Fashion accessories

Style-conscious Africans are turning compulsory masks into fashion accessories

LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigerian fashion designer Sefiya Diejomaoh likes to wear bright, bold clothes that match her personality. She thinks a global pandemic shouldn’t get in the way of her sense of style.

The mask she wears, which has become mandatory attire as Nigeria tries to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, is the centerpiece of her ensemble. Golden in color and dotted with sparkling rhinestones, it matches her long dress.

“When you go out with a fancy mask or with an accessory like this, it doesn’t seem like we’re fighting a war. It seems more fun,” Diejomaoh said, as she dresses up at her home in Lagos to meet a customer.

Many African countries have made it compulsory to wear masks in public to prevent the spread of the sometimes fatal respiratory disease COVID-19.

Fashion lovers in the continent’s biggest cities combine style and safety by donning colorful masks, sometimes coordinating the fabric with their outfits.

The push to make masks stylish has taken off in other parts of the world. In places like Lebanon, businesses have shifted from producing furniture and clothing to striking masks.

In Africa, the trend is proving a boon for the local tailors and designers who make the masks.

Fashion designer Sophie Zinga, based in Senegal’s capital Dakar, said she decided to create organic cotton face masks after realizing some form of protective clothing measures might be needed for both coming years.

“We are going to have to adapt and live with this virus,” she said.

“As a fashion designer, I think we’re going to have to integrate every outfit with fashion masks,” added Zinga, who created a digital platform, fashionfightscovid19.com, for the masks.

Away from Dakar, in the South African mall of Johannesburg, high-end leather accessories store Inga Atelier creates masks.

In a country that has imposed some of the toughest lockdown measures in Africa and has been reeling from the economic impact, the company’s creative director said the move made sense.

“My business has been badly affected to the point that retail is blocked,” Inga Gubeka said. “There was a big shortage, we realized, of masks that could be used every day without having to throw them away.”

His company’s masks combine leather with multicolored fabrics, including traditional South African Ndebele prints.

Back in Lagos, Nigeria, as she adjusted her glittering gold mask before heading to sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous city of 20 million, Diejomaoh said a small piece of fabric had become a way to express yourself.

“People walking around in surgical masks is depressing,” she said. “I have to maintain the status quo and who I am despite the situation.”

Reporting by Angela Ukomadu in Lagos, Christophe Van Der Perre in Dakar and Tassiem Shafiek in Johannesburg; Written by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Matthew Lewis