African fashion industry is on a path of resurgence! Today, all major African cities, Johannesburg, Cape Town, Lagos, Accra, Dakar, Cairo and Nairobi, have fashion weeks, not to mention the African diaspora weeks in New York, London, Paris, Rotterdam, etc.
What’s more, many African brands have also hogged the global limelight. Take for example South Africa’s Kisua, which made ripples in 2014 after American pop sensation Beyoncé was photographed in a Kisua coat. The global success of Hollywood flick Black Panther, which brought African styles to screens world over, has further added to African fashion industry’s rising popularity.
And as it would have been, the stakeholders are now taking active interest and pumping in the big money to inject that much-needed momentum to take African fashion to places. They are aptly supported by the policy makers and equally enthusiastic lot of entrepreneurs in this endeavour.
“There is real momentum and a huge amount of interest…Fashion has often been seen as frivolous or superficial but now, after all these years, you have a lot of momentum at different layers among people that would never have looked at the sector before,” underlines Emanuela Gregorio of the African Development Bank (ADB), the financial institution that in partnership with the African Union (AU) and other organisations is seeking to use targeted investments to ensure fivefold growth of the industry, which is currently valued at US $ 3 billion.
The overall potential of the African fashion industry – when the entire value chain, from raw materials to final products, is taken into consideration – could be much higher, feels many. “That could easily reach US $ 1 trillion,” underlines the Chief Operating Officer of the Eastern and Southern African Trade and Development Bank, Frannie Léautier, adding, “People are feeling proud to be African and they are consuming African.”
Giving a further boost to African fashion industry are initiatives like Pan-African Fashion initiative, a joint endeavour of ADB, AU along with other institutional partners and private operators.
It may be mentioned here that the value of the global fashion industry, in which 90 per cent of the businesses are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), is around US $ 2.4 trillion, with an annual growth of 5.5 per cent. Africa accounts for less than 5 per cent of this value, while Asia and the USA share 80 per cent of the market.
A key component that would further fuel the growth and development of the African fashion industry is the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (which came into force in May), say experts.
This landmark agreement promises to eliminate tariffs on trade between member states on 90 per cent of goods.
“The price brands can get from selling their products in the US or elsewhere can be higher, but the volume will come from selling it in Africa,” explains Frannie Léautier.
Demand for African textiles and garments is increasing globally, and African patterns are gaining international recognition as fashionable and iconic pieces, with international fashion houses now integrating more and more African influences in their latest collections, say experts, adding that the African fashion industry requires more public and private investments at the country and regional levels in order to build capacity and technical skills of fashion entrepreneurs, develop reliable high-quality supply chains, and improve the regulatory framework that could boost the power of African fashion designers, producers and distributors globally.