Vogue’s First Fashion Week in Africa Highlights Renewed Interest in the Continent

September 7, 2012  |  

And as much as infrastructure is improving in Africa, challenges remain. “[Poor] manufacturing. Unavailability of department stores that buy from designers. Resistance of designers to come together to produce collections and generally work as a unit,” were among the hurdles Ghanaian designers still have to clear, according to an email from Hagan-Aboagye. Sporadic electricity outages and water shut-offs increase the cost of business too, as proprietors must factor the cost of a generator and supplementary water into their overhead.

Additionally, because staff have potential to make incrementally more money going out on their own, Thompson says high turnover also presents a stumbling block to growing one’s business.  “When you start to show them,” he says referring to employees and apprentices, “two to three years [later] … they will make sure that they have to go on their own.”

Thompson concurs with Hagan-Aboagye that a support system is key, even as he lamented the lack of regular attendance of his fellow tailors at Ghana National Association of Tailors and Dressmakers meetings. “If you are doing something so that the thing should mature, they don’t want it.That’s why, always, we are going back,” he expounded passionately. The Association represents the interests of Ghana’s tailors and dressmakers before government and NGOs and trains interested candidates, including students unable to attend university.

Challenges aside, the global interest in African fashion is part of a refreshing flip in a centuries’-long narrative that has cast Africa as a dark and backwards continent. Ademola noted, “Back in the day, people felt sheepish to wear African-made clothing, but now with brands like Burberry using African prints, it’s different.”

The key is translating this global attention on Africa’s style strength into sustainable growth for the Continent’s fashion industry at every level. For Nora Bannerman, a CEO of Ghana-based Sleek Garments which exports to the US, Europe and other African Countries, growth means putting African countries “on the radar as an exporter.”  For Thompson, it means extending opportunities for exposure to Ghana’s tailors and dressmakers too—and not just those who can afford the $500 GFDW participation fee. (According to the General Secretary of the Tailors and Dressmakers Association, no one has contacted them about participating in GFDW.) For Ademola, sustained growth necessitates keeping pace with the spurt of opportunity and development happening on the Continent—long after Vogue’s GFDW and the attendant coterie of editors have left.

Ghana Fashion & Design Week will take place in Accra’s Movenpick Hotel October 5-7th.

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