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How the fashion industry could be Africa’s defining story

fashion 600x300The story behind Africa’s fashion goes beyond the continent’s culture, traditions and intricate patterns of its garments. The next big thing is the potential of fashion to drive Africa’s future and provide solutions to the rising youth unemployment and slow economic growth as a result of falling prices of commodities.

The global fashion industry is estimated to be worth about $1.5tr. Not only is the value in Africa unknown, the African continent sees very little value in the fashion industry.

But the fashion industry offers incredible potential for job creation and economic growth. The textile and clothing sector represents the second largest sector in developing countries after agriculture. But it is one of the most neglected and underdeveloped sectors in Africa. The industry is not just about the garments and clothing. It is about the money it generates too.

With its complex value chain, this industry attracts billions of dollars for countries like Vietnam, China, Bangladesh, India and Turkey. These countries benefit from the complex fashion and clothing value chain: from cotton production to the yarn spinning and weaving to the production of garments. But the reverse is true for Africa. Between 2005 and 2011, exports of apparels have experienced negative growth in African countries, including Côte d’Ivoire, Malawi, Mozambique, South Africa, Zambia, among others.

How do we harness the fashion industry to create opportunities for young and talented designers to compete on the runways of New York, Paris, Milan, and London? What conditions do we create to attract the passion of the youth into fashion and the creative industry at large?

This is what the Africa Fashion Show Geneva (AFSG) is all about. We are telling a different and unique story that prioritises the creative industry.

In its 4th year, AFSG is bringing together diverse fashion talents and designs from Rwanda, Tanzania, Ghana, Nigeria, Mali and Senegal this month. Fashion in Africa is not just a commercial enterprise but it is a lifestyle that builds on the value of societies. AFSG believes fashion is not just about the colours and the culturally-rich designs on display, but it is also about change that fashion can bring to the fortunes of African economies.

But this is only a means and not an end in itself. More business partnerships are needed to change the current status of fashion.

The buck stops with African governments. They need to be more conscious of the transformative role that fashion plays. They must invest in education and training of the rising youth population to enhance competitiveness of Africa’s fashion industry. Transportation, communication infrastructure needs to be upgraded to attract private investors. Finance and credit schemes should be created to support promising and talented designers to compete in the international arena.

African governments need to sharpen their focus on fashion in their overall industrial policies and aspirations to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). New technologies are evolving, which is changing how fashion designers and retailers run their businesses. E-commerce and social media are fast becoming a powerful platform for fashion. The fashion industry, particularly in the Africa region, must therefore adapt to these changes.

Temitayo Ayinla-Omotola is founder of the Africa Fashion Show Geneva.

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