“Our Nations were shaped by outside forces and faced instability from their creation. But from art to business I can see the resilience and creativity that will help us overcome the challenges”- Ben Okri
Ben Okri explains that the terms of African independence were flawed at birth, gaining independence was like joining a game in which all the contestants had been training for centuries, had set the rules of the game, and had all the best facilities and the bias of the ages. Africa joined this game with broken arms and legs, confidence shattered, spirit scattered. However the first step in our renaissance is to put our house in order. He goes on to say that, the African spirit is fundamentally a creative one. It is an aspect of ourselves that we have not fully grasped yet. This creativity found in the African spirit, used proactively, in sport, in culture, in business, in education, in society, in innovating, will be the beginning of the African transformation. Ben Okri inspired a New Age way of thinking about the intricacy of the African diaspora which had me reflecting on existing creative industries in Africa, more specifically, the concept of ‘Fashion Weeks‘.
Fashion weeks were valuable for designers, brands or “houses” to showcase their latest collections to buyers, editors and the media. These events influenced trends for the upcoming seasons. The most prominent fashion weeks are held in the “big four” fashion capitals of the world, including New York, London, Milan and Paris. African designers mimicked this concept and applied the same fashion week model to the African fashion industry. Undoubtedly, showcasing collections is vital for designers to create brand awareness however, is the fashion week model, as we know it? Still a relevant concept? Could existing African fashion week platforms be hindering industry growth?
Existing platforms such as SA Fashion Week make it difficult to navigate through the challenges that designers have to face, including weak supply chains, lack of international investors, Chinese domination of the textile industry, poor resources and substandard fashion institutions. In order to showcase at SA Fashion Week a, designers must be in business for more than 5 years, they must have a formal qualification in fashion design, they must own a store or supply at least 3 stores and all products must be manufactured in SA or Africa. This model only benefits a small handful of established designers and can be incredibly limiting for young designers who don’t meet these requirements. Designers across Africa tirelessly work from one fashion calendar to the next, just to present a 20min show hoping it will generate enough revenue for the brand to make it to the next season. The process is exhausting.
The fashion industry is evolving and is becoming a multifaceted space, with the accent of social media there has been a noticeable shift in fashion culture. Social media provides a platform for collections to be visually consumed before they even make it off the runway. The benefits of social media is challenged in this case, designers are exposing consumers to collections before they are even available for purchase. This makes the process time sensitive, it does not provide sufficient time for brands to manufacture and deliver trends in time, eventually the hype dies down on social media, consumers lose interest and move on. The industry as a whole is starting to get social media burnout from brands focusing on their social media presence over actual collections, to put it simply, fashion week has lost the plot. It is a risky model that essentially ends up hurting the designers in the process.
Even big fashion houses are acknowledging the need for transformation in the fashion industry. Last year, Tom Ford ,Burberry and Tommy Hilfiger, announced that they were moving to a see-now-buy-now show model. In the press release Ford said,
“In a world that has become increasingly immediate, the current way of showcasing a collection four month before it is available to customers is an antiquated idea that no longer makes sense. Our customers today want a collection that is immediately available”.
Ford understands that fashion culture has evolved into a social space. Social media has become the most immediate and efficient way of communicating and sharing concepts, eliminating the need for magazines and platforms like fashion week. It is important to keep in mind that these brands are in a position to take full advantage of social media spaces because they have the resources to attend to an increasingly demanding market. They do not face the same challenges that African designers do.
African designers need to figure out how to balance the importance of social media along with the importance of selling their clothes. Every designer is going to have a different focus for their brand so it is essential that they use the channels that will be the most beneficial to their progress. Therefore, it is important to revaluate the role fashion weeks play in developing the African fashion industry.
We are more than capable of developing our own industries by customizing a model that works for us. It is essential that we open up creative spaces and build platforms that allow concepts to transcend beyond the realm of social media. I truly believe that as a collective we can shift the narrative of what it means to be a creative in Africa. We need to reflect more and do more to create platforms that represents what we are capable of in the purest form that filters into all forms of creativity. There are talented designers emanating from every part of the continent. The African fashion industry should be broad and unrestricted. I am hopeful that with the necessary support, emerging generations of aspiring designers will break the mould of traditional fashion weeks and will explore alternative methods of displaying their collections to the public.
To quote Ben Okri one last time,
“This is a moment in which Africa’s road is famished and perfectly poised for a new desitnation”.