Business Of Fashion (BOF) While our creative director was in Paris last year (2015), she shared her views with BoF. The question was; What will it take for Africa to join the global fashion system? Education. Moving to Paris as the only black international student in my class, it remains a challenge and a big lesson for me when it comes to Africans and their thoughts on fashion designing as a profession. In Africa its still a “myth” in some communities to understand that someone can go to school and study to become a fashion designer or work in the fashion industry. Fashion design and business is a concept that is not yet fully understood to a good degree and this is why the west has not found the urge to invest in Africa. To some, it’s perceived as showbiz and rather too foreign to interpret. As I grew up in the early 2000s, I had the mentality that being a tailor in Uganda was such an odd job (clearly not any of my peers once ever said they wanted to be a tailor when they grow up), what? A tailor? A clear imagination of a woman around the corner with her old sewing machine retouching people’s clothes to earn a penny or two. In Uganda today, enrolling in a fashion course at a vocational institute is still perceived to the community to be under the category of “Emilimu gya abatasooma” (a Luganda saying to mean “jobs for the unlearned”). About 5% of the parents will invest in their children to study fashion as a profession. However, I don’t blame them, fashion has not been given that much platform like it is for other careers in my country. It is now that I have hope that many youth will pick inspiration from the new breed of fashion designers in Africa. Tradition. The use of African fabric and prints is becoming too monotonous and almost obvious for anyone to predict an African designers work or what to expect at a fashion week showcase event. I am not against it but I believe it limits some designers from exploring different types of fabrics, to compete internationally. Yes, we have a strong heritage, however African designers and artisans should try and incorporate other techniques to their brand. We know of international designers who have sourced inspiration from Africa for some of their collections but that doesn’t necessarily mean that they are using the African fabric. The world is looking for creativity, something exciting. Its ok to be daring. Quality control. There is lack of modern production facilities and knowledge about the different fabrics and techniques used in manufacturing a collection. In August 2014, I had the opportunity to chat with one of Uganda’s new designers Juliana Nasasira for the brand KWESH and when I asked her about some of the challenges she is facing, without hesitation she mentioned that its really difficult to source good fabric. Where will the international magazines and media find the need to showcase our work if its poorly made and haphazardly finished? Is it with this attitude that we expect to compete with international brands? Before Designers complain that there is a low market, how about we upgraded our services. How easy have you made it for the world to access your work? How effective is your online shopping website? Which other initiatives are you taking on to enhance your brand? Africans support. Most wealthy Africans prefer to travel and shop international brands rather than to support the local designers. If we could invest in our local brands then there is room for better growth of the fashion business industry. We as Africans need to support our talent and it’s with this encouragement that local brands will also attract the international scene. There are so many resources we need to exhaust and emerging creativity we need to promote. Promotion. Earlier this year I wrote to Condé Nast asking if they had any ideas of producing a “Vogue Africa” and this is what the business development manager had to say “However, currently, we do not feel that there is a sufficiently large luxury advertising market to support Vogue Africa. As I am sure you can appreciate, producing an edition of Vogue to the editorial standards of our international editions is a huge financial commitment (and we would not want to compromise on this quality) and until the advertising market is present, the project would not be financially viable. However, there continues to be more investment from key fashion retailers into Africa and when we believe it reaches tipping point, we will look to bring the Vogue brand to the continent.” The presence of inadequate advertisement and marketing skills is a major hindrance in the industry. Many focus on the creativity and pay less attention to the business part of their work. Fashion is a business, without promotion, the brand can’t be known to the market. I don’t know of an AFRICA FASHION WEEK event in Africa (fully organised and funded by Africans), bringing together a selection of designers from all over Africa to showcase their work. This division of the industry doesn’t breed a good fashion forum, which would be a good promotion for designers. Income. The lack of capital and funds is also a set back to most brands. The purchasing power of Africans is low. People are not ready to spend so much on a luxury brand when they can go “down town” and buy a similar version of the garment. Many people study fashion abroad and prefer to find work there than to return home and perhaps make a change. Yes, in most cases it’s not easy to start up a brand and therefore prefer to work for an international company, all right, but then who is going to educate and help to create a good change for the industry. Why do we need someone else to tell our story yet we can work together and produce quality? It’s easy to talk about it but the real truth is that African brands without the support of Africans, there wont be a boost in the industry. Fashion schools need to be opened, people have to understand fashion better before the international brands can think of investing in Africa. Without this knowledge, mere boutique owners will continue to confuse people by branding themselves as fashion designers. Together we can change the face of African Fashion business.