A big congratulations to Jacqueline Shaw and the rest of the Africa Fashion Guide team for organising this event. As a designer, I definitely left being more informed, more connected to the industry and more inspired to take my fashion brand, 'Keji Victoria', to new heights. Every guest panelist gave a unique and seasoned insight into the Africa Fashion industry. Enjoy my highlights below!
*Please note that all content including those in speech bubbles have been paraphrased for the purpose of this blogger platform.
Highlights of the Africa Fashion Conference
African Fashion Market
This segment of the conference was insightful in highlighting the highs and lows of the African fashion scene as a whole, and the individual businesses within it. The panel of guest speakers celebrated the opportunities that fashion players have to showcase their businesses. For example, Lagos and Johannesburg Fashion Weeks are quite large in scale, and a great way to showcase national and international talent. However, the scheduling of these Fashion Weeks could be more organised and structured-perhaps parallel to the existing international shows.
'The Africa Fashion Market' section at the #FAConf2015
Beatrace Oola, the Founder and Managing Director of Africa Fashion Day Berlin (AFDB), shared why such opportunities for designers, buyers and sellers to meet and network are created. By bringing different aspects of the supply chain together, the Africa fashion scene can begin birthing reliable and sustainable production and selling structures. Buyers or sellers who are committed to attending and making transactions at trade shows such as 'Premium Berlin', will be treated with respect in the industry, which will translate into committed clients and services in the long term.
Sustainability and environmentally aware designers are definitely the future of Africa fashion. Abrima Erwiah, co-founder of Studio 189, shared an insight into her business vision. 'It's not just about trends, it's about quality. We focus on the local artisans and the supply chain contributing to the quality of every item'. She went on to give some business advice- 'don't try to do everything by yourself; focus on your strengths and collaborate with others who possess things that will compliment yours'.
Rosario Dawson, co-founder of Studio 189 along with a remarkably diverse portfolio, added, 'take time to work on what you have. As a designer, do the ground work and emphasise on quality. Presentation is key, and the story that goes behind your work is equally important and interesting'.
Samson Soboye, owner of Fashion and Lifestyle store, Soboye, gave a refreshing aspect to the consumer-side of the fashion industry: 'the visuals, image, and quality of garments are the foremost important things when selling to consumers. Before the consumer hears the story behind any work, they would have made up their minds on whether they like it or not, based on the above criteria.' Soboye left us with thoughts to ponder on; 'A business is not a business without money! What infrastructure do we have? Are there resources to get to the next level? Is it sustainable in the long term?'
Africa is Open for Business
This segment gave great insight into how far Africa has come in being receptive to the Fashion business, and whether fashion players still experience barriers to building successful businesses. The host, Hannah Pool of The Guardian Newspaper, asked the guest panellists what they believed to be the key challenges in doing business in Africa;
Jordine Bartlett, of Financial Times Lifestyle, stated that, 'time is of the essence! Working to time is needed, so that we can be recognised and respected on a global scale'.
Sindiso Khumalo, brand owner and Creative Director of Sindiso Khumalo, added that time and quality control may be lacking in certain places. She advised the need to invest resources and time in the actual market of operation. Some people spend little time studying and investing into their market- which can be the reason why quality is lacking.
Yemisi Makualu, of Hatch Africa, went on to emphasise that African consumers may lack patience. Most of these consumers want to make quick money. Business takes time, and sometimes it's not just about putting something out, but about investing in the right places.
Networking at the #FAConf2015
Sourcing From Africa
The final segment I attended focused on the supply chain within the industry.
One of the questions asked by host, Abi Rushton, of Aid by Trade Foundation, was 'what determines your sourcing decisions?'
Daphne Kasambala, owner of Sapelle, shared that having a network of people all over Africa helps because there is little budget to physically travel and meet with different suppliers. She went on to say that Kenya has great potential for sourcing, drive and the curiosity to create from raw/local materials. They are good at taking things from their raw state and recreating something unique.
Paola Masperia, owner of Mayamiko, said that her company is committed to sourcing locally, 'which means we can't always source all the fabrics we wish for. But we are contributing to the local economy....' She highlighted that the trading agreements need to greatly improve in Africa. For example, it's easier to trade and supply fabric around Europe due to the existing trading blocs; but this proves very challenging between African countries.
Another question was put through the the panelists; 'how do small businesses find cost-effective ways to produce in small quantities?'
Paola: 'there are great initiatives available so that you can collaborate with other designers and businesses when ordering to off-set extremely high costs. Otherwise, focus on your chosen market and customers for your collection'. Paola noted that focusing on your consumers allows you to order according to demand- which may be for a short term basis.
Daphne: 'diversify your portfolio, search for different manufacturers so you are not limited to one way and terms of production'
Madeleine Rosberg, of Responsibly Africa, also added that 'some African markets are open to small businesses- such as Kenya, Ethopia, Uganda, etc. In such places it is easier to find the right manufacturer who can produce the smaller quantities you desire. It's about searching for the right manufacturer.'
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