On a positive outlook for African Fashion in 2015: An open letter

Today’s post is an open letter to Mr. Samuel Mensah of Kisua and others out there like him on the need for a positive outlook for Africa’s Fashion Industry.  There was a panel discussion held last week over at the 50th annual meeting of the African Development Bank with panelists such as Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi, Special Envoy on Gender, AfDB and Samuel Mensah of Kisua (read here for more information).

Before I go on and voice my honest opinion, I want to commend the organizers for putting this discussion together over at the African Development Bank because well the Bank by itself is one key stakeholder that has the power to ensure that the value of Africa’s Fashion industry is known globally.

During the discussion, Ms. Fraser-Moleketi noted that “African governments need to support the fashion industry through policy and legal frameworks that would also help to create jobs.”

Everyone was in agreement that the industry needs financial and other forms of support to grow, but Mr. Mensah pointed out that “we don’t have a fashion industry in Africa, what we have is a cottage industry.” He acknowledged the fact that fashion has potential, but needs to be restructured, otherwise it would “still remain a cottage industry.”

While I agreed with some of the main arguments shared by these panelists, I wish to of course add my own 2 cents to the debate. Beyond lack of finances or training or even legal frameworks to protect local designers and producers, what are we Africans doing ourselves to support our African Fashion industry our way?

The finances will not come and even if they do, they are never, ever, ever, sustainable, just look at our health industry as a guide. The West will not step in to address our worth if we don’t recognize it for ourselves first and foremost.

However, I also hate to break it to you Mr. Mensah, but Africa has and will always have a fashion industry. Not to parse out your words, I appreciate the fact that you acknowledged that it has “potential.” However, describing it as a “cottage industry” is actual disrespectful and insulting to the very people you are trying to help build up at Kisua, whom I am sure will agree that most of their manufacturing activities are not operated at home or on a small scale at least that’s not what Kisua seems like online.

Of course we have problems and are not as structured as the fashion industry in the West and their $1.5 trillion. Of course, financiers do not take our industry serious as of yet. Of course, there is also the challenge of shipping goods which the panelists pointed out and the need for a paradigm shift with our industry. I couldn’t agree more.

But for 2015, what about a positive outlook like the image above with a glowing Beyonce wearing modern African fashion or how our fashion designers and producers like yourself Mr. Mensah are working to revitalize the industry with what you are doing over at Kisua which I rightfully applaud. We need to change the rhetoric as well as move beyond the negative attacks Africa’s Fashion often finds itself to a place of hope for a better future.

I know this may be a stretch, but you Mr Mensah, are a living, breathing proof of the future of Africa’s Fashion Industry and I would only hope that this honest opinion will enable you to begin to rethink how we speak about ourselves in public.

There is a quote by Chinua Achebe which states that “until the lions have their own historians, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.” You are our historian, so please start telling the story of what you are doing with or without support from the government. It will not be your job alone, I am willing to help you write if need be. But it is something we all have to do for the future of African Fashion so that it’s story will not only reflect the challenges or agony we know we face, but instead the bravery of people like you Kisua and our Fashion designers and other brands (i.e. ISR) working to change the perception of African Fashion.

With all my love and respect,

Isioma.

Image credit: Kisua

 

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