How the COVID pandemic has spurred innovation in Africa’s fashion industry


The African Development Bank’s latest Fashionomics Africa webinar attracted an impressive “who’s who” of industry talent to share ideas on how the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated digital trends in the fashion industry.

Under the theme “Fashion Enablers: Bridging the Gap for Fashion Entrepreneurs in Africa” the webinar on 29 January aimed to build bridges between designers and provide insights on investment and technology to help Africa’s fashion entrepreneurs thrive post-pandemic.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the consumer shifts and digital trends that were in motion prior to the crisis,” said Vanessa Moungar, Director of the Gender, Women and Civil Society Department at the African Development Bank.

“Today, entrepreneurs must take advantage of the fashion-enabling tools at their disposal. E-commerce, artificial intelligence, augmented reality and digital printing are tools that will shape the future of the fashion industry in Africa,” she said.

Daisy Chesang, Programs and Operation Lead of Mettā Nairobi, an innovation hub for entrepreneurs, said African fashion players were ready to adapt to a changing economic landscape.

“Since the onset of the pandemic, we have seen a change in both consumers’ behaviour and products offered. African fashion designers are agile and are ready to pivot into any business model that suits them,” she said.

The pandemic has also presented the opportunity for Africa’s fashion businesses to leap forward, said Mahlet Teklemariam, the founder of Hub of Africa Fashion Week in Addis Ababa.

“COVID-19 gave us time to rethink, re-invent and re-develop the fashion industry,” she said.

Among the fashion pioneers at the online gathering were Simone Cipriani, chair of the secretariat of the UN Alliance for Sustainable Fashion, and Adama N’Diaye, the Senegalese designer who changed the face of African fashion with her global brand, Adama Paris.

They were joined by representatives of the International Trade Centre’s SheTrades initiative, HEVA Fund, Africa Fashion Guide, Hub of Africa Fashion Week and Mettā Nairobi.

“The African fashion industry is multicultural, polyglot, young, and full of traditions. It is an industry that values and supports diversity,” said Cipriani, who launched the Ethical Fashion Initiative, which helps artisans in Africa, the Caribbean and Asia to reach global markets.

Cipriani also reminded the audience that, “fashion design is a business,” advising participants that fashion entrepreneurs need to be organised in terms of the design, production and delivery elements of their business if they want to achieve the goal of creating a multi-billion-dollar African fashion brand.

As a combined force, Africa’s fashion entrepreneurs can flourish, N’Diaye told the online audience of about 200 people.

“With the pandemic, we all agree that we need to stick together. This is not just a sentence, it is a reality. We have to start organizing ourselves to become a great force. We can do much more if we unite,” said N’Diaye, the founder of Dakar fashion week.

One of the Bank’s flagship initiatives, Fashionomics Africa promotes investments in the textile and fashion sector by leveraging data, information and communication technologies as drivers of development.

The webinar was the fifth in a series connecting the continent’s fashion, design, textile and accessories sector players during the COVID-19 pandemic

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