Nigeria’s fashion industry is shifting into second gear to become a more serious contender in Africa’s leadership race.

LAGOS, Nigeria — Five years have passed since Nigerian designers first strode onto the global fashion stage at Lagos Fashion and Design Week (LFDW). At the time, the world was just waking up to the important role that Nigeria plays alongside South Africa. Both shoulder the weight of talent streaming out of the African continent, but the fashion industry of the latter is still the more developed and diversified of the two. Yet it is now the strength of Nigeria’s industry that has the world watching — a fact that was highlighted by the latest edition of the country’s cosmopolitan fashion week.

Having originally focused entirely on homegrown talent, last month’s Heineken LFDW attracted some of the best designers from neighbouring West African countries such as Senegal and Côte d’Ivoire, as well as diaspora talents living in London, Paris and New York. While organisers of LFDW declined to comment on the possibility of transforming the platform into a pan-African fashion week, the growing internationalisation of the event comes at an interesting time.

South Africa’s major fashion week organiser AFI cancelled its pan-African catwalk event Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in October, a month prior to taking place, placing more uncertainty on that country’s fragmented fashion week calendar — and opening up a gap for rivals on the continent to occupy. In the broader picture, Nigeria’s economy surpassed South Africa’s last year, with the IMF estimating GDP figures of $510 billion and $354 billion respectively. And although South Africa’s more mature apparel market may still be 30 to 50 percent larger than Nigeria’s (analysts’ estimates vary greatly), the potential for the Nigerian market is much greater since its population is at least three times bigger.

Meanwhile, ‘Nollywood’ celebrity style is having a growing impact across the continent as corners of the Nigerian film industry mature and Nigerian pop stars are influencing Africa’s music scene like no other. All this adds fuel to Nigeria’s ambitions to take a bigger share of the burgeoning African fashion scene.