Updated: Jul 24
Ambitious but Committed: The Transformative Social and Economic Potential of the East African Creative Economy
Africa is one of the world’s fastest-growing economies. Its urbanization is increasing to 40% of the population living in cities. There is a growing consumer class looking for unique designs and cultural products. So, it is no wonder that East Africa is putting a foot in the global fashion industry.
African products, from home décor to garments, became very popular and requested. Consumers, especially in Europe, are looking for unique and cultural pieces. Influential international fast-fashion brands and retailers started their sourcing from Kenya and Ethiopia. This creates room for vertical integration opportunities.
Most Eastern African designers specialize in clothing and luxury items. They want to provide an experience and lifestyle with their garments. Their end markets are the home and East Africa markets and US and European export markets. All designers have social media presence and online and online retail platforms.
In 2016 HEVA and the Nest Arts Company commissioned a Fashion Value Chain Report. This report addressed constraints and opportunities of the fashion industry in Kenya. It also showed critical limitations associated with early-stage business.
Textile sourcing is one of the major challenges for local designers. Fabrics are one of the highest cost components in production. Some designers developed innovative use of African textiles while also using mainstream fabrics. The garment production is either in-house boutique style production or outsourcing light manufacturing. Sizing - especially for women’s clothing- is an issue, due the larger ratio of hips to chest. Designers are exploring an East Africa size chart to better cater this specificity. An East African fashion calendar would help forecast production and retail strategy planning. Most businesses have a few workers performing all the various production processes. All manufacturers use non-industrial sewing machines. Most of them adopted the assembly line production model. Labelling is almost missing in action. Most designers do not see the need for labelling considering their small client base. They are open to investors, but all have to rely on self-financing and savings to start their ventures.
These local ventures need to grow. New productive capacities and efficiencies and innovative market creation strategies to start with. New capital investments could bring process upgrading, improving efficiency and reducing resource wastage. A move from low-cost to higher value-added fashion goods could guarantee higher returns. Access to international markets is important. But regional markets are most critical to long-term sustainable economic growth and diversification. Companies should secure capacities for retail management, brand and market development. Learning and exchange opportunities could inspire designers to experiment with new retail ideas. They could benchmark their products with their peers globally. They could also rethink the life cycle of products and consider the product end of life-plan. Such system change is critical to their long term and sustainable economic growth.
HEVA is supporting the Eastern African designers/artisans and businesses at various levels. There is the Forum’s learning & exchange program and the business support program. HEVA also provides flexible financial and business support facility for early-stage ventures. There is a buy order financing facility to support economies of scale in sourcing. They are building capacity for light manufacturing companies in the local fashion industry. They are working to provide practitioners with legal, taxation and compliance support.
Strong indigenous players can grow in regional markets and compete with international markets. East Africa can definitely grow into a critical creative economy. Stay tuned…
…and, look up these “ambitious but committed” Eastern African designers:
- NUR Luxury Sportswear. A brand inspired by tribal and urban design, African cultural heritage and craftsmanship. NUR uses sustainable manufacturing practices, integrating local artisanal techniques.
- Katungulu Mwendwa. One of Kenya’s most prolific contemporary designers. She likes experimenting and integrating subtle nuances from traditional African cultures.
- The Textile Loft. A premium quality European made fabric outlet. Covering all clothing production needs from fabric and accessories and industrial sewing machines. Renowned for its high quality, affordable fabrics with high natural fiber content.
- Nick Ondu Sartorial. His tailoring style and craftsmanship has made him the go-to for Kenya’s suit making industry. He uses bespoke tailoring and versatility, fusing British and Italian traditional cuts.
- Panah. An ethical fashion production house serving global and emerging African fashion brands. They provide a secure space for its staff. They pay them above minimum wage. They provide free breakfast and lunch and offer training and skills development opportunities. Sustainable sourcing of raw materials and respect for the environment.
- Wambui Mukenyi. A Kenyan designer for bridal wear and women’s clothing. She has one of the most interactive and highest-subscribed online presence.
- Jiamini by Katchy Kollections. A fashion brand expressing cultural pride in their garments. They produce traditionally crafted structured bags and accessories.
Author: Trish Langman HxN Partner in USA and Africa
Editor: Maria Gabriella Di Giacomo
Source: Fashion Value Chain Report 2016, commissioned by HEVA and the Nest Arts Company.