While experts and public health experts speculate about a possible second wave of Covid-19 and the frantic race to find a vaccine continues, creative industries are forced to do their best – reinvent themselves.
Local fashion industry insiders across Africa are exploring new, sustainable solutions, and leveraging more traditional solutions, which will allow them to stay financially viable as well as protect the environment.
The biggest concern over unethical practices in the African fashion landscape is the heavy reliance on imported clothing and materials from Asia and the West which often contain traces of hazardous chemicals as well as the use of toxic chemical plastics and dyes which may include bleach or lye residue that could end up at the source. natural or municipal water.
The global fashion industry has been ravaging the planet for decades. After the oil industry, it’s the world’s worst polluter. It relies on water-intensive production, uses toxic dyes, and the extensive air pollution travel associated with fashion shows has also set a bad record.
Leveraging on a 22-year legacy as one of Africa’s most prestigious fashion entities, South African Fashion Week is now labeled an “ethical fashion business” under the vision of its founder and chief executive, Lucilla Booyzen, turning to digital to re-imagine event fashion.
Instead of a traditional show where thousands of people crowd a venue, fans can now watch the October show on the SAFW web platform, which has a collective following of 600,000 social media users.
“It would be more economical not to have an audience – a large runway with wide lighting and good sound … the cost of renting or setting up a venue that can accommodate so many guests is not sustainable,” said Booyzen.
The next SAFW show scheduled for October 22 to 24 will be a non-traditional and eco-friendly digital experience staged at the Mall of Africa in Midrand, Johannesburg. The show will use a fraction of the lighting normally used, a smaller sound system, a smaller team, and a minimum number of models that Booyzen says will reduce the event’s carbon footprint.
At this stage it remains unclear whether Africa’s top shows will be in a position to carry out a traditional runway event this year with pandemic uncertainty. Nigeria Rise Fashion Week postponed its show from April to October. Previous editions brought celebrities such as André Leon Talley and Naomi Campbell to Lagos.
Glitz Africa Fashion Week will also be held in October in Accra, Ghana. The organizers of Dakar Fashion Week and Kampala Fashion Week are postponing their shows and have not announced new dates.
In April, Lagos Fashion Week launched “Weaving Yarn” across its social media platforms. This three-week digital presentation includes photo slideshows, live chats and workshops all organized under the supervision of founder Omoyemi Akerele, which aims to explore traditional textiles and crafts as a way to promote sustainable clothing production.
Anifa Mvuemba, 29-year-old Hanifa designer from Congo, received high praise for her Instagram Live virtual runway event in May featuring a digital model designed by Clo3D. Show a clip that generated over a million views and sparked dialogue on how the catwalks can adapt during and after the pandemic.
Made to order
Online fashion entrepreneurs are also thinking about sustainability.
UK-based online African fashion retailer Jendaya does not use plastic and has recently purchased packaging materials such as recyclable and reusable cardboard. Fashion entrepreneur Ayotunde Rufai says he supports African designers working on a lighter scale to produce collections in smaller numbers.
“African designers have always practiced sustainability. African designers are more resourceful when using fabrics. They are careful to minimize waste. “
“Sustainability is the favorite word now in the industry,” said Rufai, “but African designers have always practiced sustainability. African designers are more resourceful when using fabrics. They take care to minimize waste. Tailor-made is more common and African fashion markets are not as seasonal as mainstream Western markets. “
A mainstream industry involving popular retailers and well-known brands pumping more than 100 billion clothes through bulk wholesale manufacturing each year to keep up with the fashion season. It’s a system of waste that is known as “fast fashion” and millions of pounds of clothing are thrown in landfills. In contrast, African fashion designers tend to take a slower and more deliberate approach through a tailor-made business model that reduces the chance of overstocking and is more economical for small companies.
Custom made is now recommended by environmentalists and business analysts as the future of sustainable fashion, even though it has long been a tradition in Africa.
“Africans are sustainable out of necessity because they don’t have access to the resources that Westerners have. So they consistently practice sustainability methods whether they realize it or not, ”said Amira Rasool, founder of the New York-based online shop and wholesale showroom known as The Folklore.
Another major proponent of environmentally friendly and sustainable practices is prioritizing local production and sourcing which requires the country to have an ecosystem conducive to local business. But much of the local fashion industry in Africa doesn’t have the capacity to meet the demand for domestic clothing and accessories.
However, this is not always the case.
Several African countries have had large textile sectors. Nigeria has the largest with more than 180 textile factories. In 1945, Kenya had 75 textile and clothing factories. The textile sector, peaking in 1984, became the second largest employer after civil servants with 52 factories operating for the production of fabrics and yarn.
Textiles and knitting factories were capital-intensive enterprises and African governments supported them with protectionist trade policies, but many collapsed in the 1980s and 90s when the African economy was liberalized, opening up to foreign trade after following the Bank’s recommended structural adjustment program. World and International Monetary Fund. .
Cheap clothes from Asia and secondhand clothes from the West immediately flooded the African market. Local industry is struggling to compete. In 2013, Kenya only had 15 major textile mills operating, down from 52 and Nigeria having 25 in 2019.
But the ethical fashion revolution is now sweeping across continents as labels like Nehanda & Co in Zimbabwe, Naked Ape in South Africa, Nkwo Nigeria and Awa Meité in Mali promote local produce, custom made models and blends of high quality natural ingredients. materials such as bamboo, hemp, tree bark, and silk.
The Ethiopian government’s ambitious industrial agenda hopes to position the country as a textile and garment exporter.
The Ethical Fashion Initiative, founded in Nairobi in 2009, runs an accelerator mentorship program for African fashion brands that practices sustainable sourcing and minimal chemical treatment of ingredients.
Nigeria-based shoe and accessories brand Shekudo combines traditional technologies such as weaving, to create the base material for a modern aesthetic of simple silhouettes and funky colors. Local craftsmen carve wooden heels on shoes shown at fashion shows in Lagos, Paris and New York.
For founder and creative director Akudo Iheakanwa, local procurement is more cost effective.
“It really helped financially when I started because I couldn’t afford 2,000 pairs of insoles from China,” he said. “Our embroidery, our earrings are all made here, silver and bronze are sourced here, our bags are all made here, all of our materials are sourced here. I can say 98% of our work is done here in Nigeria and we are very proud of that. “
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