PHOTO:A recent Fashionomics Africa masterclass held in Nairobi PHOTO:A recent Fashionomics Africa masterclass held in Nairobi

Editor’s note: this blog originally ran in “Textiles” magazine, the subscriber-based publication of the Textiles Institute in the United Kingdom

blog 2023 06 20 liberia yeib a1PHOTO: A recent Fashionomics Africa masterclass held in Nairobi

By Bintou Sadio Diallo

In Africa the fashion and textile industry is the second largest sector after agriculture. With an estimated market value of USD$31 billion in 2020 it is growing every year. Africa’s fashion industry has the potential to create jobs for millions, especially for women and youth.  

The fashion and textile sector in Africa faces many challenges. There is a distinct lack of capital; small and medium-sized enterprises make up 90% of Africa’s fashion industry, yet their growth has been hampered by lack of access to, or inadequate, finance.  

According to Statista, the development of the fashion industry in Africa is hampered by several challenges negatively impacting its ability to compete with regions such as Europe and Asia. These include low production capacity, low-quality standards, skill shortages, lack of industry-specific training centers and inadequate local and regional textiles and apparel production facilities. In fact, Africa produces 6% of the world’s cotton and is home to 60% of the world’s uncultivated arable land – yet most of the textiles used in Africa are imported.  

Designs from African fashion houses like Nigeria-based “Lohije,” seen here, are getting the skills and training to grow their businesses.PHOTO: Made by Lohije    

Despite these challenges, we believe African fashion has a lot to offer to the global textiles and apparel sector. It has the potential to become a USD$15.5 billion industry as personal incomes increase and the continent’s middle class grows.  

Africa offers considerable opportunities; from design to production, sourcing and marketing, as well as leveraging digital tools and technologies. This highly profitable industry also offers the opportunity to promote the diversity and uniqueness of African cultures across the continent, allowing Africans to fully own and tell their own narrative. African designs deliver on consumer demand for unique, authentic, quality and affordable products.  

Fashionomics Africa

The African Development Bank’s Fashionomics Africa program is promoting investments in the fashion industry, whilst taking a value chain approach to building a “made-in-Africa” brand. Fashionomics Africa fosters trade expansion within Africa and internationally with a particular focus on empowering women- led businesses. The program aims to target key market failures in the African fashion industry, by increasing access to finance and to markets, market intelligence and capacity building for entrepreneurs - while promoting incubation and acceleration for start-ups.  

The Fashionomics Africa program is part of the Bank’s flagship initiative, Affirmative Finance Action for Women in Africa (AFAWA). AFAWA aims to bridge the estimated $42 billion financing gap faced by Africa’s women-led small and medium enterprises. Fashionomics Africa extenuates AFAWA’s mandate to assist women entrepreneurs and to leverage African culture and creativity as a unique selling point as well as a resource for job creation, foreign exchange and value addition.  

As part of our work to increase access to research in Africa’s textile, apparel and accessories industry, Fashionomics Africa conducts studies with an emphasis on meeting the needs of African fashionpreneurs. One example is our upcoming study about stimulating investment in Africa’s jewelry manufacturing value chain. This study provides insight on the industry’s potential for job creation for women and youth in Sierra Leone, Zimbabwe and the Republic of Guinea.  

Partnering with Facebook, DHL, Google Digital Skills for Africa, the International Trade Center, the Tony Elumelu Foundation and others, Fashionomics Africa hosts masterclasses offering fashionpreneurs a better grasp on how to establish and build a fashion brand – from idea to execution. More than 2,500 textile, apparel and accessories entrepreneurs completed the training, of whom 65% were women, held in six countries.  

More recently, Fashionomics Africa launched its Incubator and Accelerator Programs set up to address limitations in

the investment readiness and growth potential of early-stage, and growth-stage African fashion businesses. More than 5,000 entrepreneurs from 40 African countries participated in the online eight-week training, which was offered in four languages, followed by mentoring, coaching, and networking sessions.

Standout entrepreneurs pitched their business plan to industry experts and investors – six of them went home with USD$20,000 in seed money each.  

“We are a whole lot more than fashion contests.”  

Fese Ndumbe Eyoh, one of the seed money earners runs a Cameroon-based luxury fashion brand “Eloli.” It produces African-inspired clothing and accessories. “The Fashionomics Africa program gave me time to pause for a second and rethink my strategy. Now, I understand my brand holistically,” Eyoh said. “With the tools I have received from this program, I know I have everything I need to succeed as an established brand,” she added.  


A sample of Nigerian design house and Fashionomics Africa sustainable fashion competition Lohije’s award-winning, headpieces with elements of woven dried water hyacinth fibre. PHOTO: A hat made by Lohije   

Rowing through Nigeria’s labyrinth of rivers, collecting water hyacinth plants to make designer hats may seem an unusual way to make a mark in the world of fashion however, Lagos-based design house Lohije’s award-winning woven dried water hyacinth fibre headpieces gave the start-up the edge to generating new business opportunities for Africa’s textile and apparel industry entrepreneurs.  

Lohije founder and creative director Gift Raji snagged top prize in the African Development Bank’s Fashionomics Africa sustainable fashion competition. The judging panel and public vote-driven competition celebrates African fashion brands working to change how fashion is produced, bought, used and recycled to encourage more sustainable consumer behavior.

Raji’s fashions also feature biodegradable buttons made from discarded coconut shells instead of plastic. Her start-up emphasizes employing local artisans, using traditional textiles and indigenous techniques while infusing innovation to satisfy a growing taste for contemporary fashion.  

Raji used the modest competition cash prize to move to a larger production facility and to purchase new machinery to increase production, as well as a bigger generator to power through frequent electricity outages.  

“I would say that my business began when I won the Fashionomics Africa contest,” she says of her two-year-old business. “I saw possibilities that Fashionomics Africa will open up in discovering more textiles here in Africa that we can produce and export. The African Development Bank has more strength and connections that expand beyond the shshores of Africa,” she added.

Lohije founder and creative director Gift Raji.PHOTO: Lohije founder and creative director Mrs Raji 

Raji received personalized training from the United Nations Environment Programme’s fashion and textile experts on eco-innovation methodologies and resources related to fashion and textile sustainability. She also benefited from business communication strategy training from global strategic consulting and communications agency BPCM.  

As one of the competition finalists, Raji traveled to Rwanda and participated in a “From Linear to Circular” workshop organized by competition partner The Ellen MacArthur Foundation. The four-day learning, networking and site visit event explored applications of the circular economy in Africa.  

“The best part for me was the very interactive sessions which made for easy networking with team members. I got to learn about what the circular economy is and how it is different from sustainability,” Raji said.  

The competition and the larger Fashionomics Africa program were born out of the African Development Bank’s recognition of the potential of the continent’s cultural and creative industries to contribute to Africa’s economic transformation and diversification. Africa’s textile, apparel and accessories sectors make up a niche value chain of great opportunities for both women and young entrepreneurs.

About the Author

Bintou Sadio Diallo is a development practitioner specialising in the cultural and creative industries and serves as Acting Coordinator of the African Development Bank’s Fashionomics Africa program. Her focus lies in nurturing small and medium enterprises within the textile and fashion sector.  


Read 819 times Last modified on Tuesday, 12 September 2023 10:39
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