The Rise of the Fashion Modelling Industry in Nigeria and the Accompanying Legal Questions


Fashion modelling is considered a glamorous job, or rather life-style. Fashion models are often objects of envy, with everyone wishing they were Kendall Jenner or Anwar Hadid at least once in their lifetime. According to the Longman Dictionary of Contemporary English, a fashion model is one whose job is to show clothes, hairstyles etc. by wearing them at fashion shows or for photographs. This definition is restrictive as fashion modelling is beyond clothes, hairstyles, shows or shoots. It could involve beauty and skin care, jewelry, foot-wear, nudity amongst others. Unfortunately, there is a dearth of appropriate authorities in relation to the definition of fashion modelling.

The Nigerian fashion industry came to light a few years ago, with the advent of platforms including Lagos Fashion and Design Week (now Lagos Fashion Week), Arise Magazine Fashion Week, GTB Fashion Weekend amongst others. The growing interest in fashion photography, fashion styling and make-up artistry amongst the millennials also contributed to this. All of these pushed the modelling industry to the fore-front it acquires today. Soon, modelling schools began to spring up in the ‘fashion capital’ cities of Lagos and Abuja. Afterwards, modelling agencies followed suit, and so did scouting agencies. Today, Lagos boasts of two of Africa’s top modelling agencies, with affiliations with international modelling powerhouses such as IMG Models, Next Models, Boss Models and Elite Models. In fact, Nigerian models are increasingly being placed into modelling agencies across the globe, in locations as close as Cape Town and others, as far as New York.


The rise of the fashion modelling industry in Nigeria is not without its problems. Several legal issues have risen such as child labor, low wages, sexual harassment and rape, human rights violation, intellectual property (IP) infringement, cyberbullying and defamation amongst others. For instance, in 2017, Nneoma Anosike, a Nigerian model based in New York sued Wema Bank PLC for allegedly using her photos commercially, without her consent. In her 97 million naira suit, she claimed loss of a modelling contract with an American company, due to the unauthorized use of her photo. She was subsequently awarded 10 million naira in damages. Earlier this year as well, an unnamed model took to social media to allege rape against a popular Nigerian menswear designer. In addition to this, there have been several ‘call outs’ regarding unethical practices towards models in the Nigerian fashion industry.

Unfortunately, despite the industry’s steady evolution into a multi-million naira industry, there is little or no legal protection for Nigerian models. Fashion models have little recourse to justice and can only rely upon the sparse outdated laws in Nigeria. The expensive costs of litigation of course, is another issue. For instance, rape is criminalized in Nigeria through the Criminal Code, Penal Code and the Child Rights Act. However, these laws are grossly inadequate and are usually invoked to the detriment of the rape victim due to the requirement of corroborative evidence. The scope of the Violation against Persons Prohibition Act is wider in punishing rape. However, it only covers the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja and can only be invoked elsewhere, after being passed by the State House of Assembly.

Quite surprisingly, there is no provision in the Nigerian Labour Act 2004 that prohibits sexual harassment during employment, despite Nigeria’s domestication of the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights and the subsequent Maputo Protocol. Fortunately, according to the Criminal Law of Lagos State 2011, anyone who sexually harasses another is guilty of a felony, and is liable to a prison term of three years. Section 262 of the Criminal Law of Lagos States takes a step further by criminalizing harassment that affect a person’s employment or reasonably interferes with the person’s work or creates a hostile working environment. Regretfully, there are only few cases on sexual harassment in Nigeria due to the culture of silence. The Cybercrime Act of 2015 criminalizes cyber-bullying but there is no implementation. Fashion models are increasingly being bullied every day, online and offline.

In Nigeria, fashion models are subject to the whims and caprices of their agencies, managers and employers, because there are no specific laws protecting them from sexual, financial or physical exploitation in the fashion industry. For many models, such exploitation begins even before they shoot their first campaign or walk their first runway, when they are asked to pay outrageous sums of money to get a chance, or are subjected to ill-motived examinations, touches and caresses, in the name of fittings and measurements. Further, models are often badgered to lose weight until they are unhealthily thin, in order to meet the ‘standard size’ of zero. This begs the question – What about their fundamental human rights? The right to dignity of the human person, as guaranteed in Section 34 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria implies that one should be free from degrading acts such as sexual harassment. Also, the African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights guarantees the right to health. Sadly, in Nigeria, such guarantees are only contained in paper and have no connection with the true realities.

In other jurisdictions, the existence of Fashion modelling laws and policies have attempted to, and have successfully answered the legal questions arising from fashion modelling. For instance, New York has passed the Child Model Laws, which protect minors from the educative and financial perspectives. In Nigeria, such laws would be beneficial because fashion models are usually scouted around the tender age of thirteen years, when they are barely teenagers. Currently, there are no Nigerian legislations or regulations aimed at protecting their interests. Also, France has passed a law which aims to prevent eating disorders, common with fashion models such as anorexia and bulimia. In fact, unhealthily thin models are banned in France, United States of America, Israel and Italy.  In some countries, fashion models are required to obtain a medical certificate, which states the model’s weight, age and body shape, in determination of their well-being. Denmark has produced the Danish Fashion Ethical Charter to this effect. Nigeria ought to take a cue from these countries in enacting laws that encourage body positivity in fashion modelling.

Fashion models are exposed to ills such as fashion related human trafficking and drugs. While some of them may actively use drugs, some, unfortunately are just victims of circumstances in a highly drugged industry where they have little or no say. Fortunately, organizers of international fashion shows have become alert, and have taken measures to combat this. One of them is the Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week Australia 2018 that has included the ‘Smoke Free Fashion Initiative’ which aims to combat the use of tobacco, one of Australia’s largest causes of disability, disease, illness and death. The initiative also proscribes the use of illicit drugs and promotes responsible alcohol consumption.

In other countries, legal practices revolving around modelling are increasing, with establishment of fashion law firms aimed at preventing financial exploitation of models as lawyers are involved in drafting of contracts and signing of agreements. This effectively protects the economic interests of fashion models. Models are becoming increasingly aware of their legal rights and have taken severally, to the law court to protect them. In 2016, nine former models brought a class action lawsuit against their former agencies including Click Model Management, alleging financial exploitation, illegal deduction of wages, body shaming and harassment, and several other unethical practices. Also, governments of countries are becoming key players in the fashion modelling industry, regulating practices from employment to determination of wages. For instance, fashion models are part of the national trade union organization, Equity in United Kingdom. Equity, working closely with the British Fashion Council and the Association of Model Agencies have developed a Code of Conduct guiding activities of models in the UK.

The issue of fundamental human rights in fashion modelling is very broad. It covers rights including freedom from discrimination, right to privacy, rights to wellbeing and economic rights. Models are often subjected to use of unconsented personal images, photo-shops and edits. For instance, in 2012, Coco Rocha sued Elle Magazine for the right to control her image, as her photo was distorted without her consent, containing nudity and published for all the world to see. In as much as photographers and fashion editors can exercise freedom of artistic expression and creation, and are free to develop the economic dimension of any model’s personal image, there is a need for balance. There is need for models to possess the right to be able to explore their own images as a source of economic income.

The right of image has been stated to comprise a physical, ideal and moral element. According to Adalberta Costa, ‘the physical element is the physical existence of the human being, regarded as the object of projection to his unique physiognomy. The ideal element is based on the evolution of personal image from death to birth and beyond it. The moral element according to Ligia Carvalho Abreu represents the essence of a person who is conscious of their own image, moral and physical characteristics, capable of deciding how their image will be used and how it will be perceived by others.’ As an angle to personal fundamental rights, models must be able to legitimately control their own images. Their consent, especially to digital manipulations must always be taken into consideration. This right calls upon other rights including right to dignity and takes into consideration, the right to artistic freedom and expression of the photographer and editor.

Freedom from discrimination is another issue. Models are often discriminated against on account of race, color, religion, sexual orientation, disability, body shape and size and so on. While designers and photographers may have a vision to create, and a type of model to create it, there is an urgent need for inclusivity. The international fashion world has taken great diversity strides with the likes of Halima Aden, a Hijabi model walking the runways of Milan, Paris and New York and several others. However, Nigeria is still lagging behind. Models that are not perceived to be the norm including shorter models, models with disability, hijabis and other non-conformists are never scouted, not to talk of being casted. Yet, Section 42 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria guarantees freedom from discrimination for every individual.

The Models’ Bill of Rights is a template for the fundamental human rights of models, created by The Model Alliance, a non-profit labour organization for models in the United States. It states that every working model has the right to professionalism, transparent accounting practices, control of their career, negotiable commissions and provides for special protections for models under eighteen. The Models’ Bill of Right states that, every agency should work to ensure the provision of a private changing area, to which photographers are not granted access, at castings, shoots and shows. In Nigeria, for example, during fashion shows, there are no private or semi-private changing areas for models. Models are subjected to changing in front of fashion designers, stylists, interns, fellow models and any such person, including the opposite sex at fashion weeks. For fashion shows where millions of naira are budgeted for and earned at the end of the week, through sponsors, sales of spaces and tickets, surely there are enough funds to construct some sort of temporary changing area for the time being. This right must be implied from Section 37 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria which protects the right to privacy of every individual.

In addition to this, there is a need for a stricter approach to the issue of rape, especially in the modelling industry. In the highly controversial case of Anand Jon, a fashion designer who was accused of rape and sexual assault of young models, a United States court held that he was guilty and sentenced him to fifty nine years imprisonment. Nigerian courts need to hold perpetrators of rape accountable for their actions. This would serve as deterrence to intended culprits and contribute to the creation of a healthy working environment for fashion models.


As stated earlier, the Nigerian modelling industry is one of the key parts of the Nigerian fashion industry. Indeed, it is a multi-million naira industry that has produced several Nigerian supermodels including Oluchi Orlandi, Mayowa Nicholas, Olamide Ogundele, Victor Ndigwe and Davidson Obennebo who have graced international runways such as Tom Ford, Prada, Tommy Hilfiger, Moschino, Dior and Diane Von Furstenberg, and magazines such as Vogue, Harper’s Bazaar, Elle and Cosmopolitan. Others including Aduke Shitta-Bey, Jemimah Odutola and Seun Logan have consistently thrived, even at home.

These models represent brands, they represent emotions and convey to a large extent, a language and cultural message. As stated by Ligia Carvalho Abreu, ‘they facilitate a symbolic relationship that is built in the minds of those who visualize them. This symbolic relationship is the perception or the construction of reality which includes physical attributes, attitude, life style, freedom, social status, honor, glamour and name’. They sell the look; they make the consumers interested in purchasing the goods or services, in some instances. The importance of this make it or break it job cannot be overemphasized. Therefore, it is very important to protect their legal rights and interests.


Titilope Adedokun is a 300 Level student of the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos. She is currently the Public Relations Officer II of the Mooting Society, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos. She is interested in international law, human rights, women’s rights, literature and fashion. Her favorite past-times usually comprise writing, or reading a great book and good food.

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