Fashion is part of our discussion in America. But starting a fashion magazine in Nigeria is almost impossible. There aren’t enough printing presses, good quality paper is hard to find, and there are no major chain outlets to sell their magazines through. These are 4 powerful women breaking barriers in Nigerian fashion journalism.
GENEVIEVE MAGAZINE: Betty Irabor
Betty Irabor started her magazine, Genevieve, in 2003. She was one of the elites in Lagos, the country’s largest city, and married to a large media personality, Soni Irabor, and she used her connections to kickstart her magazine.
The other media outlets were hard-hitting news and dedicated only a few pages to lifestyle and fashion. Even those who supported her believed she wouldn’t last very long.
Now 15 years later, this publication is the leading women’s magazine. It published 10 issues a year, each retailing at 1,000 nairas, or $2.80. The magazine includes glitzy covers and highlights the newest and best Nigerian fashion, Nollywood actors, and day to day lifestyle.
But Irabor has recently started including more and more controversial topics she believes the public is ready to discuss. She wrote about her struggles with depression and insomnia from the long hours and pressures of work. She hopes to start a conversation about things not commonly discussed.
“I believe it’s time to get the conversation going,” she said. “I went through this and have survived. It will be O.K.”
TODAY’S WOMAN: Adesuwa Onyenokwe
After working for 15 years as a reporter for one of the largest news outlets in Nigeria, Adesuwa Onyenokwe became frustrated with the fact none of her stories had women in them.
So she started a public television show called “Today’s Woman With Adesuwa.” But as a working mother of seven, she decided that to balance her home and work life, she would focus on a lifestyle and news magazine called Today’s Woman.
She even created an app that caters to over 20,000 people and allows them to share stories with each other. Unlike common lifestyle magazines, Onyenokwe discusses topics considered taboo in Nigeria like drug abuse and domestic violence.
“No one was really addressing these problems,” she said. “Beyond the fashion, we’re insistent on addressing things that should matter.”
GLAM AFRICA: Chioma Onwutalobi
Chioma Onwutalobi started off as a gossip blogger which she managed to keep up while getting her law degree from the University of Hertfordshire in Britain. After graduating, she started Glam Africa.
Her quarterly magazine has a circulation of 1.4 million and has offices in Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Britain, with plans to expand to the United States. Glam Africa is one of the most read magazines among women in Africa.
Their goal is to create an intimate relationship with its readers and they host annual events such as the Glam Africa Gala as well as smaller luncheons and events.
Glam Africa is not all about fashion and celebrities. They started a “beyond beauty” campaign that featured social media influencers and bloggers that face struggles like alopecia, where a person loses their hair off their body, vitiligo, in which one’s skin loses its pigment, racial discrimination, and burn scars.
Although most of her staff is younger than 30, when meeting other executives, she is often among the youngest.
“Being a woman, a young woman, it’s hard for people to listen to you,” she said. “Hands down, the hardest thing is getting men to listen to me. Sometimes, I have to spend an hour getting the men in the room to see me as an equal. It’s frustrating.”
EXQUISITE MAGAZINE: Tewa Onasanya
Tewa Onasanya’s goal with her magazine is to highlight the richness of the African lifestyle. She started Exquisite in 2003 because she wanted people to start looking to Africa for its fashion inspiration.
Her magazine covers mainly fashion and celebrity news and the majority of her audience are middle and upper class women in Nigeria. It has a circulation of 10,000 but her website has 152,000 subscribers and gets more than a million visits a week.
“Before, our culture existed in pockets abroad — in the U.K., in the United States,” she added. “But now everyone is starting to look to our talents here at home. Africa is having a moment.”
Out of 200 million people, 87 million live below the line of poverty in Nigeria. But there has been a recent boom in African fashion, Nollywood, Afrobeat artists, fashion models, and social media personalities. With lucrative industries like oil, there is a growing population of wealthy young clientele wanting to read about lifestyle and celebrity news.
But even with the growing demand for this type of news, starting a fashion magazine, especially as a female, is an uphill battle. These 4 women and many others are bringing African culture and an important conversation to their publications and proving to other women and girls that with hard work, anything is possible.0
Also published on Medium.