Optimising the fashion industry

A few days ago the entire nation marked 63 years of nationhood with a colourful display of what makes us unique. On social media, many companies with their presence online flooded timelines with images and designs of their products and services. One thing that caught my attention was the shared wave of beauty on display.

For many years, Ghana as a country has continued to make waves in the fashion industry of the West African sub-region and the entire world. Our clothing and fashion-sense has caught the world’s attention, with references seen on international TV shows like ‘Black-ish’, ‘American Gods’ and the like.

There is a new breed of fashionistas perfecting craftsmanship, innovative design and duality in textile use. It’s no wonder that within the last decade Accra has hosted various fashion shows which always feature the elegance of Ghanaian fabrics like Kente, smocks and wax-prints.

In Ghana specifically, there’s a huge sustainable fashion industry wherein brands are opening up small production shops to make their goods. There is a growing demand and thirst for Ghanaian garments, which is consequently creating jobs. The cherry on top is that a lot of these brands are using recyclables to ethically produce their apparel and accessories.

The future is hopeful, but it can be better if we all contribute to optimising Ghana’s fashion industry. In as much as the country  has some of the best talent on the continent and even the world, there is a huge gap in the quality seen on the streets and what ends up on the runways.

As we celebrate our independence, I believe it is an ideal time for us to look into ways we can optimise the successes chalked up so far. The next decade will be crucial for the industry, as technology and climate change continue to impact the ways we live.

To ensure our readiness, the following can be looked into by all stakeholders in the fashion industry to ensure smooth sailing on the tide when the time comes.

Government Interest and Investment

For the next wave of talented fashion designers to emerge from Ghana, there must be formidable interest and investment in the industry by government. It is well-documented that in countries where the fashion industry is a major contributor to the economy, the domestic intellectual property laws facilitate adequate protection of fashion designs. Countries like France and Italy have instituted laws that explicitly protect fashion creatives.

In Ghana, there is the Industrial Designs Act, 2003 (Act 660), which is aimed at protecting individual rights and addresses grievances; but it seems government now and others before have shown little to no interest in ensuring that the masses take advantage of the law or even test it.

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Having more of such policies and laws pertaining to the fashion industry  ensures that everyone in the fashion industry is protected. Having policies and laws such as patent protection will end the disagreements which sometimes emerge online, and the arguements of who is stealing and copying from whom.

It is not all gloomy though, as there have been instances when government has championed and galvanised citizens to patronise and wear Ghanaian fabric and designs.

A case study of government interest was seen recently during the third edition of the Wear Ghana Festival, aimed at promoting local textiles. This not withstanding, the industry needs more efforts from government in order to thrive

Another area that may sound controversial but if addressed properly can go a long way to grow and improve the fashion industry is the second-hand clothing industry. It is estimated that second-hand clothing contributes only 0.5 percent of total trade globally; however, it forms one of the main components of textiles and clothing imports in Ghana.

The trade in second-hand clothing offers many jobs to many citizens in Ghana, but its negative impact on the local fashion industry cannot be overlooked. The second-hand clothing industry is reported to offer more employment than the formal sector of the textile industry in Ghana.

Revenue generated from the trade of second-hand clothing is around one billion dollars annually on the African continent; and in the context of Ghana, it  is  impacting negatively on growth of the fashion industry in the country. To improve the local fashion industry’s fortunes, the government of Ghana and other stakeholders can develop policies which better promote the industry. For example, government can reduce the percentage and quantities of second-hand clothing imported into the country, which would go a long way to help fashion-designers.

The Role of Fashion Schools/Institutes

There are currently few reputable and recognised fashion schools in the country offering certification, diploma and degree programmes for students who want a career in Ghana’s fashion industry.

A research conducted by Ofori-Sarpong, in collaboration with the World Bank, revealed a need for change in curriculum and teaching at the tertiary level. Their research is part of many conducted over the years which have emphasised the need for more vocational and technical institutions.

Their study also revealed that there is an over-supply of graduates in the arts and humanities. A part of this problem, I believe, originates from the Senior High Schools (SHS).  students who studied technical programmes like Visual Arts and Home Economics – and seem to find difficulty in following their passion after SHS because there are not enough tertiary schools to help them, while others don’t have enough information about schools and courses available to them.

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There are a few fashion-schools in the country doing their best to ensure the industry stays afloat and competitive on the global stage. Such schools, like the Joyce Ababio College of Creative Design, offer programmes from short courses to degree programmes for students. Globally recognised fashion designers including Ophelia Crossland, Christie Brown, PISTIS, Samuel Owusu and Vannessa Teye-Bvnaj are proud alumni.

In optimising the country’s fashion industry, tertiary institutions must review their curricula to enable graduates from fashion-schools to remain competitive in the job market on the global stage, thus making them more efficient and productive professionals.

Fashion-schools will have to update their library resources by including books on current trends, and ensure access to journals and other research sites to better inform faculty and students. For this to be manifested, such schools will also need support from government, the private sector and individuals alike in contributing financially toward the betterment of fashion-schools in the country.

Branding and positioning

Branding and positioning are areas worth addressing in the fashion industry. Many fashion-designers in the industry are yet to position their brand to have a stronghold among citizens.

There is a huge gap in information flow between current and upcoming fashion-designers and ordinary Ghanaians. Few people know about the work of our trail-blazers and new sensations in the industry. And due to that, many rely on only a few designers.

There is a need for upcoming fashion-designers to contact pacesetters or legends in the industry to help them craft their images and brands. What we have seen over the years is a lack of collaboration between these groups of people.

Many upcoming designers do not know or have the needed techniques to get their brand working for them. This is the very reason it is important that anyone going into the fashion industry to start a career should acquire the relevant  education. This could be in the form of short courses, diplomas or degrees whereby they will be taught the practical skills needed, as every industry has its dos and don’ts when it comes to branding and positioning. This ensures students not only enhance their creativity but also learn the practical skills needed  to grow a viable business.

In conclusion, all stakeholders in the industry – including government, schools, industries among others – must work together to ensure the country’s fashion industry continues to grow and remain globally competitive and viable in the coming years.

>>>This article authored by Joyce Ababio College of Creative Design. Website: www.jaccd.edu.gh. Facebook: www.facebook.com/jaccdgh/

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