The Potential of African Fashion
HARNESSING ITS POTENTIAL
Fashion, what is it? , some say it is a way of life; some say it is a way to express oneself.
Whatever one describes it as; I believe it is an integral part of our daily lives for those privileged enough to have a choice of clothing.
Over the past decades the fashion industry has grown, not just in worth; $2.5 trillion (Akinsola,2019) but importance with all the fashion weeks, e.g. NYFW, PFW, MFW, to mention a few. We have also seen it contribute to the economies of countries all over, e.g.Cambodia’s fashion and textile industries contribute 15% to its GDP while 70% of industrial exports from Sri Lanka are fashion items. (Akinsola,2019)
Still, this tremendous growth almost has Africa out of the picture, with it contributing to less than 1%, $31 billion to the global worth,(Akinsola,2019) when it could and should be doing more than that. For instance, just a few months ago, Beyonce released a body of work Black Is King which highly inspired by her African roots.
We saw the beautiful colours, cultures, designs from various African countries, and it would have grossed high profits. Let us look beyond the entertainment Black Is King gave us.
We can agree that it was a way to appreciate our cultures, educate us (for those who did not know about certain things), and with it being a film, it will always be there for our consumption; in other words preservation of showcased cultures.
In the way, China has with its culture (culinary), has practised cultural diplomacy, Chinese restaurants and delicacies are famous all over the world, even treated as high-end in some places as well. (Meke, 2020)
Culture in all its forms, specifically fashion is an opportunity for African governments to explore. In this case, Nigeria, with the second biggest fashion industry ($4.7 Billion) in Africa behind South Africa ($14.4 Billion),(Akinsola,2020), and the many designers making a name for themselves from Kenneth Ize to BLOKE, and Orange Culture.
As well as the notable events like; Arise Fashion Week, Street Souk. They all contribute to the growing and somewhat exclusive fashion community. That said, there are so many who have not been able to establish themselves or their brand because of the many challenges faced by people venturing into Nigeria’s fashion industry.
HIGHLIGHTING SOME CHALLENGES
In as much as, I have identified the Nigerian fashion industry as an opportunity, it faces various challenges, of which I have identified four.
Firstly, the industry lacks a value chain, which would include farmers producing cotton, then textile mills processing this cotton, providing materials for manufacturers and designers to use. Economically, Nigeria’s focus is crude oil and all its products, so the Agricultural sector does not have much attention placed on, not to talk of farmers producing cotton, which is at its lowest as well as manufacturing. (Akutu,2019)
The second challenge identified is close to non-existent production hubs. At some point in Nigeria used to produce many fabrics from Aso-Ebi to Adire and Ankara, but now we barely have the “go-to” places for designers to have mass production done. The lack of production hubs and the challenge mentioned above have seen Nigerian designer sourcing these services externally, be it getting their materials or having their clothes/designs produced in large numbers. If these were not challenges we faced we could see not just Nigerians, but people from all over the world have their clothes made here, and this would be of great benefit to the fashion industry and the economy at large. (Akutu,2019), (Oluikpe,2019).
Taking the economy into further consideration, another challenge the industry faces is that of textile sales and its measurement. We sell fabrics in yardage rather than meters which leaves us at a loss, in order words people buying are getting more for less. (Akutu & Bakare,2019)
Last but not least, the low-quality standard clothing. I have read numerous articles that have well-known designers pointing this out as a challenge, and I believe this is due to the tailors/manufacturers’ lack of proper training, skill set. As much as we as Africans are incredibly talented and would like to set our standard, there are global standards to meet in for them to be acknowledged on the global scale. (Akutu,2019)
SOLVING THE CHALLENGES
In this light, there are gaps to fill that will possibly solve these challenges, which include:
Appointing a Minister/Special Advisor for Fashion Exports
Research shows that not many governments have a minster of fashion, and this is very odd in times were fashion has the potential to be of benefit to economies. However, beyond that, there are environmental issues that this industry contributes to but would require experts to take charge and provide solutions to them. Focusing on Nigeria, implementing this would not just change the narrative of fashion being an “unconventional” career path, but also the reality of it being an informal sector. An alternative, considering how the Nigerian government is, would be for interested individuals from the private sector to establish a body that would possibly work alongside the government. (Akutu & Bakare,2019), (Segran,2020)
An example of this body is the National Chamber of Italian Fashion.
Establishing Structures & Institutions
In order for the current vibrant fashion industry to reach its potential, the people who make this industry need access to training, education, amongst other things that would enable them to bring to life their designs with standards accepted globally. If institutions and structures such as; fashion schools, seminars, events, the fashion calendar and other things unmentioned that go a long way in improving the quality and legitimacy of the industry. (Bakare,2019)
Encourage Production Expertise
In line with establishing structures to equip better the people in this industry. Infrastructure such as; production hubs, textile mills, access to these infrastructures as well as funding in the form of grants, loans to ease the process for start-ups and those who want to scale up. (Okoro,2019)
When Policymaking is mentioned, especially in Nigeria, two things come to mind; the act of making the policies and most importantly implementing them. If either of the bodies mentioned in the first point is established, this is their responsibility. Making policies that will mitigate the problem of excess importation, instead, encourage locally made goods at the highest quality. This will see the Nigerian fashion industry do better than it is right now, as it has in Kigali with the Made in Rwanda policy.
Overall the Nigerian fashion industry is doing okay, but is not where it could be; this also applies to other African countries. In order for African to reach their potential, we need the backing of those around us. We need to be equipped; we need accessibility; we need an inclusive system.
The creative industry in Nigeria is like a gold mine, that has barely been scratched not to talk of being appropriately explored. For example, Nollywood as of 2016 accounted for 1.4% of Nigeria’s GDP; $7 Billion and provided about 1 million jobs, (Mesele, 2020).
Lastly, Governments all over Africa should seek to invest not just in the fashion industry but the creative industry as a whole.
1)Onyeator, Ijeoma. (2019). Class Structures in the Creative Industries: An Analysis of the Working Conditions of Workers in Nigeria’s Fashion Sector | https://www.researchgate.net/publication/343268639_Class_Structures_in_the_Creative_Industries_An_Analysis_of_the_Working_Conditions_of_Workers_in_Nigeria’s_Fashion_Sector
2)Akinsola, W. (2019). Free to read | The state of Nigeria’s Fashion Industry. Retrieved 11 December 2020, from https://www.stearsng.com/article/the-state-of-nigerias-fashion-industry
3)Akutu, G. (2019). Awaiting gains of Nigeria’s Multi-billion Naira Fashion Industry | The Guardian Nigeria News – Nigeria and World News. Retrieved 11 December 2020, from https://guardian.ng/sunday-magazine/awaiting-gains-of-nigerias-multi-billion-naira-fashion-industry/
4)Segran, E. (2019). It is time to regulate fashion the way we regulate the oil industry. Retrieved 11 December 2020, from https://www.fastcompany.com/90453905/its-time-to-regulate-fashion-the-way-we-regulate-the-oil-industry
5)Oluikpe, N. (2020). Lack Of Infrastructure Hinders The Fashion Industry –Akerele | Independent Newspapers Nigeria. Retrieved 11 December 2020, from https://www.independent.ng/lack-of-infrastructure-hinders-the-fashion-industry-akerele/
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7) Mesele, O. (2020). THE NIGERIAN CREATIVE INDUSTRY AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS IN A DIGITAL ENVIRONMENT – Law Allianz. Retrieved 11 December 2020, from https://www.lawallianz.com/publications/the-nigerian-creative-industry-and-intellectual-property-rights-in-a-digital-environment/#:~:text=The%20Nigerian%20Creative%20Industry%20comprises,%2C%20media%2C%20advertising%20and%20gaming.
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