The broken edges of African fashion rise.
Alphadi, a 66-year-old fashion pioneer from Niger, is passionately frustrated about the lack of financial support for the African fashion industry.
He has been concerned about this issue since the 1970s and 1980s when he, along with other talented West African designers, made waves in Paris and Milan. He is currently launching an Alphadi-branded coffee range in Abidjan.
He believes that African fashion designers are left to fend for themselves, as they receive little help or investment, while foreign labels often copy their work and profit from it.
Despite these challenges, there is a growing global interest in African fashion, and domestic markets are expanding due to urbanization, a growing middle class, and increased e-commerce.
African countries currently export textiles and apparel worth $15.5 billion annually, but this accounts for only about 1% of the global fashion industry’s value.
African consumers are increasingly embracing African style, and there is a strong demand for both traditional and contemporary designs.
However, African labels struggle to source affordable fabrics locally, often resorting to imported materials, which increases production costs.
The lack of efficient transportation links between regions exacerbates this problem. The decline of African manufacturing can be traced back to structural adjustment programs imposed by the World Bank and IMF in the late 1980s and early 1990s, which led to the removal of tariff protections against imports.
Alphadi advocates for the revival of African textile production and the imposition of tariffs on imported textiles to support local industries.
He emphasizes the need for legal protections for designers, better working conditions, and more support for small and medium-sized fashion companies.
The fashion industry in Africa faces environmental challenges, but there is potential for sustainable textiles, such as organic cotton, to grow.
However, recycling channels are needed to address the continent’s demand for second-hand clothing imports.
Unesco’s assistant director-general for culture envisions African economies transforming from raw-resource exporters to domestic producers of clothing with synchronized policies and support for the fashion ecosystem.