Africa-inspired designs are now regularly shown on the catwalks in fashion shows in Paris, London and Milan. Fashion is big business, the combined apparel and footwear market in Sub-Saharan Africa is estimated to be worth US $31 billion according to data from Euromonitor International.
It is important to look through a value-chain approach to see the contribution that a "made in Africa" brand can make to African economies. Technological changes in manufacturing, distribution and marketing are driving the growth of the fashion industry.
The fashion industry is expected to double in the next 10 years, generating up to US $5 trillion annually. In the USA alone, every year $284 billion are spent on fashion retail, through the purchase of 19 billion garments. This presents a tremendous opportunity for Africa at various levels of the value chain: from design to production to marketing, the fashion industry is a profitable business.
Although the good news is that the African fashion industry is already developing. But it is still in its infancy. It needs to do a lot to build its fashion industry.
The textile industry value chain begins with the production of cotton, spinning and twisting of the fibre into yarn, the weaving and knitting of the yearn into fabric, and the bleaching, dying and printing of the fabric to obtain the fashionable garments that is worn today.
Targeting the fashion industry means targeting the whole value chain, from the smallholder farmers to the fashion designers. The fashion industry in particular holds considerable potential to motivate and bring change to some of the most disadvantaged people, especially women and youth, while advancing structural transformation.
Today, international textile firms are looking at Africa not only for the purpose of production in view of increasing labour costs in Asia. They are also looking at Africa to take advantage of the growing African consumer market. This presents an opportunity for African countries to find their place in these value chains, from the producers of raw materials on up.
Creating the right policy environment for businesses to thrive and attract investments is essential. The Government of Rwanda is a good example: it is one of Africa's most competitive economies and a top reformer in improving the business environment. And it has recognized that fashion means business. This has created the foundation to attract foreign investors to work with local designers, establish garment factories and boost the textile and fashion industries. H&M is building a factory in Ethiopia and PVH is looking at Kenya for the production of its brands, including Calvin Klein and Tommy Hilfiger.
But the cost of doing business is still too high. Energy shortages, high costs and poor access to energy, combined with high costs incurred by transport, logistics and custom facilities, can erode the advantages of lower labour costs and impede a country's ambitions to industrialize.
Sub-Saharan Africa consumes a mere 181 kWh in power. Compare this with 13,000 kWh in the US and 6,500 kWh in Europe and it is obvious how little this is - 1.4% of what the US consumes and 2.8% of what Europe consumes. About half of all firms across Africa have their own generator to complement or replace electricity supplies as needed. This represents a big disadvantage for firms trying to grow their business.
Finally, building an industry requires investing in the skills and qualifications of people. Achieving high quality production flexibility, while raising productivity is only possible with a workforce that has the necessary skills. As governments become increasingly aware that apparel production offers large-scale employment opportunities, they need translate this awareness into investments in their people. Lesotho, Ethiopia and Kenya, for instance, have recognized this and are establishing training centres and tertiary institutions to promote the technical qualifications for people in the textile and apparel industries.
With industrialization, as one of the Bank's High 5 strategic priorities and Africa currently accounts for just 1.9% of global manufacturing. There is an urgent need for Africa to rapidly industrialize and add value to everything that it produces, instead of exporting raw materials that make it susceptible to global price volatilities.
The fashion industry is a case in point. Instead of exporting raw cotton, Africa needs to move to the top of the global value chain and produce garments targeted at the growing African and global consumer class. By fostering value chain development, the Bank prioritizes, among others, the agriculture and agro-processing industries, given their potential for value addition, and close interactions with the textile, fashion and clothing industries.
The Bank is currently undertaking a study to look at the feasibility of setting up the AfDB initiative â€˜Fashionomicsâ€™ online platform with the aim of strengthening the value chains in the textile and fashion industries. It intends to support micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) operating in the African fashion and textile sector by connecting them with financial services providers and mentors to help them grow their businesses.
The online Fashionmics platform will link designers throughout Africa with other designers, buyers, and suppliers.
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