The African Market: a Report from Fashion Africa Conference 2016
Last weekend top designers, industry professionals and thought leaders gathered in London for the fifth annual Fashion Africa Conference created by Africa Fashion Guide. This year’s theme ‘The African Market’ focused on both design and the African marketplace. From insightful presentations and spirited panel discussions, several key points emerged:
Cooperation and Collaboration Are Key
The conference kicked off with a strong message from Andrea Bury founder of Abury who sees design as a catalyst to change the world. Andrea believes that within cultural capital lies hidden potential that has yet to be activated. In order to activate this hidden potential we must work together through co-creation and cooperation in a way where everyone profits. Andrea highlighted the ideas of mutual respect, curiosity and empathy as a means to achieve this global change.
Africa is Growing Quickly
Themes of collaboration, ethical business, sustainability and growth were dominant throughout the day. Nicola Cooper owner of Nicola Cooper & Associates a trend research and analysis consultancy in Johannesburg, South Africa gave incredible insight into African demographics. Africa is home to one billion people, 70% of whom are under age 25. Africa is also the largest mobile market in the world with 65% of children aged 8 to 18 having direct access to a mobile handset. Africa is the fastest growing continent in the world with a strong emerging black middle class. It is estimated that the number of African millionaires will increase 53% by 2054.
The African Consumer is Informed and Sophisticated
What do these numbers indicate for the continent? Mark Stephenson from the brand Sandstorm Kenya said it best: “this is a very sophisticated consumer market.” From a trend perspective, African youth deny cultural appropriation and the adoption of Western trends. Africa is a continent full of vibrant subcultures who embrace their traditions and value differentiation above imitation. The African consumer craves an authentic, affordable and well-made product.
Sandstorm Kenya is an example of a company who ‘gets’ the African consumer. Made in Nairobi using materials sourced from Kenya, their highly functional bags are built for life. With ethics and heritage craft at the core of their business, Sandstorm operates an open door policy to their factory and welcomes visitors to see how bags are made first-hand.
The Continent Will Profit From Value-Added Trade
Africa, a continent with a rich history in heritage craft, is also one of the world’s largest raw material exporters. Value-added trade, as discussed at the conference, will be crucial for the growing African economy. Rather than exporting raw materials to be made into finished products elsewhere, attaching African craftsmanship, skill, expertise, and heritage to exports will ensure that Africa profits from sharing its rich and distinctive cultural capital with the rest of the world.