Last week I had the honour of being called to report on the rise of African fashion for Arise TV (Sky Channel 234), a leading global media network devoted to championing voices of the African diaspora across the globe.
The topic for discussion was high fashion in Africa, using Tanzanian designer Sheria Ngowi as a case study. The feature celebrated the progression of Africa’s luxury fashion brands, whilst also deliberating over whether Africans living in the continent can in fact afford them.
Can Africans afford African luxury brands in Africa?
The immediate response to this quandary was yes. There is no denying that several of Africa’s markets are weak, not only because of weak infrastructure in terms of roads and communications but due to the absence of necessary market institutions, such as market information and reliable ways to connect buyers to sellers. Nevertheless, at 6%, Africa’s GDP growth rate has surpassed that of Asia – making it the world’s fastest-growing continent and a promising target for emerging-market investors, accompanied by a burgeoning middle class with a rising disposable income.
Out of what I can imagine was nerves, I recalled that roughly 30% of Africans now live in cities, I was being modest! This is in fact, 40%, and is expected to rise to 50% by 2025.
(Ernst & Young (2012) Growing in Africa- Capturing the opportunity for global consumer products businesses)
Promoting aid not trade
Andrew Mwenda, (Managing Editor of Uganda’s Independent news magazine), neatly expressed in his TED Talk (2012) that Africa has immense opportunities that rarely navigate through the web of despair and helplessness that the Western media largely present to its audience. The effect of that presentation is that it appeals to sympathy, pity and something called charity. As a result, the western view of Africa is an economic dilemma framed wrongly.
I was asked in the interview whether we can expect to see Western fashion houses like Givenchy coming out of Africa. Of course, in fact, this is already happening. Last year I published a blog post on Vivien Westwood’s collection “This is not charity, this is work”. It was quite the double edged sword. At the time it was great exposure for fashion manufactured in Africa, however, in stating that ‘this is not charity’, Africa is once again branded with notions of aid, still guilty by past associations, and further perpetuating pity, rather than incentivising investment.
African fashion for Africans- The new frontier
Another one to Mwenda, who made me chuckle with one of his latest sentiments “Madonna, Bono and Clooney cannot save Africa, only Africans can”. In parallel to my support for campaigns such as Diesel’s Renzo Rosso, Ali Hewson and Bono’s creation DIESEL+EDUN (you can read my coverage on the collection here), these collections are sourced in and in celebration of Africa’s innovation, they are not targeted to African consumers residing in Africa.
Sheria Ngowi’s collection entitled ‘Year of the Gentleman’; is made by an African, in Africa, for Africans. The collection excels in quality and style, and Ngowi is joyfully unapologetic that his collection has a price tag to match, as he brags of no shortage of Tanzanian clientele.
Sheria Ngowi, modelling his collection ‘Year Of The Gentleman’
So with that said, let us encourage opportunities for Africans who are enterprising in the market, to be able to invest and trade with equally enterprising individuals from the western world, only then can you create opportunities of mutual benefit through innovation and private enterprise.
Waiting for the Western markets to set the benchmark for our taste will only strip us of our self-initiative.
It’s a personal choice of mine to source clothes and merchandise from existing and upcoming African creatives, as opposed to waiting for TOPSHOP or H&M’s next ‘tribal’, ‘safari’ or ‘out of Africa’ repeat collections. As Africans we need to tell our own stories, as waiting for the Western markets to set the benchmark for our taste will only strip us of our self-initiative.
I am not ignorant of Africa’s fundamental weaknesses, but I am more motivated by its opportunities and potential, and the growing enthusiasm from Africans across the globe to reframe the challenges facing Africa; as challenges of dependency and lack, become challenges of opportunity and wealth creation. Especially within the arts as film-makers, novelists, designers, musicians and other artists thrive in a new climate of hope.
Whilst Western communities continue to live beyond their means at the expense of developing nations, Africa is the world’s fastest growing continent, with an economy likely to take the lead over the next five years. With an expanding disposable income, coupled with a middle class that has tripled over the last 30 years, and set to grow by (42%) by 2060. Africa is indeed rising, so please; do not deprive us of our expensive taste!
All comments welcome, and thanks to Arise TV for a the opportunity to give my two cents. For any further questions feel free to drop me an email email@example.com