Street Souk is just getting started. “The future looks very global,” she says. “We want to push all the boundaries.”