LAGOS (Reuters) – Nigerian fashion designer Sefiya Diejomaoh likes to wear bright and bold clothes to match her personality. She believes a global pandemic shouldn’t hamper her sense of style.

The mask she wears, which has become mandatory attire as Nigeria attempts to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, is the centerpiece of her ensemble. Gold in color and studded with sparkling rhinestone jewelry, it matches her floor-length maxi dress.

“When you go out with a fancy mask or something like this, it doesn’t seem like we’re fighting a war. It sounds more fun, ”said Diejomaoh, as she dresses at her home in Lagos to meet a client.

Many African countries have made it mandatory to wear masks in public to prevent the spread of the sometimes fatal COVID-19 respiratory disease.

Fashion lovers in the continent’s biggest cities combine style and safety by donning colorful masks, sometimes coordinating the fabric with their outfits.

The push to make masks stylish has taken off in other parts of the world. In places like Lebanon, companies have shifted from producing furniture and clothing to striking masks.

In Africa, the trend is proving to be a boon for local tailors and designers who make the masks.

Fashion designer Sophie Zinga, based in Dakar, the capital of Senegal, said she decided to create organic cotton masks after realizing that some form of clothing protection measures might be needed during the two coming years.

“We’re going to have to adapt and live with this virus,” she said.

“As a fashion designer, I think we’re going to have to integrate every outfit with fashion masks,” added Zinga, who created a digital platform,, for the masks.

Far from Dakar, in the South African shopping center of Johannesburg, the high-end leather accessories store Inga Atelier creates masks.

In a country that has imposed some of Africa’s toughest lockdowns and has been reeling from the economic impact, the company’s creative director said the move made sense.

“My business has been badly affected in such a way that the retail business is blocked,” said Inga Gubeka. “We realized that there was a great shortage of masks that could be used every day without having to throw them away. “

His company’s masks combine leather with multicolored fabrics, including traditional South African Ndebele prints.

Returning to Lagos, Nigeria, as she adjusted her glittering gold mask before heading to sub-Saharan Africa’s most populous city of 20 million people, Diejomaoh said a small piece of cloth was become a way of expressing oneself.

“People who wear surgical masks are depressing,” she said. “I have to maintain the status quo and who I am despite the situation. “

Reporting by Angela Ukomadu in Lagos, Christophe Van Der Perre in Dakar and Tassiem Shafiek in Johannesburg; Writing by Alexis Akwagyiram; Editing by Matthew Lewis