Fashion as Activism: Nigerian Riot Girl

Nigerian Riot Girl

To celebrate the April submission deadline of the Hand and Lock Prize 2021, we are revisiting Jacky’s 2015 ‘Nigerian Riot Girl’ submission and the intriguing background of this piece of activist couture.

The brief was ‘Feral lace and fashion activism: a Nigerian Riot Girl’.

Nigerian Riot Girl

Nigerian Riot Girl

Jacky’s interpretation of the brief was inspired by both the #bringbackourgirls campaign and author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s assertion that “Culture does not make people, people make culture.” It was the winning entry in the 2015 Hand and Lock prize for Embroidery.

“I made this dress as conceptual riot couture, a fashion weapon inscribed and embroidered with histories and mythologies to cross borders and resist racism and colonialism.” JP

Nigerian Riot Girl

The Nigerian Riot Girl takes us on a journey to Nigeria, a land corrupted and pillaged by British colonial rule until independence in 1960. Since then both domestic and international elites have continued to exploit the country and its resources mercilessly.

The largest state in West Africa, Nigeria is a place of extreme contrasts and whilst it is easy for others to hold it up as an ‘African’ example of corruption and chaos, author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie points out that “there is great danger in telling a single story; because then the teller of that story has claimed all the power for their version of events.”

Chimananda Ngozi Adichie
Chimananda Ngozi Adichie

By creating this piece, Jacky wanted to explore the fascinating dichotomies presented in a country where a fast-paced and extremely forward thinking fashion and arts industry, for example, exists alongside conservative and often stifling patriarchal norms and beliefs.

“For me embroidery is about both the physical and the conceptual process, using texture, drawing and threads to create new embroidered stories and embellished histories.” JP

Stories of resistance, cultural negotiation and exchange were all themes that Jacky wanted to skillfully weave into the fabric of the piece, whilst maintaining overall a strong connection to traditional fabrics.

Nigerians have long, sophisticated histories of textiles and arts cultures, from Yoruba Adire indigo dyeing, to Hausa hand embroidery to the heavily embroidered laces that create contemporary wedding, church and occasion dresses.

These different textile techniques and stories were combined to create a retelling in fabric of the #bringbackourgirls campaign. This campaign was a response to the 276 schoolgirls who were kidnapped by terrorist group, Boko Haram, from the town of Chibok, Borno State, Nigeria.

Nigerian Riot Girl

The ensuing campaign became one of the longest running and most successful on twitter. It mobilized Nigerian communities and international supporters, most notably, Michelle Obama, to create a space in which feminist activism could take place within a patriarchal society.

Woven into the ‘Riot Girl’ outfit is also the stark contrasts of a country where hellish landscapes of oil explosions and resource pillage sit side by side with a thriving, contemporary fashion scene.

Jacky explored the work of brands such as Lagos luxury brand Tiffany Amber and also more activist fashion such as Maki Oh, who rework traditional textiles.

It is this postcolonial fusion of modernity and tradition that Jacky wanted to capture.

Maki Oh 2016

An example of this is the Gadawan Kura, nomadic hyena handlers that prowl the streets of Lagos and Abuja, entertaining crowds with ‘wild’ animal displays, winding their way past luxury cars stuck in one of Lagos’s infamous ‘ go slow’ traffic jams.

Pieter Hugo’s stark portraits highlight the ‘Hyena Men’ and question why, in the country that is the world’s sixth biggest exporter of oil, do people still have to use wild animals to make money?

Another example of the self-organization and ingenuity of Nigerian society in the face of adversity is the floating slums of Makoko (Lagos) and Port Harcourt. Citizens have been working there with contemporary architects to create floating schools and radio stations, establishing thriving communities despite the surroundings.

Pieter Hugo /The Hyena and the Other Men

Jacky wanted to create a powerful fashion activist that could move within her communities and fight back. Both strong and glamorous, her elaborate lace outfit is created from a cocktail of embroidered oil spills, traditional Adire and Hausa motifs and stories, and creatures that resist.

The animals depicted all tell their story. The hyena is no longer muzzled and can transform into a witch. Using a combination of digital and traditional embroidery techniques, Jacky applied real fur and intricate stitching to the garment for the feeling that the embroidery could also come ‘alive’.

Crocodiles are also featured as animals that are both feared and revered, with the ability to live on both water and land.

Nigerian Riot Girl


The grey parrot is a very important part of the story. It is one of the five birds in the Yoruba Ife creation mythology, its tail is bright red because the gods allowed it to dip its feathers in bright red palm oil, and this myth in turn inspired the development of dye techniques in Yoruba culture.

“I made my parrot fly from the hip of the dress in an explosion of real feathers, laser cut flowers and imagery from Nigerian mythologies.” JP

The Nigerian Riot Girl also draws inspiration from the ambiguous activism and street fashion glamour of M.I.A., from Paper Planes visas to desert swagger. The rich gothic patterns created by Jake and Dinos Chapman for Louis Vuitton also play a part in the final design.

The mask replaces a hijab or head wrap, its structure echoing the Yoruba head wraps and veils worn by Hausa women but refuses any allegiance to oppressive traditions. Even the trousers are designed to echo those of the male Agbada robe trousers, rather than the womens.

Nigerian Riot Girl


Her look is a costume of opulence, resistance and renegotiation; it’s a couture feral lace, with the level of detail of the most expensive Swiss lace embroidery, but with some threads that also show in the dark as those without money in Nigeria usually have no access to electricity.

“Deliberately her look is a spectacular activism; dressing to pass across Nigeria’s many interlinking cultures, while fashioning new identities for a future where the Chibok girls will always be able to escape.” JP

With special thanks to the amazing model, writer and journalist, Ms P Ekall. Also John Barwood photographer, styling and make-up, @stylistsfw @craftmua.


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