Its time to Invest in the African Fashion Industry

“Africans need to put on the clothes made by their fellow citizens as a showcase of support and home pride”.

Africa has become a hub for designers unafraid to create fashion statements embellished in colors as bold as the continent’s sunsets and in prints as culturally rich as its people.

Their designs are cat-walking across runways both at home and around the world from New York to London to Tokyo.

Despite its budding international fame, the African fashion industry has long ways to walk before “made in Lagos” rings the same as “made in Paris.” For the meantime, the paucity of internal and external investment is a barrier frustrating attempts to move forward.

In recent times, African fashion has not just dipped its toes but fully plunged into the world’s fashion scene. Anisa Mpungew, a Tanzanian designer and creator of Loin Cloth & Ashes, says “Africa is not afraid of patterns and colors, that’s the one thing we do in our sleep, so we use it to be louder amongst our foreign friends.”

Indeed, African designers are making bold fashion statements through the complex patterns and colors they dare to work with.

African fashion tells a story — patches of identity are interwoven into the fabrics used and the designs created.

According to Bethlehem Alemu, owner of an Ethiopian shoe company soleRebels, “The global consumer today is hyper-aware. They want authentic and innovative ideas delivered from the authors of those ideas.”

These consumers want the designs to be creations of the African mind and hands and not replicas produced by Western clothing chains.

The fashion industry has the potential to create secured jobs for the African youths of today and tomorrow.

High profiled brands in the likes of J. Crew, Burberry, and Michael Kors oftentimes look to Africa for inspiration and ideas. Nevertheless, the masks, zebra stripes and leopard spots feed into Western stereotypes of Africa, not Africa’s authentic story.

With designers and clothes in high demand, the African fashion industry is ripe to reach its full potential. However, a lack of internal patronage stands in the way. Lexy Moyo-Eyes, the founder of Nigerian Fashion Week, acknowledges that “the fashion industry can become a big business in Africa … even more with government support.

For example, according to the African Development Bank, the Rwandan government established a “foundation to establish garment factories and boost the textile and fashion industries.”

As governments across the continent follow Rwanda’s steps and begin to esteem the fashion industry, they need to invest in the skills and qualifications of their people.

Fashion programs such as LISOF School of Fashion in South Africa and Vogue Style School of Fashion and Design in Ghana need to be in abundant supply, not scarce, across Africa.

Furthermore, governments across the African continent should set quotas on the import of second-hand clothing from the West.

The goal would be to stop relying on the West and boost local manufacturing and development instead. The East African Community (EAC), composed of Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, and Rwanda, has gone as far as to propose a ban by 2019.

For the meantime, African designers, seamstresses, tailors, and retailers are competing with Western clothes ranging from printed shirts to blouses to leather jackets to sport jerseys.

Sylvia Owori, a designer based in Uganda, says that “about 90 percent of the clothing people are buying in the whole country are second-hand clothes — so as a small fish, how are you going to start to compete with that?”

Sylvia Owori

These clothes have appeal because they are priced cheaply and allow Africans to emerge themselves in Western culture by dressing the part. A pair of jeans could be sold for as little as $1.50.

At first glance, bundles of our worn clothes might seem like benevolent gifts from the West, but they are actually hindering the progress of the African fashion industry and economy.

“The fashion industry can become a big business in Africa … even more with government support” – Lexy-Mojo Eyes

Andrew Brooks, professor of Geography at King’s College London, explains that “[Western] t-shirts may be quite cheap for someone to buy, but it would be better if that person could buy a locally manufactured t-shirt, so the money stays within the [country]” instead of circulating overseas. As the proverb goes, “charity begins at home.”

Not only will they be contributing to the success of homegrown designers but to their respective economy as a whole.

According to Ventures Africa, “If there is any time to invest in the African fashion industry, it is now.” Those who invest first will likely be the biggest beneficiaries of them all.

According to Euromonitor Internations, “the combined apparel and footwear market in sub-Saharan Africa [alone] is estimated to be worth US$ 31 billion.”

Deola Sagoe, a Nigerian designer in the industry for the past 25 years says that this is only a small fraction of what the fashion industry is capable of. It is time to turn this visionary potential into tangible prospects.

Omoyemi Akerele, the founder of Lagos Fashion and Design Week, realizes that investing in Africa does not come without its risks; you only need to to read, watch or listen to the news to be reminded of that.

Omoyemi Akerele – Founder of Lagos Fashion & Design Week

But she urges people to take a leap of faith and look beyond the rhetoric of corruption and images of war. She emphasizes that “he who observes the wind and waits for all conditions to be favorable will not sow, and he who regards the clouds will not reap.”

Beyond the glamour of clothes and runways, the fashion industry is a business that has the potential to play its part in efforts to create jobs, especially among young people. Compared to its counterparts, the African continent is home to the world’s youngest population.

According to the International Labor office, “youth make up as much as 36 percent of the total working-age population and three in five of Africa’s unemployed are youths.” Furthermore, UNICEF projects that by 2050, African children will make up close to 40 percent of children worldwide.

The fashion industry has the potential to create secured jobs for the African youths of today and tomorrow. NGOs and fashion organizations like the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative, AFI’s Fastrack and Next Gen, and the LFDW Fashion Focus are already adding jobs across the continent.

Africa’s youthful population is more of an asset than it is a risk. Alemu says that the emerging African youths will bring “immense amount of energy and talent” to the fashion industry.

Africa has always been home to the creative hands and minds but it is just recently that the world began to knock at its door.

African fashion allows for the opportunity to make fashion statements that dispel stereotypes and myths about the continent.

It is a medium through which to spread African culture, from its authentic source to the rest of the world as well as create jobs for the upcoming youth back at home.

The industry needs both internal and external investment to reach its full potential. The time is now.

AFFORDABLE FASHION STYLE FOR ENTREPRENEURS

Because budding entrepreneurs have to take on many roles while building their companies on a shoestring budget. They sometimes end up with little or no time (and a limited budget) to attend to their style/fashion needs. Appearance makes a good part of business especially when you are still climbing up the ropes and trying to spread your tentacles in the business world. It is however important for an entrepreneur to consider the industry in which you operate while putting your wardrobe together. It is best to keep in mind that what works for a tech entrepreneur who is constantly in meetings with investors might not necessarily work for a creative entrepreneur who attends more of networking events. Overall, the aim is to find a fashion style that’s affordable and gives a good impression of you as an entrepreneur especially when it matters the most. As a budding entrepreneur, you need to be able to slay on a budget. Dressing for business is also dressing for success. Every entrepreneur must take note of this. Read more - Click To Tweet Here are 2 factors for putting together a wardrobe that works and suits your budget.

1. DEFINE YOUR STYLE

  COMFORT: Always have it in mind that whatever your style is, it’s important to be comfortable in clothes. Clothes that are not comfortable can affect your mood, esteem as well as your general wellbeing. Ensure that whatever style you choose keeps you comfortable. CONFIDENCE: Even after dressing up in clothes, you must exude a level of confidence that helps you stand out in a crowd; So as you build your fashion style, remember to always step out with confidence and charisma. COLORS: Determine the colors that best suit your skin tone. After this, you can go further to determine which of these colors are most appropriate for formal than casual outfits. Overall, the goal is to understand how to coordinate outfits color wise so you always step out looking well put together. PHYSIQUE: Once you understand your physique, you can easily go for clothes that are the perfect fit for your body structure; clothes that flatter your good features and minimize the appearance of your “flaws”. ACCESSORIZE: Accessories can easily be used to give outfits an edge, depending on the occasion. Having accessories (like brooches, cuff links, belts, glasses, scarves, earrings) as part of your wardrobe can help you create different looks even without owning so many clothes.  

2. FASHION STAPLES EVERY ENTREPRENEUR SHOULD OWN

 
  • A well-tailored blazer (preferably black) – This can easily be put together nicely to achieve different formal and business casual looks.
 
  • Jeans (dark rinse /black) – Ladies, you can pair this with heels and blazers to attend networking events; men can also pair with sneakers and blazers for the same purpose.
 
  • Functional footwear – Neutral colored pumps should easily do the trick as they are comfortable, blend with other colors and are suitable for formal and business casual looks.
 
  • Handbag or briefcase – A basic handbag/briefcase should do, it does not necessarily have to be expensive but should be in very good condition (not worn out).
 
  • Dresses/pencil skirt – dresses and pencil skirts are very versatile and can be styled differently (with or without accessories) to get a variety of business looks. Ensure the fit is right and the length not too short
  Most importantly, choose quality over quantity when shopping for a business wardrobe; endeavor to buy the best quality you can afford. Handle your formal and business casual clothes with care especially when washing so you don’t have to replace them so often. Avoid clothes that are distracting and too revealing. Remember dressing for business is also dressing for success…. Slay on!!!