This Summer we’ve gone on quite a bit about how the high street and the fashion houses around the world have brought ‘tribal’ and ‘ethnic’ print and fashion more into the public eye. And it’s probably not the last time you’ll hear it from us. Flipping through every one of this year’s glossy fashion magazines, we’ve seen features covering it, and we’re thrilled that finally what we’ve always thought was a rich source of design inspiration is finally making more than a tentative and cursory appearance on international fashion’s main platform.
And every time a chunky wooden necklace, a tribal print dress or a raffia bag makes an appearance, we beam with pride because it’s been a long time coming. At the same time, we know it’s inevitable that haute couture and high fashion need to reinvent themselves and that the spotlight that’s currently on African-inspired design will move on to something new.
AFTER THE DUST SETTLES
Whatever focus the ultra-trendy end of the fashion industry moves onto next, we believe that African-inspired fashion will have staked its claim in mainstream fashion, marked out its territory and set itself up as an enduring feature that will sustain and keep evolving. We think this year has been the strongest yet in terms of exposure, and the prominence African designers have gained among their international peers and the media is tangible. Which has inevitably boosted confidence, pride and determination in an industry that is eager to break through the barriers and give the market what it wants.
On the ground, the African fashion industry is gaining traction at a phenomenal rate, with West, East and Southern African regions nurturing thriving contemporary fashion scenes which are being eagerly received. Designers are drawing from the myriad of influences around them and creating stunning, innovative products that are easily exportable to both the Diaspora market which seeks a link with its roots and a global audience which is hungry for something unique and fresh.
NO EXCESS BAGGAGE
What’s even more exciting is the fact that the African fashion industry, by virtue of its relative youth, doesn’t have the baggage of an excessively efficiency-driven production culture that often gets retailers into trouble, and it can therefore position itself as a more ethically sound option to source beautiful fashion and accessories from.
Of course being a relatively new industry comes with its own challenges, as most players on the supply and retailing side have come to see. The industry doesn’t yet have the advantage of economies of scale which naturally brings down operating costs. Cost competition is a major battle both in terms of the export market and even locally, where producers face price battles against low- or zero-duty second-hand clothing and cheap Far East fabric and garment imports. And of course there are the infrastructural issues that most African suppliers face, ranging from skills shortages to deficient energy, transportation and communication frameworks and unsupportive government policies. And even outside their own home ground, competitors in wealthier countries are boosted by government subsidies which make it almost impossible for some farmers to survive.
DEMAND FOR BETTER
There is one thing that is already boosting the resilience of the fledgling African fashion industry, and that is demand. Demand for something new and exciting on the design front (aesthetics), and demand for the socially responsible: – things made by people who are paid fairly for their raw materials, their labour and their services, and sourced in a way which is kind to the battered environment.
We’re in awe of the growing number of people who ask of themselves and of others the questions which are often easier to push to the back of one’s mind, and who are making the decisions which can sometimes costlier and more tedious. Activists agitating for the abolition of protectionist policies that put others at a disavantage, manufacturers doing the right thing and buying fairly, brave entrepreneurs setting up enterprises, both social and commercial, that add value to their local communities, public figures who use their positions to bring about real change and consumers who vote with their feet by opting to buy products made from a supply chain of happy people.
OK, time to jump off the soap box and just say that we’re thrilled that African fashion and design have made a big impact on the global stage this season, we see the collective will among designers and retailers to keep it here, we think there’s lots more where it came from, and there’s lots to benefit from it – from both ends of the supply chain. Be sure to visit us at www.sapelle.com to see how we’re bringing beautiful high quality fashion and accessories to a global audience.
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