Africa Has Potential To Become Next Global Fashion Leader
Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO’s Director-General released a report titled ‘The Fashion Sector in Africa: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities for Growth’, arguing that the continent has all it takes to become one of the next global fashion leaders.
The UNESCO analysis shows that the continent holds all the cards to become one of the next world fashion leaders. It is a major producer of raw materials as 37 out of 54 countries produce cotton. Africa is also an exporter of textiles to the value of $15.5 billion a year, and an importer of textiles, clothing and footwear to the value of $23.1 billion a year.
“There is a growing consumer trend on the continent for fashion Made-in-Africa, particularly among young people as the under-25s account for 50 percent of the continent’s total population and among the burgeoning middle class which already make up more than 35 percent of the population, opening up new consumer markets,” the report said.
Africa is also experiencing very rapid growth in the digital sector, which is facilitating intra-African trade and the emergence of young talent. As evidenced by the 32 Fashion Weeks held each year, Africa is also brimming with talent in the fields of haute couture, crafts and clothing. The report expects a 42 percent increase in demand for African haute couture over the next 10 years.
In its report, UNESCO highlights four challenges which governments and decision-makers must tackle if they want to realise the potential of Africa’s fashion sector.
The first is legal protection for designers and professionals need to be strengthened, in terms of intellectual property rights, remuneration levels, working conditions and the ability to organise into professional unions and social rights. With this aim, UNESCO is already helping 23 African countries to improve the status of artists through legislation and regulations.
The second is investment must be made in small and medium-sized enterprises, which today account for 90 percent of businesses in the fashion sector in Africa. Covering the entire continent, they are the gatekeepers of the diversity of cultural practices and expression. Generators of local employment, they are also a powerful lever for giving young people who want to enter the sector a chance.
The third challenge underlined by UNESCO is that environmental standards need to be set. While the fashion industry remains one of the most polluting industries, Africa can make greater use of local materials, innovate around sustainable textiles, and raise awareness of sustainable consumption patterns.
According to the report, production of organic cotton fibre in Africa has already risen by 90 percent between 2019 and 2020, and now accounts for 7.3 percent of global production. The second-hand clothing market is one of the most dynamic in the world, representing a third of global imports, but still suffers from a lack of recycling channels, with 40 percent of these garments ending up in landfill sites.
UNESCO also recommended that both the transmission of knowledge and formal training need to be improved. Africa is rich in traditional skills and unique textile techniques, some of which are already protected by UNESCO. The report encourages countries to set up mentoring schemes to ensure that these practices are passed on from generation to generation.
At the same time, UNESCO called for an increase in the number of qualifications available in key related professions like quality control, commercial law, marketing and providing training in new technologies, such as 3D printing and ecommerce.
Click here to access the UNESCO report