London Fashion Week: Why a Nigerian-born designer faced backlash for Saudi flag skirt

London-based Nigerian fashion designer Mowalola Ogunlesi issued an apology after drawing social media ire for unveiling a miniskirt with a print of the Saudi Arabian flag at the London Fashion Week on Friday. 

According to CNN, the clothing in question was part of the 28-year-old’s Spring 2024 collection, and it also featured miniskirts with prints of other national flags including China, the UK, and Japan. The Saudi Arabian flag bears the Islamic oath known as “Shahada.” The oath, which is written in Arabic, reads: “There is no god but God; Mohammed is the messenger of God.”

In the wake of the controversy, prominent Arab and Muslim fashion accounts reportedly called on fashion distributor FarFetch to seize selling Ogunlesi’s collections. They also threatened to stop patronizing FarFetch’s services. The fashion distributor’s clientele in the Middle East is said to be huge.

Ogunlesi’s apology came after she initially played down the backlash in a post on X – the social media platform previously known as Twitter. “A mini skirt being an act of war in 2023 is so dystopian,” she reportedly posted in a screenshot shared by Couture is Beyond account on X, per CNN. “Cry me a river,” she wrote in another post.

The 28-year-old, however, seemingly walked back on her initial comments and issued an apology. “One of my key inspirations for SS24 was to use the national flags of different countries. After the show, I found that one of these flags – Saudi Arabia – features sacred words, and its use has caused great offense,” she wrote.

“Now that I’ve been educated on this topic, I sincerely apologise for this. I’ll ensure this design is removed from the collection. I deeply regret any hurt or offense my oversight may have caused. Thank you for holding me accountable, and I appreciate your understanding as I learn from this experience.”

It is unusual for the Saudi flag to be printed on clothing because of the reverence of the holy inscription, CNN reported. In 2022, Saudi media reported that the oil-rich country’s Saudi Ministry of Commerce had prohibited businesses from using the flag in commercial promotions such as “publications, goods and products, brochures, special gifts and others.”

Francis Akhalbey

A reader once told me I lack the emotional maturity to cope with mythological breasts. I support Manchester United, by the way. And L.A. Lakers.

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