Adire is a type of textile originating among the Yoruba indigenous people from the Southwestern states in Nigeria. In Yoruba, the word Adire translates as (adi) “to tie” and (re) “to dye.” This indigenous indigo reverse-dyeing technique first originated in Abeokuta, a city that was historically the centre of cotton production in the nineteenth century. It was first produced by Chief Mrs. Miniya Jojolola Soetan, the second Iyalode (Head of Women) of Egba land in the Jojola’s compound of Kemta, Abeokuta, and has since extended to other cities including Osogbo, and even as far as East Africa in Uganda— where there is now a Kampala Adire. The Adire technique has mostly been practiced by women and it is passed down from generation to generation. The cloth is generally worn as wrappers or used as adornment. 

Adire is created through a process of indigo resist-dyeing cotton and involves creating a pattern on the fabric and preventing it from absorbing the indigo dye. In Nigeria at present, three types of techniques are used to achieve this effect: OnikanAlabere and Eleko, the more widespread method involves creating designs by drawing with cassava paste onto the cloth surface. The production of this cloth involves dyeing cotton in large clay pots sunken into the ground, followed by a process of dipping and airing to create the bright blue colors of the resulting fabric. Indigo dye is produced from the leaves of locally grown plants that have undergone a fermentation process to create different indigo hues. This textile is unique due to its manual production process passed down from one generation to the next, unlike Dutch Wax, the mass-produced version of Indonesian batik.

From the mid-1920s onward, the Adire and other textile industries across Nigeria and parts of the African continent have seen a devastating decline in production and distribution due to a range of factors, including lack of governmental investment in infrastructure, political instability, and the importation of second-hand clothes from the West. In recent years, however, a younger generation of designers has returned to their roots as inspiration for informing contemporary takes on traditional textiles— breathing new life into an area of decline and thinking of ways to revive the industry. Chief (Mrs.) Nike Davies-Okundaye has been instrumental in preserving Adire traditions in Nigeria, specializing in the areas of cloth weaving, Adire making, indigo dying, and leather for over five decades. Nike Art center in Osogbo is solely dedicated to promoting and sustaining local female Adire makers.


Appropriation and Influence

An Instagram story screenshot of Kacey Musgraves in a yellow Ao Dai without pants

Lagos Space Programme Post-Adire Collection

Founded in 2018 by Adeju Thompson, Lagos Space Programme is a gender-neutral fashion label fusing craftsmanship and aesthetics from Nigerian and Japanese textile heritage connecting cultures in references from architecture to minimalism and indigo-dye techniques shared by both. According to the brand’s mission statement, ‘LSP seeks to return to the idea of durable, long-lasting clothing and the artisanal sensibilities that are sustainable.’ The brand’s recent Post-Adire collection reinterprets the popular Nigerian textile for a contemporary audience in an exploration of how traditional dyeing and storytelling techniques could be used in new contexts and garments.

Reference: Laird Borrelli-Persson, ‘Lagos Space Programme Designer Adeju Thompson Is Taking Genderless Fashion Into New Dimensions,’ Vogue, March 20, 2020.

Photo: Ayanfe, @un.earthical; model @ezemichael_ / Courtesy of the photographer and Lagos Space Programme. View Larger.
An image of a seated model in front of a black backdrop dressed in an elaborate light blue Ao Dai. To the right is a vertical timeline of Thuy Nguyen's achievements

Maki Oh's Adire-inspired 'Because Men in Silk Shirts on Lagos Nights' collection.

Nigerian fashion designer Amaka Osakwe’s label Maki Oh features hand-dyed textiles like Aso-oke, Oja, Adire, and Akwa Ocha. Her recent collection, Because Men in Silk Shirts on Lagos Nights, draws on Lagos’s infamous nightlife where Lagosian locals need no excuse to get dressed up to hit the town. Adire patterns and symbolism feature heavily in this menswear collection, and although Maki Oh has traditionally produced womenswear, the label has long fused  traditional African techniques with detailed contemporary construction.  Adire forms an important part of Nigerian textile heritage and culture and its renaissance by the present generation is both exciting and necessary for drawing attention to its decline. 
Photo: Akinola Davies Jnr for VogueView Larger.
Several models walking up and down the runway in different styles of Ao Dai

Banke Kuku's 'Dark Blue Adire Classic Pyjama Blouse'

British and Nigerian designer, Banke Kuku’s eponymous textile label draws on her dual heritage to interpret traditional fabrics for a contemporary audience. Her classic pyjama top, an epitome of relaxed luxury recently featured the Adire Degrade Print inspired by the Nigerian traditional indigo from South West Nigeria crafted in silk satin.
Photo: View Larger.
Adire – ‘tied and dyed’ indigo textiles,’ V&A, online.

A Short History Of Adire,’ Guardian Nigeria, online, July 24, 2016. 

O.O. Braide. ‘Stylistic Features of Contemporary Adire in Nigerian Textile Practice,’ Journal of Humanities: Social Sciences and Creative Arts2016, Vol.11 No. 1 & 2 JHSSCA: 104 – 116, online.

Renne, Elisha P. 2020. “Reinterpreting Adire Cloth in Northern Nigeria”. Textile History. 51, no. 1: 60-85.

Sefa-Boakye, Jennifer. ‘Inside The Yoruba Textile Art Of Adire With Chief Nike Davies-Okundaye,’ OkayAfrica, online, November 5, 2014.