African fashion leaps onto global catwalk

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Since the launch of African Fashion Week International (AFI) in 2003, African designers are getting more global recognition.

“It has been challenging and very exciting. We have managed to launch a lot of African designers in a globally appealing way to markets in South Africa, on the continent and globally,” Precious Moloi-Motsepe, businesswomen, humanitarian and founder of AFI told CNBC Africa on Thursday.

She stated that African fashion designers have been exposing their talent at international events such as the International Herald Tribune Luxury Conference in Rome as well as International Fashion week in Milan, New York and Paris.

“We have been able to take some of our designers and expose them to international markets,” said Motsepe.

A highlight for her is that AFI has been developing and training young fashion designers from across the continent to allow them to eventually take over from the established designers, ensuring that the African fashion industry is not just a passing trend but becomes a permanent fixture of the international fashion industry.  

Beyond the catwalk, Motsepe added, the African fashion industry has also created a number of jobs, resulting in a positive impact on countries’ economies.

“Fashion designers themselves may give employment to about five or 10 people within their business but beyond that, they’re giving jobs to producers, manufacturers, packaging [companies], and the beauty industry. They end up creating jobs directly and indirectly,” she explained.

Another trend in the African fashion world, Mostepe pointed out, is an increasing investment appetite, specifically amongst the African youth.

“If you look at Africa, we are home to seven of the fastest growing economies globally. We have a young growing population. That means having more Africans at a working age that are educated, saving [money] , having smaller families and have lots of spare money to spend on aspirational brands, and making their lifestyles better,” she explained.

“So when it comes to investing in the continent particularly in this [fashion] sector, I am seeing a lot of interest.”

While local investment in fashion is on the rise, Motsepe does believe that more work needs to be done in terms of supporting and encouraging local entrepreneurship.

Since Africa has a growing population, job opportunities have to be created by small upcoming entrepreneurs as there is a limit on the number of jobs that are currently being created by governments and the private sector.

“We need a framework that encourages and supports entrepreneurs from South Africa and the continent by making sure they have access to markets, that’s it’s easy for them to start their own businesses and financing, which is usually a big problem for entrepreneurs and that’s no different in the fashion industry,” said Motsepe.