by Shayna Watson

Most of us have heard about the major fashion industry events that take place in the recognized fashion capitals like New York, Paris, London, and Milan. Emerging fashion designers flock to these cities in hopes of working with renowned designers, and gaining exposure for their art and talents. We have heard about the cities in Europe and the United States that get the attention of the fashion industry; but there is a “forgotten” fashion capital making up-and-coming designers’ dreams come true – Niamey, Niger. The capital city of Niger is home to the International Festival of African Fashion (FIMA), a four-day runway and accompanying trade show that brings the big names and the newbies from around the world for an amazing collaborative event.

The brainchild of UNESCO’s Artist for Peace, Sidahmed Alphadi Seidnaly, the biannual festival invites over 250 fashion designers from all over to collaborate and participate in runway presentations, trade shows, and contests for new designers and models. In addition to the designers, press and influencers from all over the world come to enjoy the festivities. Big names like Jean Paul Gaultier and Oscar de la Renta work alongside up-and-coming local designers at this event. The event boasts over 60,000 visitors and has grown steadily every year since its naissance in 1998. The first edition of FIMA was held in the Sahara, in the open desert air of Agadez, in central Niger. Alphadi wanted to bring together African designers and their peers from around the world to share culture, passion, and expertise and to promote all of the beauty and talent that Niger has to offer. Designers, craftsman and aspiring models from local villages in Niger have been given the opportunity to share their talents, while hopefully breaking into the industry of their dreams. In an interview, Alphadi stated that he wanted to show the world that “Africa is not just poverty, fighting, and disease – Africa is also art and design.”

Unfortunately, due to the increased terror threats to the people of Niger, the last edition of FIMA had to be held in a closed, secure location in the capital city. FIMA 2016 was a two-day event that once again could bring together aspiring designers, artisans and models from all over Africa to connect with international industry players. The motto of the African fashion festival is “Creativity for Peace and Development in Africa.” Through the efforts of Alphadi and all of the contributors to FIMA, The School of Fashion and Arts was opened in Naimey, giving a new generation of African designers the opportunity to learn and pursue their love of fashion and art. Alphadi has done amazing work to bring awareness to the abundance of talent found in Niger, as well as the growing need for education and resources to continue to produce artists. The time for another International Festival of African Fashion is fast approaching. Here’s hoping that the festival can continue to showcase the arts, fashion, and culture coming out of Niger. The country and its residents have so much to offer the world.