Early this year, using data modeled by the Euromonitor, the very savvy fashion site The Business of Fashion suggested that African Fashion was worth an estimated $31 billion. If you translate that into naira, that is close to 6.2 zillion naria (if ever there was such a thing). Honestly, the idea of fashion in Africa worth even $1 million is astounding let alone $1 billion. But before we all jump at these figures and run wild with them, sometimes, it is important to really dissect the business of African fashion. We also need to discuss whether we are truly worth these huge sums suggested by BOF or are they just made up data.
Indeed, many have gone wild with this finding, quoting BOF word for word without really questioning whether this sum is actually representative of the industry. What’s more, behind the shiny facade of the $31 billion amount is the reality in Africa. Our designers are struggling and not one, not one can boast of making $100 million a year let alone $1billion. What’s more the huge share in the amount seems to belong to South Africa and with the Woolsworth Holdings Limited. But here is the catch. “The mid-market chain did have a turn over of 39.7 billion rand ($3.4 billion) in 2014, representing sales from the group’s 427 stores in its home market of South Africa, 567 in Australia and 65 Woolworths stores across 11 other African countries including Zambia, Mozambique, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Ghana, Mauritius, Namibia and Uganda.” Do you see that? 567 stores are in Australia. Does that seem representative of Africa to you? Last time I checked Australia was not in Africa? So you see, in reality, no observable approach or strategy was used to quantify this amount. It seems that Euromonitors and BOF alike will accept any brand as contributing to the $31 billion African fashion market if the company has a couple of stores in Africa?
Truth is African Fashion doesn’t manufacture many millionaires let alone billionaires. Just one of Nigeria’s respected designers Lisa Folawiyo who has been in the business of African fashion for awhile now reported making sales to the tune of $475,000 in 2014. Zuvaa the online marketplace for African fashion made $300,000 in lifetime sales since it’s start last year. The few African fashion designers or business who manage to succeed are often left to their own devices in tapping into the global fashion industry and so it is not clear what they earn in profits or even losses at the end of the day. Only time will tell if African can tap into the global fashion industry. But for now, it is fair to say that we are not what we are purported to be. At least, in theory, African fashion is not yet worth over $31 billion. I hope that this will happen soon, but as always, only time will tell.