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.

FACEBOOK LIVE WITH THANDO’S: TRANSFORMING THE WORLD WITH AFRICAN FASHION (APR 25)

African innovators are capturing the world’s attention through their unique designs –particularly in the fashion industry! Examples include African designers like Mimi Plange, whose works have caught the eyes of Michelle Obama and Rihanna or Kisua, a luxury African brand that Queen Bey is a fan of!   Amazing shoe brands like Thando’s, are revolutionizing the fashion scene with Africa’s first fashionable, comfortable and foldable ballerina flat that can fit inside a small handbag, office drawer or the glove compartment of a car! Talk about convenience with style! That being said, if you are looking to break into the fashion industry or want to harness your passion for fashion – this is one is for you!

Join us on Wednesday, April 25th, for a Facebook Live with Jibolu Ayodele – co-founder, Thando’s, and Chioma Okonkwo – Winner of 2017 Thando’s Design competition, as they share with us all a fashion innovator needs to know about changing the fashion scene through innovative designs.   Change the fashion scene through innovative #AfricanFashion, with @ThandosShoes on, April 25th! More info at: http://bit.ly/Thandos Click To Tweet

Some of the topics we’ll cover

  • The art of designing for social impact
  • How crowdsourcing/collaborative consumption can work for Fashionpreneurs
  • Disrupting Africa’s fashion landscape
  • What you need to know about manufacturing in Africa

Webinar Details:

Date: Wednesday, April 25th, 2018 Time: 12PM Lagos // 1PM Johannesburg // 2PM Nairobi Location: Register below to get access to this opportunity

Watch here:

She Leads Africa Facebook Live with Jibolu Adeyole, co-founder of @ThandosShoes and Chioma Okonkwo, winner of 2017 Thando’s design competition sharing insights on Transforming the world with African fashion. Join the She Leads Africa community by visiting SheLeadsAfrica.org/join!

Posted by She Leads Africa on Wednesday, April 25, 2018

About our experts:

Jibolu “J.G.” Ayodele is the co-founder of Thando’s, a Lagos and NY based fashion company that provides a platform for African artists to design for a global audience. 

Before co-founding Thando’s, Jibolu led the business development efforts of Viacom International Media Networks in Nigeria, where he co-created partnerships with brands such as Hewlett Packard and Lufthansa. He has also worked with Deloitte, Bank of America and GE Capital. Mr. Ayodele holds an MBA in Finance, Entertainment, Media, and Technology from NYU – Stern School of Business. He received a Masters in Accounting from NC State University, and a Bachelors in Business Administration from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill. Jibolu is married to his co-founder, Taffi Ayodele.
Chioma Okonkwo, is a graduate of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, with a passion for illustration and animation. She recently participated in Thando’s inaugural print design competition, where she won with her unique design – The Akonmi Print. She used this design to interpret how heavy rains result in flooding that displaces hundreds of thousands of people. Chioma was inspired to illustrate after her internship at an imaging company in Port-Harcourt. When she is not working at her 9 to 5 call centre job or illustrating, Chioma is busy experiencing new places, cultures and foods. 

Chinero Nnamani: I want to be remembered as a conscientious person who was Black, a Woman, and Proud

I created @ChineroNnamani to celebrate & give well-deserved credit to Africa’s influence in our culture Click To Tweet

Since childhood, Chinero Nnamani has been fascinated by the world around her. As someone with too many ideas, deciding a career wasn’t a straightforward process. Chinero wanted to be a nurse, a graphic designer, a lawyer, a social activist, an inventor, a politician, a psychologist…and the list goes on.

In her search for a calling, Chinero learned about: computer science and graphic design in Sweden, creative writing and public policy in California, philosophy and psychology in London, statistics and data management in India, anthropology and human anatomy in Nigeria, and much more. With these experiences, Chinero learned how deeply embedded African influences were to the foundations of civilizations.

She then created the Chinero Nnamani brand to celebrate, and give well-deserved credit, to Africa’s influence in our culture and other cultures throughout the world.


How do you blend technology and art in your aesthetic?

The many interconnections between technology, mathematics, and art provide a wealth of material to emphasize the fusion of African influences.

My patterns tend to also celebrate math and technology with geometric influences, and the use of simple grids and linear perspective. The symbiosis of art and technology, in my opinion, allows for the most striking prints and clothing designs.

You make your own original prints, how easy or difficult has it been creating them?

I enjoy making prints by hand, but I can’t emphasize enough how technology has changed the game, and become integral to how I create my patterns, as it is incredibly convenient to travel with a tablet and stylus.

So to answer your question, it is very easy and fun to create my prints!

Can you tell us more about what you worked on before starting your brand?

Before starting my brand I worked as a freelance graphic designer, illustrator and web designer. I also worked as the Practice Manager of a Mental Health clinic.

These experiences have only helped consolidate my undergraduate experiences, and contribute to my personal and professional growth as a thinker, advocate, collaborator, manager, and leader.

What was particularly challenging to you when you decided to create the Chinero Nnamani brand?

The most challenging aspect of starting the brand was human resources, and finding and/or training reliable people to uphold my quality standards in Nigeria.

You really have to firmly and consistently foster an organizational culture of efficiency and high quality in Nigeria, or the quality will suffer without proper systems in place. Fortunately, I have steadily built an amazing team of people in Nigeria that are always eager to learn and excel.

...the most valuable things I learned were how embedded African influences were to the foundations of civilizations. Click To Tweet

You are present online and your flagship store is at the Jabi Lake Mall in Abuja. How did you go about opening the physical store?

Opening the store in Jabi, Abuja was a beautiful experience.

From our massive ornate mirrors, to our gold shelving, and blends of ornamentation and joyful visuals, I really was able to fulfill my vision for the space and have it emphasize global acuity and African pride.

What’s the creative process like for you? Where do you go, and what do you do, when you need inspiration?

I typically begin with a simple doodle or sketch in a moleskin notebook. I like to be out in nature or sitting by a window when I want to create.

Inspiration is drawn from the fluid forms and sharp colors of nature, music, traditional food, Nigerian folk art, masked dance, ancestral drums, Igbo attires, and the shear wealth of African influences and innovations in cultures and textiles throughout the world.

What is your three-year growth plan for Chinero Nnamani?

My three-year growth plan for the Chinero Nnamani brand is pursuing more expansion opportunities in the U.S. with physical store locations in malls, and pop-up events.

I also plan to release more lifestyle products like furniture, leather goods, and more!

In one sentence, how will you like to be remembered?

I want to be remembered as a conscientious person who was Black, a Woman, and Proud.


This is a sponsored post.

Jacqueline Shaw: Pioneering a movement for “fashion made in Africa”

Jacqueline Shaw
I was inspired by the possibility of creating something new @jacquelineMshaw Click To Tweet

Jacqueline Shaw is the Founding Director of Africa Fashion Guide (AFG), a social enterprise and fashion sourcing agency.  She has worked and designed for various fashion companies around the world. Companies such as PUMA, Russell Athletic, Ocean Pacific, Fila and Chilli Pepper to name a few. AFG is a unique platform that promotes and supports the supply chain of Africa’s fashion and textile industry. AFG supports SME’s by offering online courses providing them with relevant skills, knowledge, understanding and opportunities to network in the African market.

Jacqueline is also a published author. She wrote, curated, produced and self-published the coffee table book “FASHION AFRICA- The Visual Overview Of Contemporary African Fashion”. The book launched at The Fashion Africa Conference, which brought together key industry leaders from African fashion and ethical fashion. Since the conference’s launch, there’s been an array of high-street brands and retailers such as ASOS, H&M, NEW ERA as well as press including Financial Times, Guardian and more attending this conference.

SLA contributor Neo Cheda recently met up with Jacqueline and here’s what Jacqueline had to say.


What inspired you to get involved in this industry?

I have always loved textiles and as a child, I used to sew and make clothes for my toys from scraps of fabric. I believe I was inspired by the possibility of creating something out of something else.

Getting close up to hand-made textiles for me was a dream. I feel some textiles should not be cut or passed down but celebrated with stories for generations to keep their craft alive.

What would you say is the innovative idea behind Africa Fashion Guide?

We are a team of disruptive innovators. As a recent CNN Africa report said, “A disruptive innovation is an innovation that shakes up an existing market”. I have worked in a market dominated by Asia and am presenting a new market to this industry, one that has been overlooked and considered “dark”, “poor”, “bad in quality”, and “unable to perform”.

I believe that Africa is a continent of future leaders. Hence at Africa Fashion Guide, we have pioneered a movement for “fashion made in Africa” and not just that but ethically, sustainably and responsibly.afg logo-1

What challenges have you faced in the fashion industry?

Fashion in itself is an industry that takes a lot more than it gives. One really has to prove themselves and that can take years. But above all, you have to maintain the belief in yourself to do well as you can face a lot of rejections too.

There are also general challenges of systems and finance invested to support the industry. I found that working out of the continent, I am challenged to persuade the general industry of the African opportunity and to get them to invest in that.

Fashion in itself is an industry that takes a lot more than it gives - Jacqueline Shaw Click To Tweet

How have you managed to stay the champions within Africa’s fashion supply chain?

We do not do fashion shows but we are here to talk business and to get the message across that Africa is, has been and will always be open for the fashion business. We have also focused on sustainability. I personally made it my effort to research, investigate and network with this community. I am even called to talk about this internationally.

With a Masters in Ethical Fashion and then completing an MSc in Social Research, I understand the importance of understanding the market and sustaining that market through responsible sourcing. Lastly, because we are consistent in what we do, we have gathered a strong following and a lot of respect too. We are not newbies to the field but have spent time digging deep to build the right foundation for building up our company.

@jacquelineMshaw here to talk business & let people know that Africa is open for fashion Click To Tweet

Advice to young women looking to venture into the fashion world:

  • Network: Build a strong community of people, supporters, mentors and those with skills you don’t have.
  • Always be willing to learn, be humble and know that real wisdom comes from acknowledging that you don’t know everything.
  • Grow a steel spine because there’s a lot you will have to overlook and ignore. Many opinions could make or break you but the key is to believe in yourself.
  • Read up on everything to do with your craft whilst perfecting it because as a mentor once told me, “The best leaders are the biggest readers”.

If you’d like to share your story with She Leads Africa, let us know more about you and your story here