Investing in African Creative Industries: Fashion

Africa, a continent characterized by beauty, natural resources, and most of all, creativity. The conceptualization of creative and cultural industries (CCI) was originally borne out of the need to create, produce and appreciate cultural goods and services (UNESCO, FCS, 2009). Generally, African creative and cultural industries is estimated to contribute significantly to the global creative economy, making investing profitable, promising and diversified (George Gachara, 2020). Creative industries in Africa and the Middle East combined, employed about 2.4 million people, with the sector yielding up to $58 billion in revenues (UNESCO, 2015). With adequate investment, African creatives and entrepreneurs have the capability to drive sustainable businesses and ultimately, economic growth.

Creative Industries in Africa: A Snapshot

The sub-sectors of cultural industries vary largely from fashion to film and music. From global hit songs by Nigerian singer, Burna Boy, to groundbreaking designs by Senegalese fashion designer, Selly Raby Kane, African creatives and entrepreneurs are beginning to break barriers and leverage the fusion of technology and creativity to reach new markets and create new businesses as well as jobs.

African fashion, for one, is shaping the continent as a key destination and reference point for unique designs, and many fashion creatives are doing so by using locally-sourced materials. For instance, Senegalese fashion designer, Selly Raby Kane promotes Africa in such a way that bridges the gap between fashion, heritage, and technology. Her funky wears spark creativity, motivating all kinds of audiences to invest wisely and sustainably.

Through strategic partnerships and collaborations, some development agencies, finance institutions and private investors have been paying attention to the potential growth of African CCI through grants, seed funding, accelerator programmes, among others. The HEVA Fund is dedicated to supporting CCI in East Africa by providing funding for up to 40 businesses while empowering about 8,000 entrepreneurs to be investment-smart. The role of such initiative fosters financial prosperity among creatives, adequately equipping them with the right education and toolkits.

In January 2020, the African Export-Import Bank (Afreximbank), created a $500 million fund dedicated to supporting the commercialization of African cultural and creative goods by fostering more inclusive and connected societies. Prof. Benedict Oramah, President of the African Export-Import Bank noted that “because of underinvestment in the creative and cultural industries, Africa is largely absent in the global market of ideas, values and aesthetics as conveyed through music, theatre, literature, film and television; seeing African countries import overwhelmingly more creative goods than they export or trade amongst themselves,” (Emekekwue, 2020).

The Fashion Industry as a Leading Creative Sector

Afro fashion Week Milano

The fashion industry is a case in point among various expressions of culture and creativity domains. Famous for its abundance of talents, the fashion industry is known to be a large employer of labor and youth as well as an incubator of design talents. As it stands, African fashion is likely to breed a generation of innovative designers who utilize fashion platforms and events to increase their reach to new markets and meet investment-minded clients. For instance, after a successful partnership with the Creative Africa Nexus of Afreximbank, a total number of 20 African fashion designers were able to showcase their designs at the Portugal Fashion Week (Adriano, 2021). That’s Africa to Europe, and what a reach!

In today’s world, past African culture that considered men’s clothing to be a taboo if worn on a woman and vice versa is slowly dying. Such gender constructs are being re-invented by reputable African fashion designers such as Nigerian ‘Orange Couture’ designer, Adebayo Oke Lawal, ‘Maxivive’ designer, Papa Oyeyemi, and South African designer, Lukhanyo Mdingi.

In addition, modern-day fashion collections now adopt a mix of both local and sustainably-sourced materials to promote content and encourage responsible waste disposal.

Long ago, lack of technological influence could be a leading cause of redundancy and scarcity of design innovations; however, this is not the case in recent times. With the evolution of (digital) technology, creatives in the fashion and textile space are able to express their creations by using up-to-date gadgets, bringing Africa closer to being an inclusive marketplace. The introduction of digital boutiques and online fashion outlets enable people to trade both locally and internationally using their phones from the comfort of their homes. The introduction of digital technology has undoubtedly contributed to increased buying and selling of African-inspired wears, in fact luxury brands are choosing to sell online as a result of improved networking, price transparency, availability of intellectual property (IP) rights and better visibility opportunities. Nonetheless, representation and intra-border sales has been a challenge.

Challenges for Africa’s Creatives

The life of a creative in Africa’s cultural climate can be tough and limiting. With a lack of adequate investment, scarce public sector involvement, divided markets, difficulties in distribution, and the existence of copyright pirates, the hopes and dreams of creatives slowly dwindles, and few persevere. Various currencies, unaffordable transport links, and trading of clothes and fabrics across borders in Africa prove tiresome and difficult.

Problems faced by African fashion brands in particular include insufficient production capacity; poor infrastructures and policies; inadequate fashion laws to protect the fashion designer’s rights; and difficulty in getting loans. This further emphasizes the need for creatives to partake in and benefit from the African Continental Free Trade Zone (AFCFTA).

These challenges have a double effect – they limit creative entrepreneurs’ ability to grow and expand as well as make investors (both institutional and private) hesitant to invest in Africa’s fashion industry. It is a dilemma that the implementation of AfCFTA hopes to help solve.  Through the AfCFTA, African leaders are looking to transform the fashion and apparel industry using tariff liberalisation (the removal or reduction of tariffs on the free exchange of goods between countries). This aims to help reduce the cost of production of clothes in Africa, with the ultimate aim to attract investment and make fashion entrepreneurs more competitive on a regional and global scale.  In addition, the successful implementation of AfCFTA is expected to result in standardized border operations which will help reduce porous border systems.

The AfCFTA has potential to significantly support the growth of the fashion industry. For instance, Nigeria’s fashion industry is faced with a lack of infrastructure, lack of competitively skilled creatives, and a lack of government backing for the fashion industry. In anticipation of the official implementation of the AfCFTA, Nigeria’s central bank began lending to companies in the textile sector at a low interest rate of 9% and the government is building a 3,000km railway to connect top ports in Lagos to the country’s textile hub. Similarly, Rwanda, with a fashion ecosystem faced with limited demand for fashion items locally, is developing textile production incentives under a Cotton, Textiles and Apparels Strategy and its Implementation Roadmap.

Where to From Here?

Investments into the creative industry exists and the potential for growth is undeniable, however in this post-pandemic era, increased investment and the acceleration of technology use are key to building resilient creative businesses. Fostering digitization and technology is key to scaling culture-based and creative businesses to obtain wider visibility, expand operations, and optimize performance.


Gladys Ehindola

Lead Researcher at SocialGood Lagos