Africa’s Fashion and $50 billion Market: Imagine the Possibilities

Africa’s Fashion and $50 billion Market: Imagine the Possibilities

My thoughts today are on Africa’s Fashion and the possibilities of a $50 billion Market.  I would love to know what it will take for Africa’s Fashion to reach $50 billion in revenues. This may seem impossible at first, but we have great examples to learn from like the Japanese brand Uniqlo. They have a vision and according to Business of Fashion, their goal is to become the world’s number one fashion giant, surpassing both H& M and Zara  (the largest and second largest) by 2020. How will Uniqlo achieve this? Here are great tips from the post (which you may read here for full details):

Uniqlo

1. Long term vision and strong will: The Chairman of Uniqlo, Mr Yanai noted that he issued the $50 billion figure so that the company’s managers will think about the business from totally different standpoints where they try new and creative actions not based on past routine.

2. Acting locally: In Asia, and Asian countries outside of Japan, Uniqlo reigns supreme. Mr. Katsuta Uniqlo’s senior vice president of global research and design suggests that they seek to create more stores in more Asian countries outside Japan and they believe this is the key to achieving their business goals by 2020. For example, Uniqlo has over 400 stores in Greater China with plans to increase its retail foot print to over 1000 stores in the near future.

3. Becoming global: Although the company is widely loved in Asia, to achieve it’s mission of becoming the world’s leading apparel retailer, Uniqlo would have to gain traction in the West, US in particular. Currently, Uniqlo is underpeforming in the US. However, they recognize that US offers the most exciting opportunity for Uniqlo outside of Asia. Uniqlo is only concentrated in and around large cities in the US which they also hope to change with the extension of their US store network into suburban New York, New Jersey, as well as in American heartland such as Chicago and Denver.

4. Communicating brand identity: What kind of brand is Uniqlo and why should you care? These are the questions that the brand seeks to answer in it’s quest to generate $50 billion dollar by 2020. To do so, they have hired creative director John C. Jay best known for his work with Nike to tell the brand story and take it to the next level. Key quotes that stood out for me in his interview are that:

Even in areas like New York City, where Uniqlo is widely known, the company’s connection with consumers is largely rooted in the quality and affordability of its product. Uniqlo is where you go when you need well-designed, reasonably-priced basics. But its brand remains much less defined and its emotional connection to consumers is limited.” It’s not good enough for them to understand that we make the best quality,” said Jay. “We have to have meaning. A great brand needs to have meaning in people’s lives. 

5. Uniqlo=Lifewear: So what is Uniqlo? According to Mr Yanai, Uniqlo equals Lifewear. It is not a fashion brand. Instead the company creates simple, accessible ” component wear” which consumers can assemble, Lego-like in their own unique way. In a nutshell and as noted by Mr Yanai, “they want to help make people’s lives better by providing casual clothes that are based on our Japanese values of simplicity, quality and longevity.”

6. Talent: Solving Uniqlo’s brand puzzle will ultimately come down to talent. They recognize that the world revolves around talent and they are doing their best to identify more types of people from different walks of life to help them tell the story of their brand.

So what if any lessons can Africa’s Fashion learn from Uniqlo’s quest for $50billion dollars by 2020?

For starters, for our designers or our writers or even our fashion bloggers and for anyone else that cares and/or seeks to elevate Africa’s Fashion to the point where it’s a lucrative industry on it’s own, we need to have a long term vision and strong will. What do we hope to achieve by the end of 2015? by 2020? and what creative actions or plans will enable us to achieve this vision.

Also, we need to grow our brand both for our local markets and for the global markets. It’s not enough to penetrate our local markets in Lagos or Accra or Cape Town. While these local markets are great, we need to also penetrate and conquer the West, the US being one great country that is vital for Africa’s Fashion to achieve it’s long-term plan. Uniqlo understands that and so how much less us.

Then there is the need to communicate our brand identity? This is for everyone and especially our designers. Who are you and why should I care? Why do you even design and for who or what?

Brand identity is what I believe many of our designers and even writers myself included have not been able to achieve at all and this is with the exception of very few people like the work of Anita Quansah (image above) known for her bespoke African-inspired designs that are synonymous with sophistication, femininity and ethnic chic

For others or Africa’s Fashion in general, we are often misunderstood or barely known beyond our prints. It’s important that we begin to tell our brand story so as to help the world understand why Africa’s Fashion exists in the first place.

Also, how Africa’s Fashion is perceived is not just what we say but how we act and the values we personify. For a continent built on so much values, we need to figure out how to inject our originality into our brands to begin to convince everyone that we are making things that are good for them in their everyday life, things that are of great quality and affordable.

Finally, it all boils down to talent. Africa’s Fashion is in desperate need of people with talents and from all facets of life. The style bloggers have dominated the scene and rightfully so because the voices of the people with talent are minimal. Then there is the proliferation of designers emerging almost everyday, selling things as basic and simple as a skirt (described as African Fashion) for $100. In fact if you close your eyes and say what first comes to mind when I think of Africa’s Fashion, chances are that it would be an image of someone you recently saw on instagram or elsewhere wearing an African print.

We are so much more than this and not void of quality, luxury, elegance, style or sophistication. But it is only when we allow or give space to credible talents to flourish will we realize or imagine a future (hopefully) where Africa’s Fashion is worth $50 billion in revenues. I am dreaming of that day…

Source: Business of Fashion

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