Fashions Future In Africa: Reviewing The Foregoing Fashion Week
New York, London, Milan and Paris may still be the world’s fashion capitals but as with anything style related, trends emerge and things change. Furthermore, people and critically, businesses are following the shift in the air: Announcing Lagos, Johannesburg, Dakar and Nairobi; the juggernauts of the African continent and rising stars for the industry in the world.
Considering African cities as global fashion capitals is not as fantastical as it may have been even a decade or more ago: on a number of indices the aforementioned four and other African urban centres have proven themselves to be unparalleled incubators for fashion and design, nexuses for the creative visual arts and most pertinent of all for sustainable growth, financial and commercial hubs. Indeed in a recent Forbes Magazine study of most influential cities in the world Johannesburg, Cape Town and Lagos found themselves on the list, and this too is reflected in their dominance of the fashion industry in Africa. However, also of critical importance is how Africa is perceived and its goods and services received in the global fashion context and it is, for this reason, the work of Style House Files (SHF) and its flagship event, Lagos Fashion and Design Week (LFDW) cannot be underestimated.
Although it’s not been an easy task putting forward African Fashion on such a renowned platform, the multifaceted role LFDW plays has positively offered buyers an opportunity to see and purchase clothing, provided a platform for the wealth of talent in the industry, and capacity building in terms of education and regional government policy; and thus has created a strategic and holistic approach and identified vital channels for fashion designers on the continent to be seen and more importantly bought internationally.
The metamorphosis of the African retail landscape is another key indicator of the way in which the industry continues to evolve with the last ten years heralding a retail explosion in Lagos. In the luxury sector, the need to book a flight overseas to have a shopping experience on par with Printemps of Paris, Harvey Nichols of London or Barney’s of New York has been elegantly kyboshed by stores such as Alara, Temple Muse and Stranger who stock international super-brands alongside major and emerging regional players, and customers more than happy to mix and match. Also of note are the budding mid-priced retail stores and brands such as Grey Velvet, ADA and Zebra Living that are providing customers with an affordable style injection for their wardrobes much like retailers such as Zara, TopShop and Mango have been doing overseas. The diversity and continued growth in both the upper and middle sectors, in spite of economic volatility and foreign currency fluctuation, speak to a fashion sector that is developing in size and scope and most significantly, with celerity.
Looking beyond to investment inflows in terms of fashion behemoths setting up shop in Nigeria and other African countries, Omoyemi Akerele, CEO of SHF and founder of LFDW remains bullish: “… the reality is business can still be done in Africa. From garment production to fabric sourcing and the best craftsmanship you can find in the world, opportunities exist for doing business.” This optimism is further buttressed by many African nations seeing the value of investing in the fashion industry, from the Nigerian Export Promotion Council supporting the ‘Made In Nigeria’ campaign to the Ugandan government’s African Growth Opportunity Act which targeted the garment sector, the importance of the industry is no longer seen as an adjunct to commodities and agriculture, but an essential spoke in the economy’s overall development.
But what of the future of fashion; are things truly heading in a southerly and more specifically African direction? It certainly looks that way. As Europe continues to contract both in terms of economy and aging population and insatiable appetites for all things fashion related in the Global South can no longer be easily quelled, alternative locations both for established brands and newcomers are inevitable. LVMH, Kering and their ilk will in time have flagships in African cities and this will be due in no small measure to the activities and work that has been spearheaded by SHF and LFDW. The cities might not roll off the tongue in quite the same way as the ‘big four’ but give it a season or two and it will be a different story.