Saturday 8th June, morning. Scrolling the gram. I came across Diane Audrey Ngako stories – she is the founder of Visiter l’Afrique. She was getting ready to attend an event about African creativity here in London. Quickly checked what it was about: the panels, the talks. They would tackle the Fashion industry. A few minutes later I was on the road, on my way there.
The Wish Africa Expo event was set for two days in London. Prominent personalities from different industries would discuss the current state and challenges of their respective sectors. Architecture, Art, Design, Fashion, Tourism, Food and Technology were represented. Founder of the event, Lola Emeruwa initially created Wish Africa platform to promote African excellence from the continent and its diaspora in 2016. Wish Africa Expo was then created in line with that purpose as a space to enable a dialogue between these different industries contributing to Africa’s development. London hosted its launch. The exposition will next travel to Africa: Morocco, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa.
I targeted two talks as my must: “Africa as inspiration” and “The business of African fashion”. I enjoyed those the most! I mean, Reni Folawiyo – founder of the luxury concept store Alara Lagos – was there to tell us more about her vision of the industry on the continent, not to mention the groundbreaking fashion designers such as Anyango Mpinga, Tokyo James. What an inspiration!
Let’s get to the key learnings from these talks : need for structure and infrastructure.
All speakers acknowledged the lack of infrastructures on the continent as a major obstacle to the business growth. The topic came up quite often along the conversation. Yvonne Fasinro – founder of Adara Foundation – and Jacqueline Shaw – founder of the African Fashion Guide– made the following state of loss:
- 95% of the cotton produced in Africa is exported: an important value lost -when you know that this African cotton is not as competitive as the asian cotton on the global market you can imagine that the loss is even more important- for the industry
- Adara Foundation’s targeted market is not Africa only but they don’t have infrastructure to cope with the demand they face
- Need for fashion industry and governments – especially Nigeria here – to work together to create an operating environment allowing manufacturing to succeed
Tackling the infrastructure issues will help keeping the added value on the continent. Reni Folawiyo clearly explained what it actually means in terms of impact in the African context.
“What are we doing in terms of production and manufacturing? Because in terms of real numbers and getting people real jobs and getting them to move from the rural areas to more urban lifestyle, it’s all going to be about manufacturing and production. It’s meaningful.[…] In terms of real empowerment we also have to think about […] important investments in infrastructures that will help real production and help real lifes to move forward.“
Indeed, as Jacqueline Shaw confirmed, manufacturing in fashion can be an answer to provide jobs to the growing young African population.
From what the African fashion industry can provide at the moment, here are the main recommendations advised by Jacqueline Shaw to produce significant volumes on the continent: Mauritius, Morocco, Madagascar and Ethiopia. For businesses looking for luxury craftsmanship and textiles techniques she advised West Africa. However, her own focus are Ghana, Kenya and Ethiopia because of what they can offer to companies who want to settle right now.
The need for infrastructure goes with the need for structure of the industry in general but not only. The need for structure also applies to the people within the industry.
The lack of education on the fashion industry was also mainly raised as an issue to be addressed.
The fashion designers lack of fundamental fashion business management skills in Africa to grow scalable and sustainable businesses. Yvonne Fasinro called out for the complementarity of structure and infrastructure. That would be an environment enabling design development, production, branding, marketing and positioning globally. Adara Foundation is a starting answer to this issue with a focus on women empowerment. Its founder insisted on her belief in innovation and technology as areas to push to find solutions.
Founder of Alara made a strong statement on that need of education in the African fashion industry. That need would also require to confront the specific limitations of the African environments like the growth of the people themselves and the journey out of poverty.
“The real development of the fashion sector Is important. I think that we need to understand the importance of starting from the ground up which is having schools, […] having business mentorship […]. I think we don’t understand how young we really are in the business of fashion. And until we understand that we are not looking at the right problems. Because we have people, a lot of them might be self-taught, some of them might have come from different schools from all over the world but we don’t have great schools in Africa for fashion and if we don’t start from the schools, we are not going to be able to maneuver what it takes to get to the rest of the world.”
Culture as inspiration
The idea was widely discussed with the four designers invited for the talk “Africa as inspiration” as they talked in details about their own inspirations. However, the strength of spreading culture through the design and/or brand was also highlighted in the second fashion talk and the “premium African food and drink” talk when Swaady Martin told us about her tea brand – which I really like – Yswara.
Getting inspired by the culture can mean taking inspirations from traditions and customs but also from the current environment and context. It can be as lightweight as the way African people like eating chicken – funny words of Tokyo James – as impactful as serving social causes – some collections of Anyango Mpinga. In both cases, that culture will add a meaning to the clothing and touch people beyond that clothing itself. Another example I liked was from Adara Foundation: to translate the women willingness to go forward into fabric design. Women who join Adara Foundation are not experts however they show what is possible when you make the effort for a better life.
The principle of Luxe Ubuntu is “I am because we are”. The idea behind Ubuntu Luxury is the will to develop an inclusive luxury industry: a luxury industry where the important amount of money paid for an item benefits the customers as much as the makers behind that same item. The theme was discussed in different talks but this actual designation was created by Swaady Martin. Whatsoever the industry, fashion or food & drinks, the speakers laid claim to a fair and sustainable luxury industry for Africa. They want to encourage the growth of the makers, they want to make their lives better.
Leverage these key learnings will bring the African fashion industry to the next level. As Reni Folawiyo mentioned it, the fashion industry in Africa is still young. Therefore, its growth will take time: the time to properly understand the customers, the time to properly understand the different contexts of the continent. But with the contribution of an ever growing number of new actors who want to make a difference in the sector, we will get there!
I came very fashion oriented but also very attentive to other industries insights. It’s always enriching to keep an eye open on what’s happening around your environment to better understand the effects it can have on your business industry. So, I also attended talks on the following topics:
“Sustainable and responsible African tourism”
“Premium African food & drink”
“Mobile and the African tech market”
So if you have any question on these, please feel free to get in touch. I will be more than happy to answer them.
PS: You will find the talks videos here. You will learn more about the speakers.