To even ask this question, is almost like setting the cat among the pigeons. Take the response to an op-ed that appeared on Business Of Fashion in May this year. ‘Some fashion players are dithering for too long or taking a half-hearted approach to African markets,’ wrote Omoyemi Akerele, the founder of Lagos Fashion & Design Week, in her piece entitled ‘Stop Waiting for the Perfect Moment to Invest in Africa’. In a fl ash, Nigerian menswear designer, Emmy Collins weighed in on Stylevitae. com, saying Africa isn’t ready; the quality of most African designers’ work is inferior compared to that of international brands; no investor would want to invest in designers that produce such poor work. ‘The possibility that the CEO of a departmental store like Saks Fifth Avenue would lower their standards to accommodate Africans is at best, delusional,’ he wrote.
Although the sentimental part of me is quick to challenge Collins on the point of our designers’ standard of fi nishing, I have to agree with her to some extent. That said, throughout my career in fashion, I’ve come across many remarkable and talented African designers whose finishing can compete with the best in the global market. So why haven’t any of them become globally recognised brands? Is the quality of the garments the real issue? I don’t think so. Or rather, I think the issues go way beyond the fi nishing. Are we not too focused on going global so that we forget the immense market in Africa? It is a question I often ask designers. While we are focusing on going global, more and more international luxury brands are coming into Africa.
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These brands have established themselves in their home countries and continents and are now recognised names. The lesson to learn from this is that it is important to focus on establishing a label in Africa fi rst, then we can discuss going global. Imagine having access to almost every major African designer in every country on the continent. That wouldn’t be bad for a start. Of course, Africa faces economic, geopolitical and social challenges but we have to start somewhere. We can either dwell on these issues and do nothing, which I don’t think is an option, or face them head-on and turn Africa’s challenges into advantages. One of the many issues is the fact that the majority of big corporations in Africa are very reluctant to put their money into fashion.
And can we really blame them? They are businessmen before anything else and would rather invest in something that is profi table. What we need to do, is try as hard as we can to make African fashion profi table enough so that investors would want to venture into fashion without thinking twice. Then we wouldn’t have to convince them fi rst. So do I think Africa is ready for the global fashion market? I don’t know but I strongly believe that we have come a long way and that we are on the right track. And while this may be taking longer than we want or expected, with hard work, sacrifice, dedication and perseverance, we will surely get there.