West Africa Trade Hub
Apparel Export Training and Workshop 2010
by Jacqueline Shaw
Tuesday 30th Nov 2010 began day one of this three-day workshop and training seminar for West African (WA) fashion businesses. Set in the Coconut Grove Regency Hotel in Accra, Ghana it was bound to be an interesting event. The surroundings are beautiful and the opportunity to network is good. The main challenge for me is that 50-75% of the attendees are francophone Africa, and my French is VERY basic. So I am grateful for the translation machine.
Vanessa Adams, runs the West Africa Trade Hub (WATH) and she opened up the event. She was born in Hawaii and is fluent in French and now is based in Ghana. WATH was set up in 2003 and it was due to the AGOA policies coming into place.
Jacques Betsou a factory owner in Mauritius delivers his talks in French as he highlights the majority of those (at least 75%) are francophone Africans and being Mauritian, French is his first language. He also works in a capacity for the Hub too.
Lori Brock is the main presenter or the 3 day workshop. She works for the Hub in the USA under the organisation Carana and is a designer by trade. She has had various labels of her own in womenswear, childrenswear and lingerie online and wholesale so she has a wealth of experience that she is here to share. ‘People think of the US market as one big market.’
The focus of this event is to highlight a lot about the US market and her strength is buying in the US and is here to share this.tells us that with AGOA the ‘root of origin…depends on where you are sourcing from…will depend on who you are sending to, and will have to pay duties on them for example if you sourced a component from Turkey’. But overall regarding this event ‘Selling ONE is not the business we want you to be in but to sell lots and all the time’. She says is the objective she wants for this event and for the Hub. Another WATH employee adds that
‘knowledge of the market and techniques can be properly harnessed so you can be successful…it is a whole different ball game…to export internationally…investment in the right time…you need to establish contacts…it involves commitment when you say it will be delivered in 2 months it must not come in 3 months.’
Lori asks the room what their goals are and reasons for coming to this event. Responses are:
‘Successful models of sourcing and franchising ‘
‘Leaning US needs’
‘To see what the international market wants’
‘To access US market exclusivity with exotic product’
‘Africa product to the US market – want advice as to what to do’
‘To share experiences as a creative in a creators cooperative’
‘Advice on how to better perform’
‘To know the standards to work with in the American market’
Attending the event are designers and manufacturers from a variety of West African countries such as Benin, Burkina Faso, Nigeria, Ghana, The Gambia, Senegal, Cote d’Ivoire and others.
She tells the room that the ‘number one consideration that buyers have is time to market. Often a buyer would rather have a small order that gets straight to their store. If you can tell them you can get this product to them in 30 days and you do it then you will get a re-order. Regarding African design they are very unique but the question is how marketable they are. This is how we will help you.’
Jacques gives his viewpoint based on his experience as a factory owner with a factory in Mauritius.
‘Since 1972 Mauritius has been a textile industry. The market has been dictated to us…we are asked to order materials with no payments or guarantees…letters of credit or guarantees which get you security…asking for a down payment, ask for clients if they want a full package or part payment…also come up with the conditions of sale … we must be responsible for our sale.’
Clare Lissaman from the Ethical Fashion Forum went on to give her first talk.
She tells the room that it is her first time in Africa for 20 years when she came as a student travelling around East Africa. From her observation ‘…Ghana…production is quite ethical and you have a story to tell. So all you should do is to understand the market and where it is going…Ethical fashion is a tiny percentage of the market but it is growing fast. Therefore there is the opportunity for you guys to tell your story and fit into the market.’
Jacques relates his talk to selling from Africa as ‘cost of production here in Africa is very low and quite compromising’ to which a designer from the room comments back that ‘problems African designers have is low costs. Customers are not ready to pay the price for creativity.’
Jacques responds ‘if you want to develop and take a new market you need to understand the market…identify the very market then…adapt your product to the market.’
The debate continues. A new designer in the room comments back telling him ‘we are limited to our less creative activity. One must provide what the market requires. Is it necessary to target a new market altogether to make product more attractive?’
Jacques replies ‘we are here to assist you as far as marketing goes…to guide you in this…we are not a textile … agent.’
It appears from the comments and the feel in the room that designers want and or need a lot of help from WATH probably more than they provide.
Clare steps in and speaks to the last designer saying ‘you ask why USAid are not helping you to find markets…interesting…do you wonder why we have not come and brought buyers here…this is the centre of the challenge…if you are not ready and don’t know which buyers then to match you with then we will not bring you the right relationships…It’s a long process and everyone is in different places…it is about understanding where the UK and the US differ from Africa and that is key.’
Roger Brou an employee of the WATH deals with finance and access to finance courses. As the Hub covers 22 countries in Africa, 17 in WA and 5 in Central Africa they therefore have finance team structured by area. He brings in a speaker to talk about Grassroots Business Fund, which is a social investment micro-financing institution. Money is an obvious issue for any business but in Africa. With the extreme high interest rates such as 30% it can prove unsustainable to have a bank loan if you are lucky to get one. Even for the GBF it seems the criteria to get this funding is equally difficult and as great as it sounds I personally feel it is like putting a carrot in the front of hungry rabbits that will most probably never be able to receive it. The fact that it is presently only for Ghanaian businesses, also causes comments back from the room – ones of frustration and slight desperation.
We end the day in thought and there is a feel from the Hub staff conversations that a lot of the designers may not return the next day. But only time tells.
Wednesday 1st Dec 2010 – Day Two
The second day kicks off with a recap. The room is quieter today and there appears to be less people than yesterday so a slightly sombre aura is in the room. It does slowly increase in numbers though and some new members arrive. It is interesting to see how everyone sits in the same seat as they did the day before. Including me. I must admit that this actually makes it easier to remember who is who.
I check out the samples brought by the various designers and manufacturers and am impressed by the quality but as thought much of the designs do have a very ethnic feel to it. As most companies design for the local market this makes sense.
A busy morning focuses firstly on ICT, Internet, email, computer technology, using Google tools etc. It is quite intense yet informative as it appears from the reactions of the designers. They talked about things such as www.2checkout.com, which is an alternative to Paypal in Ghana. It acts as a third party that allows people to set up a website where customers can purchase a product. But the businesses will need a web developer to help in the technicality of setting it up. Plus it takes a 2% minimum fee and another charge just to make the bank transfer.
Back after the break are speakers talking about AGOA and the threatening end of this policy by 2012 or 2013, and then a talk on transport and shipping. All this proves to be very informative.
We discuss the area of transport. I do learn a lot about transport and the problems faced which are noted as:
‘The need to reserve places for a shipment or the package could wait at the airline two weeks before it is sent’
‘Customs – generally, need to have a freight forwarder to give good information’
‘Issue with documents’
‘Goods are not cared for by the agents at the airport therefore you must change your freight forwarder’
Hearing some more about various methods of transporting Lori speaks then about tradeshows and about the fashion collaboration the USAid is arranging with New York students and selected designers attending this event. She reminds them that at the end of the 3 days will also be a fashion show and those who brought samples will be able to take part in this.
The highlight for me was the opportunity to meet Tim and Lydia from the Pram Pram branch of Global Mamas. (See link for more information on Global Mamas) And to learn about the developments of their new branch from scratch!
At the end of the day a designer stands up and says ‘I want us to keep collaborating…to put Africa at the best …the top…because what we have out here is fantastic…lets keep our cards together…so we can fulfil our dream …’.
Thursday 2nd December 2010 – Day Three
Today starts much more energised. The designers all come in their traditional African attire. The fabrics and the colours are beautiful. And we are all excited about the fashion show in the afternoon.
Clare begins her talk on ethical fashion by informing designers of the conditions manufacturing cheaply abroad. Those including child labour, cheap fabrics, fires, etc and also asks the room what their values are. She informs the room that the main reason UK EU and USA are buying from India and China is because they have the infrastructures and good transport systems.
In regards to African production Clare tells us that ‘In terms of spinning, you need a spindle to spin cotton, but in the whole of Africa there is 1 million spindles. In China there are 65million. In a whole continent there are only 1 million spindles whereas one country has 65million. Infrastructure is a complex problem and Africa suffers’
‘Money, price, quality…there is a growing demand to be ethical…but people are falsifying or bribing to make goods and processes look ethical’. And that the main issue with people buying ethical goods is the ’80 20 principle – 80% of people say something but only 20% of the people will actually put their money where their mouth is’.
‘…EFF is here to campaign as trade laws are not fair here so we want to campaign for that…so if you treat your workers well you should tell that.’ She goes on to tell the room what buyers want. ‘…Buyers want product that meets market; quality that suits the market, and price has to be right. If these aren’t happening you wont sell very much.’
When Clare asks the room who knows about COFTA (the African arm of the World Fair Trade Organisation WFTO), no hands go up, yet Martine Some from a cooperative in Burkina Faso does know about it. My conversation with Martine and her work with weavers in Burkina highlights to me the beauty of the work her cooperative produces.
So Clare encourages them all to find out about it and see if their organisation fits the criteria.
One very important thing that Clare mentions is the perceptions of Africa from those like herself from the UK. ‘We have very romantic notions of Africa and everyone lives in their own mindsets…you must show us the real story and give evidence…story of those who work for you, where they are from…Tell us what you are not doing too…you cant use ethical fabrics and dyes because it is not available.’
After showing slides of ethical labels such as People Tree a comment comes from a designer regarding this point. ‘It’s a common fact that clients are in the international markets, cost of production in Africa is very high…all these ethical things I cant manage the two together’. Clare responds saying ‘If you have a small workshop you say 4 workers, you can use this to justify why you are selling at a higher price…people say it is too expensive, but you can say why it is because you are helping the people who are working for you…so you can tap into the international market…’
Lori comes to talk and describes the issue with the difference in shopping styles in Africa than in the US/UK/EU market. That people don’t go into a shop and select as much in Africa as they do in the US/UK/EU markets and the ‘making to wear’ way of shopping is a different way of consuming clothes. That it is these differences that should be understood in order to tap into those different markets.
Comments from the room were invited about the three-day event. Good bad and ugly were given but overall they were pretty positive I thought and believed that a lot of learning had been done.
‘There are things we do but we do not do what Jacques has not said…activity is a thing we have suffered … as for us designers we rather create and forget a lot of things…in a year or two we should have considerable progress.’
‘Training has been wonderful…it’s a big opportunity many people would have loved to have been here. I’ve learnt a lot of things…it’s going to add a lot of value to what I am doing.’
‘I have found this training, educating and enriching. I think this training is not meant for business management but fashion designers. Some are at level 10 and some are at 5 how can we match each other…the issue of training is very very critical.’
‘I am happy to have met many people from many worlds but our world all the same.’
‘This type of meeting I have always dreamed about…this is an opportunity that I’d like to thank all those who have made it a reality. Thank you for updating our thinking…to help us move forward.’
‘Let me thank USAid, West Africa Trade Hub…It’s a rare opportunity for us to meet together and to contact trainers and leaders from the other side…thanks to Jacques, Lori, Hanna for their spirit, we all need you.’
‘I am sincerely happy. I feel that a movement is starting.’
‘I believe these trainers are good. We’ve been at ease and at home…we have all come here to export product to the USA. It is a dream; if we have the will we will do it. We had to give up our day in our workshops…make money in our own countries…learn more being here…our work here is to have the right attitude to do better good work, to move forward, lets not forget it.’
‘We have not all come from the same places, we have come from various horizons. Africa is vast, VAST! West Africa Trade Hub…we’ve understood the message and hope we can meet here again.’
Mary Roach, a Canadian girl who has lived and worked in Africa and is now developing an online business promoting African made product, adds her thoughts.
‘Looking at other elements, developing markets for small producers and designers like yourself. Feedback is about designers…many of you were unable to tell me how many product you made last year, how much revenue…you need to be able to show you are reliable…basic info you should know at the top of your fingertips. My experience is in the private sector in US, and within international development in East Africa. Instead of asking WATH to do something for small producers there are many of you can do more for yourself. I’d like West Africa Trade Hub to facilitate a mailing list so they can email each other on labelling, fabric testing, instead of being dictated information. Go visit your neighbours factories and show them what you are doing…there is a lot of skills and resources here and trends here.’
Paul Ade-Martins shares with us.
‘I never planned to be a producer but now am…very good training for me…I really engaged myself but still have things I would like to know…I still have questions for the record and for next time so you will say what I would need to know.
Q1-I decided not to participate in a fashion show in Nigeria as they are not good standard. I’d like to know about fashion shows. I don’t know backstage how to get people, do planning, find models, I need all information so I can start preparing…so training on this would make me very glad.
Q2 – problem of African producers and designers. We get better with production but the problem we have in Africa is not machines but people. We suggest an agency that recruits handcrafts. We cant work like an and agency and find tailors. Maybe the USAid should look at this to provide this…for ready handcraft people, reduce the problem of absentees and workers misbehaving…we need a HR database network in Africa.
Q3 – before we launch to the big market in USA I am about to take things forward…I will get things right…as I take this leap forward I’d like more training on how to trademark my designs…distinctive creativity…so please how do we trademark before we start putting ourselves forward.’
Lastly the comments that followed:
‘Training has been very wonderful very phenomenal, lots of trainings we can take back home.’
‘Very important to put in place systems that’s what I have learnt.’
‘Thank you West Africa Trade Hub for equipping us with the right tools, help us to assist in the turbulent world which is the design industry.’
Overall this was a great event with lots of learning’s for the design companies and a lot of learning’s for me too about developing a fashion product business within West Africa.
The fashion show, at the end of the third day, was an enjoyable one where even the USAid, WATH staff and the designers themselves got involved. It ended on a positive vibe and I believe everyone looks forward to the next event.