Coinciding with the launch of Paris Fashion Week, UNESCO hosted a round table discussion, entitled Made in Africa: The Next Global Manufacturing Hub?, at its Headquarters in Paris on 23 September. Focusing on the potential of Africa’s fashion industry, the event brought together leading experts on the Continent’s clothing and fashion sector, including renowned Nigerian couturier Deola Sagoe.
The fashion and textile manufacturing industry is a rapidly growing and increasingly important sector for Africa and for the many women entrepreneurs who are driving its success. It is, therefore, perhaps not surprising that at this year’s Paris Fashion Week, discussion highlighted the remarkable talent and potential that characterizes the African fashion industry and examined the policies and infrastructures required to make it flourish and compete on the global market.
A special roundtable panel discussion was created as part of the Week’s activities, hosted by UNESCO, and bringing together some of the most influential creative voices from across the African continent, including renowned couturier Deola Sagoe, founder of House of Deola in Nigeria. The round table was opened by Firmin Edouard Matoko, Assistant Director-General of the Sector for Priority Africa and External Relations at UNESCO and Ambassador Rachel Annick Ogoula Akiko, Ep Obiang Meyo, President of the Africa Group at UNESCO and Permanent Delegate of Gabon to UNESCO. Amaechi Okobi, represented Herbert Wigwe, Group Managing Director of Access Bank, recognized for its commitment to the creative and cultural industries in Africa.
Joining Deola for the discussion were Lamine Badian Kouyaté, Malian designer and artistic director of Xuly Bët; Omoyemi Akerele, Nigerian fashion business director and founder of Lagos Fashion Week; Daniela Federici, New York-based creative director and photographer specializing in luxury branding and advertising; Maureen Ayité, Beninese designer and founder of the NANAWAX brand; Walé Oyéjidé, Nigerian-American designer, musician, photographer and founder of Ikiré Jones; Helen Hai, Chinese businesswoman, UNIDO Goodwill Ambassador for Industrialization in Africa, and Chief Executive Officer of the Made in Africa Initiative; and, Roberta Annan, Ghanaian development consultant and fashion entrepreneur. Nelly Wandji, African art and design entrepreneur, moderated the debate.
The panellists stressed the industry’s central role in supporting cultural identity, innovation and creativity. They testified to the role fashion can play on the Continent in creating employment and generating economic growth, especially through the economic empowerment of women and young people. Several panellists emphasized the importance of inter-generational skills transmission in the industry and the potential value of handmade African fabrics and textiles as luxury products. These factors, as well as the desire on the Continent and beyond to wear African-made clothes, augur well for the future of the industry.
Other topics included the potential of African ready-to-wear brands, the export of African designs and people’s desire and need for contemporary African clothing styles produced with African fabrics. The debate also identified some major challenges facing the African fashion industry, notably a lack of intellectual property protections, poor infrastructures and policies, and the need for capacity-building and skills development. Above all, the contributions of the panellists highlighted the ingenuity and dedication of designers and their desire to develop the African fashion industry to become a profitable major source of employment.