Major disruptions have been brought about in the fashion industry by factory and border closures and travel restrictions interrupting supply chains on account of the Covid-19 pandemic.
Workers — the most vulnerable people in the fashion supply chain — are facing the worst effects.
Building more resilient value chains through innovative business models that will keep garments sturdier, and use renewable materials and recycle old clothes were the issues discussed at the second webinar by the African Development Bank (AfDB) Fashionomics Africa initiative in collaboration with the United Nations Environment Programme.
Some 88 people attended the event held on September 3 under the theme "What does the Covid-19 disruption mean for the sustainability aspirations of players in Africa’s textile value chains? Moving towards a more sustainable and inclusive fashion industry on the continent".
The panel was composed of industry experts from Parsons School of Design in New-York, the UK-based charity Ellen MacArthur Foundation, and the creative minds behind sustainable African fashion brands, Orange Culture, Mariama Fashion Production and Qaaldesigns.
“My dream is to develop a healthy fashion industry in Africa. We need to rely on and build ourselves from our own system. At the end of the day, we have so much that needs to be done and we can’t do it alone,” Adebayo Oke-Lawal from Orange Culture said.
On adapting to the disruption Brendan McCarthy of the Parsons School of Design said: “Covid-19 forced our world to rethink our system. We can absolutely do this in an excellent way.
It’s a question of interconnection and understanding. My waste could be someone else’s resources. What is needed is collaboration and breaking down the typical silos fashionpreneurs face in the industry.”
She added that digital tools have become a phenomenon and have revolutionised the way the fashion industry works. Parsons School of Design is working closely with the bank to leverage digital tools to support the African textile and fashion industry.
The webinar guided participants on how lessons from the current crisis can be used to address social and environmental problems in textile and fashion value chains; why sustainability should be on top of the agenda for businesses; what inspiration fashion entrepreneurs can stir in others across Africa; and discussed the future of the industry and the role of digitisation in reducing environmental and social hazards.
Supporting the industry
The goal of the bank’s Fashionomics Africa platform is to enable African entrepreneurs operating in the textile, apparel and accessories industry to create and grow their businesses.
Through the Fashionomics Africa Digital Marketplace and mobile app, the bank is also analysing the impact of the textile sector on climate change and environment to deploy climate-friendly solutions.
“African fashion entrepreneurs see in the pandemic and the acceleration of digital tools an opportunity to reconceptualise and better educate designers, but also consumers,” said Bintou Sadio Diallo, who spoke on behalf of the bank.
“Covid-19 has changed the whole dynamic of business for everyone in every industry. For the creatives our spaces are taking longer to open. In the solitude and quiet everyone has had to rethink their business plans.
Designers have had to figure out that they have to understand the business element of fashion. It is one thing being a creative producing your work, and another how you market it and produce it in a business sense,” Ugandan fashion designer Gloria Wavamunno told The EastAfrican.
Wavamunno, who is the CEO and founder of Kampala Fashion Week added: “The conditions that have now been occasioned with Covid-19 have challenged the business aspect of how you do your work.
How are you reaching your clients? How are you producing with your supply system? What is your supply chain? Some people think that the best fabrics come from China, so you have to import them. But now with flight and import difficulties, is that realistic?”
Fashionomics Africa aims to foster the fashion industry and to create jobs. The objective is to stimulate regional integration, intra-African trade, entrepreneurship development and forge more equal societies.
The initiative contributes to the African textile, apparel and accessories industry by increasing the number of entrepreneurs accessing markets through e-commerce, boosting their access to finance, technical and business skills, and forging strategic partnerships with key contributors.
By using technology as a driver for the development of skills of the African creatives, the bank can upgrade the lives of women and youth.
Developing the creative industries would draw on African culture as a unique selling point and can help African countries capture more of the value within global value chains.
Fashionomics Africa Digital Marketplace Initiative targets five countries — Côte d’Ivoire, Nigeria, Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa. In April 2016, the Bank commissioned a feasibility study that resulted in the establishment of the Fashionomics Africa prototype platform based on the study’s recommendations.
The website and mobile app were unveiled at the Global Gender Summit in Kigali last November.
Sellers on the platform include Wazawazi leather store and Mmoja from Kenya, n'Intoki and Moshions from Rwanda and Jideka from South Africa.