Why isn’t Africa on the Fashion Map?
Interest in African and African-inspired clothing has been on the rise for several years but having a blockbuster film like, “Black Panther” that puts the beauty of African style on display is proving to help increase their appeal. African retailers from all over the U.S. have been reporting boosts in sales as a result to the premier of the film. We can only hope those sales continue to rise!
Even New York Fashion week held its fair share of shows featuring African designs and designers, which will no doubt turn into retail trends later this year.
(a model showcases a design inspired by the Marvel comic and upcoming film Black Panther during a Welcome to Wakanda event held during New York Fashion Week on Feb. 12)
Brimming with culture, creativity, talent, ambition and natural resources, Africa is a continent that is seemingly perfect for a thriving fashion community and yet it has remained on the fringes of this otherwise global business. There are many factors to consider here, but here’s our best guess at why Africa hasn’t been put on the "Fashion Map" yet.
Africa is a highly fragmented and precarious continent that is logistically hard to operate in. It's also a place plagued by things like poverty, corruption, bureaucracy and political instability making it an unappealing environment for businesses and investors alike. Not to mention, there isn’t an emphasis placed on becoming a fashion designer to African youth because it’s not seen as a lucrative endeavor. But what if we looked at the positives here instead? What if we saw the opportunity to work in this continent versus the downside? As we prepare to release our second collection from Rwanda, we wanted to highlight all the potential we see for Africa to become a bigger player in the fashion industry.
Size and Growth:
Africa is home to one in seven people on the planet and occupies more real estate than China, America, India and Europe combined! This means there is plenty of space for manufacturing businesses and infrastructure to be physically built and operate. Additionally, over half of Africa’s population is under 20 years old, which means there are millions of people ready, willing and able to be a part of the workforce.
Africa is also home of some of the world’s fastest-growing economies. The World Bank forecasts growth of 3.2% for Sub-Sahara Africa for the year. This is up 2.4% from 2017. It also predicts slightly higher growth for 2019 of 3.5%. Why is this important? Economic growth helps a variety of macroeconomic variables like reductions in poverty, reductions in unemployment and improved public services.
Enterprise vs Charity:
It’s often a forgone conclusion that Africa is a place of intense need. And yes, as the continent’s 54 countries pass through varying stages of development, there certainly are major economic, social and political challenges that must be addressed – but that can’t (and shouldn’t) be done by charity or foreign aid alone. Building businesses in Africa that employ workers and creates lasting, sustainable impact is the long-term play here. Like we mentioned above, jobs increase economic growth which in turn increases the overall standard of living. Not to mention, because of the sheer number of people within the country, there is going to be a need for more jobs (74 million jobs by 2020 to be exact). We can’t help but think about the incredible talent, discoveries, entrepreneurs and international trade that could come out of Africa if more jobs (and business in general) were created.
In the 1980s, several African countries were hubs for textile production. However, they suffered a major setback in 2005, when the Multi Fibre Arrangement — which limited the amount of textiles and clothing that developing countries could export to North America and Europe — expired, making it more competitive to produce in China.
However, with pending tariff changes coming from President Trump on consumer goods from China, major retailers are wigging out. Because of their duty-free access to the US apparel market under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), many retailers are looking at Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) for a potential alternative to manufacturing. With its competitive labor costs, Africa has the potential to claim a much greater share of the world’s apparel and textile manufacturing output.
Despite the seemingly high level of risk and hassle, there is so much untapped potential and opportunity as a whole in Africa that we wish designers, investors and businesses would focus on. We can only hope that this recent surge in African inspired fashion can turn into a much bigger conversation so the world at large can benefit.