Fashion tech entrepreneurs are developing the African continent into what Industrie Africa co-founders Nisha Kanabar and Georgia Bobley term, “a connected fashion frontier.”
Sub-Saharan Africa’s fashion industry is worth an estimated USD 31 billion – a fraction of the sector’s global market value of USD 3 trillion. This gap is a market opportunity. To expand and increase its market share, the African fashion industry is turning to technology.
Fashion tech harnesses the power of technology to innovate business models, streamline logistics, democratize marketing and improve manufacturing within the fashion industry. The African Development Bank (AfDB) is betting on technology to stimulate the continent’s creative industries. Its, Fashionomics: Investing in the Creative Industries, report highlighted how technology can be leveraged to “strengthen the global value chain of Africa’s fashion industry.”
Thanks to its myriad textile patterns and intricate designs, the world has long looked to Africa’s fashion cultures for inspiration. The ‘Black Panther effect’ saw a correlation between increased sales of African-inspired clothing and the release of the Marvel blockbuster. Africa’s enduring allure in the cultural zeitgeist is a strong indicator that its inlcusive growth prospects lie partly in the creative industries. With increased connectivity and the multiplier effects of mobile technology, the African fashion industry is poised to advance decent work and economic growth.
In reporting on the Role of the Fashion Industry in UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, Karen Newman and Cara Smyth identified the fashion industry’s importance to discussions about the SDGs. They wrote, “In many ways, the fashion industry is steadily becoming part of a larger dialogue on sustainable consumption and production, key components of SDG 12, as well as integral to support women in the supply chain, SDG 5 and 8.”
“Technology is one of the most visible ways we’ve ‘leapfrogged ahead’ in Africa.” – Diana Opoti, Kenyan fashion PR executive
Given the continent’s success with innovations such as mobile money, an intriguing question arises. Can technology help Africa’s fashion industry leapfrog and move the needle on SDG 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth?
The State of Fashion 2018, a joint report by The Business of Fashion and McKinsey & Company, speaks specifically to how technology can prime the continent’s fashion industry for growth. The report quotes Kenyan fashion PR executive Diana Opoti speaking to African consumers foregoing landlines and directly adopting mobile phones. Opoti said, “Technology is one of the most visible ways we’ve ‘leapfrogged ahead’ in Africa.” By marrying the continent’s creative prowess to technological innovation, fashion tech offers an unparalleled opportunity for driving growth at all levels of the industry’s value chain.
Fashion industry veterans Nisha Kanabar and Georgia Bobley are on a mission to promote the continent’s fashion creatives. Recognizing that most problems are information problems, their digital showroom – Industrie Africa – provides much needed market information on the continent’s fashion ecosystem for buyers, press, fashion enthusiasts and customers. At present, the platform features 82 brands from 23 countries.
“Industrie Africa is the starting point.” – Nisha Kanabar and Georgia Bobley, Co-founders, Industrie Africa
Staying true to product management best practices, Kanabar and Bobley created a platform that solves a problem. They had this to say about how their fashion tech solution bridges gaps in the continent’s ecosystem. “Industrie Africa is the starting point.”
The digital platform points to technology’s potential to transcend geographical distances and encourage growth within the fashion industry in Africa and beyond. Writing in Forbes, Rebecca Suhrawardi pointed out that, “Industrie Africa’s concept has the potential to disrupt the entire system and shift the disjointed international fashion industry towards a more global entity.”
Ultimately, Industrie Africa is a fashion tech product that promotes Africans as consumers – and producers – of fashion.
MarketPlace AFRICA, an e-commerce platform that allows African artisans to sell their products across the globe, aims to become the Alibaba of Africa. The brainchild of MallforAfrica CEO Chris Folayan, MarketPlace AFRICA is bolstered by a logistics partnership with DHL.
“When they sell a product, they get an SMS that says this pair of slippers has sold, all you have to do is take it to DHL, show them this number and DHL will take care of it.” – Chris Folayan, Founder/CEO, MallforAfrica
Folayan explained how MarketPlace AFRICA leverages its DHL partnership and mobile technology to connect Africa’s creatives to the global marketplace. “When they sell a product, they get an SMS that says this pair of slippers has sold, all you have to do is take it to DHL, show them this number and DHL will take care of it.”
MarketPlace Africa is poised to announce a payments partnership that caters to the sellers on its platform. In collaboration with one of the continent’s largest banks, MarketPlace AFRICA will start paying its banked – and unbanked – artisans in their local currency. Again, a text message is the connector. Using a unique code received via SMS, the seller can walk into a bank and collect payment.
For Folayan, technology is the engine behind his e-commerce platform. “In order for the product to be set on stage for the world to see you need technology.” What MarketPlace AFRICA shows is that when tailored to the context, technological solutions have the power to drive growth and economic inclusion in the creative industries.
Folayan highlighted the importance of expanding internet access in rural areas to enable fashion producers living there to participate in the global marketplace. “I do think getting technology into the rural areas is going to help the fashion community because there are many designers and artisans in rural areas and townships who only have access to a 20-mile radius. After that 20-mile radius, nobody knows who they are, yet they make amazing products.”
With these words, Folayan drives home the importance of connecting Africa’s unconnected to fast forward inclusive growth.
By Shoshannah Richards, @starringshoshie