On September 9th 2012, our Social Enterprise Africa Fashion Guide turned one year old and we decided to host our anniversary event in Nairobi, Kenya. Entitled Fashion Africa 2012 our one day event was held on Wednesday 17th October consisted of three panel discussions with international industry leaders. Hosted in collaboration with notorious Kenyan blogger Kenyan Stylista, and reputable online retail site Closet49, the aim of our conference was to create an opportunity to discuss and promote the full supply chain of African Fashion Design, Textiles, and Manufacturing and thus communicate this to a larger, global audience through media.
The Fashion Africa 2012 conference is a vehicle to create a social forum for all those who attended where they talked openly and shared ideas, information and expertise. It resulted as aimed to raise awareness and elevate the perception of fashion design from the continent. Attendees included guests from press, brands as well as industry influencers and insiders who all have a mutual interest, involvement and focus to elevate African textile trade, fashion design and production and those who wanted to be part of the wider solution in raising Africa as a leader not a follower in quality design and production.
The three panel discussions with contribution from fashion professionals and industry experts discussed and debated on the following themes:
1) Fashion Africa – asking if craft and luxury is Africa’s way forward
2) Ethical Fashion – looking at why sustainable fashion is relevant to Africa
3) Apparel Business Africa – focusing on the importance of textile trade for Africa
The 2011 inaugural event hosted in London was attended by guests and speakers that included ASOS CSR manager, designers Chichia London, Bestow Elan, Choolips and Kayobi, consultants Jennifer Williams-Bafoe of Willbaforce, Fashion Show Director and Brand Consultant Ola Shobowale, media from FAB Magazine, OHTV, Ethical Fashion Forum and more, and the Kenyan edition had a great line up too such as:
Africa Fashion Guide founder Jacqueline Shaw says,
“Our ‘Fashion Africa’ Conference, Seminars and Workshop programs were created to be a catalyst in the industry. The aim was always to help change perceptions of the fashion and textile industry in Africa and to ask those in Africa working in garment design and textile manufacturing what THEY think and need. Future plans are to keep these discussions on the continent bringing where possible international industry leaders to these events and thus bringing the African garment trade to the forefront of the international fashion industry.”
Seminar 1) Fashion Africa
Mark of Sandstorm Kenya kicked off by mentioning that when we create brands in Africa this presents opportunity and how the recent event in Rome by the IHT ‘Promise of África” showed Africa as both consumers and producers of luxury goods. We should be focusing on the idea of ‘Brand v bespoke’ and ask if fashion is the business or if it is a lifestyle discussion that if its all about lifestyle this is not the best way to build an effective brand but we should start with business. In regards to challenges the main one found in Kenya specifically is scaleability.
Fashion Stylist Anabel discussed how luxury is a well oiled operation and is all about the quality of production and that there is great potential for brands to be luxury in East Africa. She saw the challenge being that consumers do not consume enough of these local luxury brands and the challenge is also for these brands to market themselves internationally.
Samantha reminded us that you need to think how you will distribute product around the world and that is is important to engage the consumer on who and what you are doing, if you are using African cotton / materials / techniques that this gives them the loyalty and builds consumer relationships with your brand.
Peggy of AFAD was specific that if brands continue to operate the same way that we do then we won’t be able to grow. That is is important for us to come “out of the workshop” that need entrepreneurs need to look at fashion as a business
Agreeing, Mark tells us that for his company “wouldn’t have got where we are without control of distribution”. His business acumen is about building values over time and that its about
to which we highly agree.
Linda of In The Bag strongly felt that “we need to support each other in the industry and that there has to be more unification in Kenya so we can build our brands.” One way would be if “designers start asking manufacturers to help them” and have “one unified event to promote and grow our brands”
To end Prama of Mantisworld highlights much importantly that
Seminar 2) Ethical Fashion
This seminar was hosted by myself, AFG founder Jacqueline Shaw and looked at various focuses such as sustainable materials and the recycling issue was a major issue but also the importance Ethical Fashion in education is extremely key in how schools and designers are engaging in this area. I through out a variety of questions including if the media helps to increase interest or destroy the view of this and if fashion is about business or lifestyle projects – such as is specifically a Made in Kenya label more a lifestyle aspiration or a business idea. We thus considered if increasing the industry here would actually increase consumerism and destroy the industry. Areas of interest caused us to look at the consumers of ethical fashion if they are more local or international and the general attitude of the consumer when specifically looking at Mitumba. Is it the price, quality or fabrics that makes it desireable and if so is this what designers need to look at to see and do it also.
From the conversations arised it was obvious that there was a lack of fashion schools with ethical fashion in their curriculum. It is not existing enough and universities were more teaching issues of climate change and not dealing with the direct issues in the textile manufacturing industry.
Important points came out that encouraged designers and brands that we don’t have to rely on international buyers but should and could focus more on our local market and push local branding. The problem is that the local market and consumers feel that the message is not targeted to them so there is an importance within communicating and managing how you picture it for local audience and internationally too as most people do not know the reality of Africa.
Looking further into the African manufacturing issue, Prama of Mantisworld told us that manufacturing and ethical status is difficult from a mass manufacturer who may not embrace what is ethical and that at the end of the day it has to be about business. On top of this the issue of competitiveness also comes down to logistics and freight.
She reminded us that certification is not always the answer but does give credibility. That if a product is not good enough then people won’t buy it so it above all, must be relevant to your consumer.
Sustainable production is all about involving farmers to go ethical too as well as empowering local people. If people are able to produce and then able to help each it makes things more possible. It is how you package and sell the message and the importance is about how we work together.
But just because. we work in Africa does not make us ethical, we must look at all parts of the supply chain from how we and who we employ to where the fabric and dyes come from too.
Lydia of Johari reminded us all that for Africa and ethical fashion you really need to write a strong story. Supplying a global solution in promoting ethical supply chain is great but remember that people also need to be paid. For her the challenge is that for ethical fashion you try to forget you need quality product but its something you cannot always get locally. To be ethical you have to make money and pay people well so you have to create work and money to provide work.
Seminar 3) Apparel Business Africa
Educator Ann Mastemat took things right back to the beginning of Fashion careers and spoke about the lack of technology in universities which caused students to come out without those necessary skills. Students are not often ready for business after university so there is a long way to go with training in general.
Well respected designer Kimathi spoke about the challenge being within distribution. That there are no stores to cater for designers especially local clothing stores as being another challenge. He liked the ideas of tradeshows and felt that there in Kenya the problem is that export allows EPZ’s but then the distribution is not local and so there is a whole industry missing.
His brand Jamhuriwear was the first African brand to get into Dr Jays in the USA and literally sold out. He supports the idea that Africa is the next frontier but needs a focus on distribution and production.
He likes to tell students to be inspired by what they see and present this for themselves and to create new things from their own traditions being from Africa the oldest continent in the world!
Ann agreed with him on the distribution issue saying that it has always been a problem in our own market because the market is small and the international market owner tends to disappear and buyers often get scared.
She tells us of Designer Kofi Ansah who, working with the International Trade Centre looked at traditional textiles in Ghana and got the government involved in the importing of looms and now Ghana has precedence on this.
On the area of Mitumbu she made a great point that the UK/Europe are copying African clothing and these are things Africans have done already for so long. She is scared that some mitumba markets will be filled with clothing that looks like what is here already in Africa!
Aprelle of Kiko Romeo got to the nitty gritty on the point of business informing that people should be focusing on a business plan as these are fundamental to a business needs as well as other business documentation. Because you need to know your business and most importantly know the market. That many have great design skills but not many have much business acumen.
A question came up if we should just concentrate on the Kenyan market or if business is more about international trade?
Linda believes that
She want us to seek or get our key leaders and industry together because she understands that financing is an issue for a brand and we all need all the support we can get.
Kimathi spoke about his future plans for his sub brand Buyu which uses baobab and mentioned his idea to engineer it into fabric like cotton and denim. (keep posted for our exclusive interview with Kimathi coming soon!) As well as this he pointed out that in order to work together the industry that manufacturers generally can’t look at offering 5000m anymore to clients. They have to start working together on things. It is all about branding that we have to now
Ann discussed how South Africa is biggest economy in Africa and best for shopping too. Lots of Africans in diaspora have moved back and probably noticing this growth too. For example Nigerians are the 4th biggest shoppers in London for tax free goods big market and send things back home. She believes that in initiatives by the government for technology to bring in science and arts and has spoken to banks in regards to setting up designer incubators and design hubs. Presently interest rates are 24percent so she is working with banks on this point.
Prama really believes that Africa is on the map for sourcing. That everyone is now looking at Africa as a new frontier. But the issue tends to be that production units in Africa have an island mentality. If designers show more than the sector does better and the same when we all collaborate, share ideas and collectively push things forward.
She reiterates that African labour is not cheap. As manufactures u could be waiting 21 days for it to clear when you’re trying to compete in a market that is fast such as textiles, this makes it very challenging. Africa is not an even footing with international markets and so she asks where will we find our value in creating stylish, look good, feel good clothing that is relevant and appropriate
She ends by saying that Sub Sahara Africa accounts for 1percent of global trade. The garment manufacture sector is like an engine of growth and from the Uk to Japan it is a low entry model and provides employment. So SSA needs to make the most of that and get over barriers – government, lack of communication.
We need to have a story maybe make Africa your story
Move from an island mentality where everyone is doing things privately and instead (like Índia and bangladesh) move more to a cluster mentality
This was an amazing event and we look forward to 2013 where we have plans to bring the seminar to Nairobi again, possibly Ghana and even to the USA!
See more images below from the day and do stop by our YouTube Channel to see videos taken at the seminar here:
Author: Jacqueline Shaw – AFG Founder