African designers have to adapt and invest in technology to help grow the continent’s fashion entrepreneurship.
With the Covid-19 pandemic, there has been a notable acceleration in consumer shifts and digital trends that were in motion prior to the crisis.
To maintain the momentum and to grow the multibillion-dollar industry further, fashion entrepreneurs must take advantage of fashion-enabling tools at their disposal. E-commerce, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and digital printing are tools that will shape the future of the fashion industry in Africa, according to Vanessa Moungar, Director of the Gender, Women and Civil Society Department at the African Development Bank (AfDB).
Since the pandemic hit, consumer behaviour and products offered have changed with designers becoming agile and ready to pivot into any business model that suits them. In addition, the pandemic has also opened up opportunities for Africa’s fashion businesses to leap forward since the virus gave fashion entrepreneurs time to rethink, re-invent and re-develop the industry.
Simone Cipriani who chairs the secretariat of the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion says that the African fashion industry is multicultural, polyglot, young and full of traditions. It is an industry that values and supports diversity.
While fashion tourism has barely picked up on the continent, countries like South Africa have made strides in tapping the opportunity offered by the industry.
Fashion tourism can simply be defined or thought of as people travelling to different locations globally to enjoy and learn about the dressing style and trends of an area. Fashion tourism is a niche market borne out of cultural and shopping tourism.
While wildlife, cuisines and holidays are among the most popular aspects of tourism, fashion tourism as an industry is a multibillion-dollar business globally. The aspect is growing in popularity all over the world, and in Africa, Nigeria is taking the lead.
For countries looking to increase economic gain, fashion tourism is a viable option if these countries also allow local designers to showcase their talent to attract international investors and fashion houses.
In a continent struggling with youth unemployment, fashion tourism offers the opportunity for job creation in other non-related industries. The spill–over effect of the industry is that fashion tourists will visit local hotels and shops which enables the hiring and retaining of employees.
In addition, the African textile industry would reap immense benefits from fashion tourism. In Sub-Saharan Africa, textiles have an annual sales volume of 2.1 billion yards. The average production cost is US$2.6 billion and the retail value is US$4 billion.
For decades, African textiles have been treated and seen as primitive and only good as a tourist attraction. However, with the influx of fashion tourists to the continent, these textiles and their designs have taken a new turn with the fashion industry embracing them as an integral resource.
All over the world, African textiles and fabrics are now prominently featured on catwalks from Paris to New York. This exposure has seen fashion tourism to Africa grow. International designers are travelling to countries of origin for the textiles which is also encouraging economic growth.
Africa’s textile and clothing industry can drive industrial transformation and create millions of jobs since a stable future depends on developing labour-intensive sectors like manufacturing, services and agriculture.
Job creation from fashion can result in new trade patterns for African countries.
The creative industries, under which fashion falls, are particularly attractive to the increasingly interconnected youth who are eager to explore cultural offerings through fashion tourism and social media.
Africa is largely youth populated with 60 per cent of the population aged under 25 years. As such, the fashion industry offers an immense opportunity for those daring enough to venture into the industry.
The AfDB notes that the textile and clothing industry presents a lot of potential for value-added benefits and job creation.
Estimates show that up to 600 per cent of value can be created along the cotton value chain. This is through the processes of cotton production, spinning and twisting into yarn, weaving and knitting into fabric, followed by dying, printing and designing.
From production to marketing, the fashion industry is a very profitable sector where additional jobs and wealth can be created every step of the way. Interestingly, the industry is composed of a majority of micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs). These can rapidly generate decent jobs for both skilled and unskilled labour reducing the unemployment rates across the continent.
With the demand for African textiles and garments increasing globally, this is the time for African countries to invest in the sector. As African patterns gain recognition, international fashion houses are integrating more and more African influences in their latest collections creating a need for increased productivity in the sector.
Additionally, international textile manufacturers are turning to Africa as a new source of labour and as a growing consumer market. The continent is clearly and quickly taking on a greater role in the global fashion value chain, and rapid industrialization is what will help Africa take advantage of the changing tide.
The continent must refocus from importing second–hand clothes and exporting raw materials which are vulnerable to market volatility. This means that there should be a value addition to everything produced on the continent. The target should be exporting finished fashion products.
To that end, Ethiopia is working towards generating US$30 billion in export revenue from the textile apparel and accessories sector by 2030. The country is investing in industrial parks to accelerate textile production and developing a heavy industry that will allow its full industrialization by 2025.
Continent-wide, the garment sector has registered impressive growth in South Africa, Mauritius, Madagascar and across the North African countries. However, much of the rest of the continent has a long way to go.
Many challenges still remain for African fashion designers. One of the biggest problems facing them is a few local design houses and buyers are interested in their work. With the competition skewed against the small designers, fashion tourism offers hope in that it can increase trust in local brands which can drive local demand for locally-produced clothing.
Fashion remains an integral part of the African culture since each country on the continent has its own style and materials. This makes each country unique and offers a vast array of choices for fashion tourists. As an expression of identity, African designers and models have to tap into the rise in popularity of African fabrics and design. This way, they will not miss the boat which is already docked on the continent’s shores waiting to spread African fashion around the world.