By Elsa Sichrovsky

Source: Flickr-UNESCO Headquarters Paris

For Nigerien fashion designer and children’s rights advocate Sidahmed Alphadi Seidnaly, fashion is about more than clothing: “Young boys and girls can find in fashion a form of identity, dignity, a way to express themselves, to be heard, recognized and respected.”  Alphadi strives to use fashion as an avenue to provide Nigerien young people, especially young girls, with profitable employment that is not only a platform for self-expression but also a solution to the issue of child marriage.

Alphadi was born in 1957, in Timbuktu, Mali, his father’s native land. However, his Malian father and Nigerien upper-caste Tuareg mother moved the family back to Niger when he was a child. Even at a young age, he enjoyed putting makeup on his sisters and mother. He also watched Bollywood films to admire how makeup could enhance physical appearance. He started knitting when he was fourteen. His father, who wanted him to be a doctor or to work in the family business, struggled to accept his son’s strong interest in beauty and fashion, which clashed with the gender norms of their native culture. To please his family, Alphadi studied tourism in Paris, attending his classes during the day and going to fashion shows at night[1].

His first couture line, showcased in 1985 at a tourism show in Paris, launched the Alphadi brand, which now includes affordable sportswear and perfume. Now, Alphadi travels between Paris and Niamey, managing a studio and boutique. Alphadi’s designs, such as his “Nomads” collection of light cotton print and silk dresses, combine traditional Hausa and Tuareg styles with Western high fashion, creating a unique brand that continues to attract loyal admirers. The patterns and colors draw inspiration from desert vegetation and landscape.

Source: Flickr-UNESCO Headquarters Paris

Creating innovative fashion is risky in a religious social climate that sees many forms of fashion as promoting promiscuity and immorality. To protest his fashion designs, religious conservatives have sent Alphadi death threats and violently attacked his businesses. In 2000, the fashion festival he founded, International Festival of African Fashion (FIMA), drew a protest of more than 800 Muslim clerics and students, who insisted that a fashion festival would provoke the wrath of Allah[2]. In spite of facing fierce resistance to his art, Alphadi’s passion is to “give Africa a chance to create[3],” be it creating art or creating employment opportunities for women and girls.

Alphadi envisions building fashion schools where girls can gain the skills to eventually launch their own fashion brands or clothing shops in order to achieve financial independence. His fashion festival, FIMA, is an opportunity for young designers to showcase their work. As part of his collaboration with UNICEF, this festival is also a platform for Alphadi to provoke thoughtful conversations about the institution of child marriage. On the first day of the FIMA 2019, he began with an unusual visual display: fifteen-year-old girl models walked down the catwalk with men four times their age, both dressed in wedding attire. The incongruity of a child wearing a wedding dress, combined with the stark contrast between the female and male models’ ages, highlighted how child marriage forces girls to become adults, bound by the duties and expectations of marriage. “I dress women and girls to make them beautiful and value them, not to marry them at 13,[4]” says Alphadi. The Alphadi Foundation promotes the dignity of women and girls and focuses on developing employment and career training.


In Alphadi’s words, “The woman is a whole story.”[5] Girls must have access to education that will give them the means to share their stories. Join Wells Bring Hope in providing access to clean water, education, and hygiene awareness to Nigerien girls so that they fulfill their greatest potential and tell the beautiful stories that are in the heart of every Nigerien