Hear me out first, yes, I am of the opinion that African Fashion Week held outside Africa, whether in London or New York, should end and end now!!! Here are my four reasons why?
- No one, not the designers or even the continent benefits from having an African-themed Fashion Week in cities outside Africa
There are too many African Fashion Weeks, held in places outside Africa that do not help to shape the future of African Fashion. Few of the African fashion designers they often showcase are those who can afford their huge fees to participate, fees that do nothing except to enrich the pockets of the organizers. Take for example, the African Fashion Week event just concluded in London. According to their website, “they have showcased over 300 designers to almost 45,000 visitors including buyers, retailers and other industry professionals; and our open-to-the-public events are becoming a highlight on the annual fashion calendar.” At first glance, you may want to applaud them for all they are doing to showcase the best Africa has to offer in terms of fashion and designer. But have you heard of Selina Beb or Sakara or Chiemelie or Chavivo designs (no offense to the designers)? Chances are no and this is what I mean that no one, not even the designers or Africa benefits from African Fashion Weeks held outside Africa.
- While it provides exposure, African Fashion Weeks Outside Africa do not translate into profits for the designers: So yes, the designers got to showcase the best from Africa this past weekend. We applaud them for their effort. But honestly, did anyone of them land a buyer or a retailer? Chances are no. Again, I applaud the organizers for having a theme on Apprentice and Skill Development. But like Carol Odero (Read here) rightfully suggested, “the international community will revert to their lives as consumers, buyers and retailers. They will think Kenya is still the capital of Lagos because our toe in the London pond did not have the requisite ripple effect. When it comes to fashion, numbers will count,” and the numbers do not lie. The continent has a population of 900 million. Sixty per cent are under 25 while 53 per cent of the people with an income are aged 16-34. World Bank estimates that in 2020 we will be spending about $1.4 trillion on goods and services. So why are our eyes still set on consumers or buyers in the West? Africans in Africa have buying potentials that should be harnessed with fashion events held in Africa and not outside. Even as the Africa Fashion Week London 2015 ended its run for the 5th year in a row, our wardrobes will not be shattered or filled with anything from these designers, because these events outside Africa do not translate into profits except for the organizers.
- African Fashion Weeks Outside Africa Will Diminish the Viability of African Fashion Industry itself as strong contender for the global fashion industry: Honestly, these African Fashion Weeks will diminish the potential for success for real African fashion designers. Take for example the case of Lisa Folawiyo. She is well known name in Nigeria whose Jewel by Lisa brand made about 96 million naria ($475,000) in sales in 2014. Her brand started over a decade ago by adding luxury embellishment to the softer palette of African prints cut in a range of timeless, trendy and occasionally quirky Western silhouettes. Lisa has managed to create African fashion that is highly desirable within and outside Africa that is strikingly cosmopolitan. In the decade since, Folawiyo debuted her brand, she has become friendly with Vogue, built a flagship in Lagos, partnered with L’Oreal, done a trunk show on Moda Operandi and sold at Selfridges. And while other Nigerian brands can boast bigger revenues, what they don’t have is Folawiyo’s knack of elevating traditional African prints above the status quo, making them relevant to a global audience. The difference in terms of success between Lisa Folawiyo and these African Fashion Designers at African Fashion Weeks outside Africa is clear. Lisa has made a modest success out of her business not by joining these “me to” copycat fashion events, but by elevating and making African fashion viable to a global audience. Her brand has a vision that goes beyond the paltry performance at many of these shows and shows innovation of African fashion and style at it best. She works to make her collection distinctive and appealing to all customers and it is always a pleasure to see her ideas come to life. All this was accomplished by not partaking in the nonsense that is African Fashion Weeks outside Africa.
- A council of African Fashion Designers Association and Writers should be established: So what’s the solution. I have heard this one before and I may have been reserved at first. I lie, I did not want this at first, but the more that I see the damage done by African Fashion Weeks outside Africa, the more that I am for a council of African Fashion Designers and Writers that will elevate the business of African fashion.As many of you know, a similar one exists in America. “The mission of the Council of Fashion Designers of America is to strengthen the influence and success of American Fashion Designers in the global economy.” African fashion depends on strong performance by every one of it’s designers. Leadership from a council will increase the viability of it’s designers. Collectively, they can work together to emphasis opportunities that will propel African fashion to new heights for solid growth in the global economy. If not for anything, it will curtail any and everyone from calling themselves African Fashion designers. it just maybe the necessary step needed to allow investors begin to invest in the industry given the mandates and guidelines set forth by the council.