Unlocking Development For African Fashion Brands With Eme Bassey’s Fashion-ing A Future Initiative
A staggering $15.5 billion is spent annually on African fashion! The problem with this outstanding number is that the real supply is only worth about 25% of it. Local brands are in a bind since the majority of money spent goes straight to the purses of non-African retailers and brands.
Consider the example of Kemi, a young designer from Nigeria who aspires to start a fashion line that will compete with retailers like Zara and H&M. She puts all of her heart and effort into making exquisite designs that combine African prints with contemporary cuts. But no matter how hard she tries, her brand never really takes off.
What does she do incorrectly?
But more significantly, what can Kemi and other African fashion companies do to prevail in the fiercely cutthroat fashion industry?
In this essay, I’ll focus on the main obstacle that many African fashion firms must overcome and consider potential fixes to enable our local brands to grow.
The engine of value generation
Let’s begin with what fuels an industry: the financial and human resources. Lack of physical and human capital is the biggest problem facing fashion industry entrepreneurs in Nigeria (and maybe other African countries). Infrastructure is cited as the main issue by almost all Nigerian fashion brand owners I deal with.
With the intention of creating quick, inexpensive attire for the public, many African fashion firms first want to be like Zara, Primark, and H&M.
They rapidly learn, though, that it is easier said than done. They confront infrastructure obstacles on their journey to the market, which hinder some of them and put an end to others.
Infrastructure on the human and physical levels is a two-sided coin. African fashion manufacturers face many obstacles in the way of physical infrastructure when trying to market their products, from transportation issues to power shortages.
Even if all of these problems were to suddenly disappear overnight, companies would still have to contend with the other major roadblock to success: a shortage of human potential. Any industry’s foundation is its physical infrastructure, but it is the people that keep it running.
The infrastructure could not be used to its full potential without qualified personnel to implement it.
The majority of fashion industry owners in Africa deal with one or both aspects of infrastructure. Even when they have access to physical infrastructure like machinery and technology, they might not have the knowledge, experience, or skills necessary to use these resources effectively, which makes it difficult for them to produce goods that satisfy customers’ expectations.
The workmanship and design of firms that only emphasize human potential, however, may be exceptional, but they lack the infrastructure to expand their businesses to satisfy demand.
That is a difficult balance to achieve, which is possibly why no African brand has been successful in building widespread mass-market appeal.
The intra-African difference in demand and supply, however, indicates that the rewards might be enormous for those who get it right.
A system-wide view of the African fashion value chain is essential for a more comprehensive understanding of the infrastructure dilemma. The public and commercial sectors must both make large investments in infrastructure development because it is a long-term endeavor.
A business owner is unable to take on a power or logistics project or hire and manage the skills necessary to achieve quality at scale.
So, I will briefly discuss the long-term infrastructure plays that demand a sizable financial investment and external partners, but I will also list some techniques that African fashion firms may use to get outcomes in the short- to mid-term.
African fashion entrepreneurs may boost production capacity, enhance product quality, and shorten lead times by investing in physical infrastructure to improve manufacturing facilities, logistics, and supply chain management.
We should also make significant investments in top-notch training for all employees in order to enhance human capability in the fashion business. Yet, due to the extremely formal character of their curricula and minimum educational standards, many fashion schools exclude a sizable segment of the labor force the unschooled—from their student bodies. Limited involvement, increased labor expenses, and lower quality are the results. We can enhance matching, lower costs, and boost productivity by including the unschooled population in training. This will result in higher product quality, innovation, and the expansion of local supply chains.
The same is true for fashion incubators, accelerators, and venture capital funds, which can offer entrepreneurs the funding, business support, and mentoring they need.
Short term solutions
When faced with infrastructural problems, particular fashion brands can take steps to lessen the effects of these problems. Cooperation is one such tactic.
Brands may pool their resources, share information, and realize economies of scale by cooperating with other designers, manufacturers, and stakeholders. I’ll use these two as examples:
1. Two fashion brands with complementary products can collaborate on a collection, sharing resources such as fabric sourcing, manufacturing, and marketing efforts.
2. A group of fashion brands can form a collective to share a manufacturing facility, reducing costs and ensuring the facility is used to capacity.
Another strategy is to invest in technology. From 3D printing and augmented reality to online learning, many innovative tools and platforms can help designers and manufacturers create better products, manage supply-chain, sharpen their skills, and reach new markets. Let’s take a closer look at two examples:
1. Brands can invest in pattern-making software to reduce dependency on manual pattern-making skills and scale pattern-making processes.
2. Brands can leverage data analytics to inform product design, production planning, and marketing, minimizing the skill gaps required for these functions and reducing strain on limited infrastructure.
In conclusion, the expansion of local brands is hampered by a lack of physical and human infrastructure. These brands will be able to provide useful outputs at scale with the support of investments in physical and human infrastructure.
Fashion entrepreneurs can lessen the impact of infrastructure difficulties by working together and investing in technology, even though the majority of infrastructure development involves a sizeable capital investment by external parties.
The African fashion sector can prosper, create riches for regional brands like Kemi’s, and aid in the economic development of the continent by following these alternatives.
Content courtesy of BN Style & NFH