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African Culture as Big Business

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

In the last decade the world’s creative industries (including crafts, fashion and design) have gained greater respect for being the spark that drives economic development and entrepreneurship. They are seen as fast growers and good job creators, and importantly, the lynch pin in cultural identity and cultural diversity. UNESCO, through its Global Alliance for Cultural Diversity, has been in the forefront of helping African countries re-shape their policies to take this into consideration. The promotion of cultural industries also has been incorporated into the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD).

The global clothing industry is estimated to be worth US $900 billion a year. Culture and creativity are big businesses: according to UNESCO, in 2002 the UK exported US $8.5 billion in cultural goods, the United States US $7.6 billion, and China US $5.2 billion. The UK’s Burberry fashion label alone made £157 million in 2006.

This is good news for Africa’s growing fashion industry, which is finally getting the attention and respect it deserves. Entrepreneurs are tapping into this awareness as a great way to make money. Well-known Nigerian fashion designer Alphadi says the continent’s fashion industry is “giving Africa a chance to show its true self, its solidarity, its huge generosity and its greatness.”

Africa’s fashion entrepreneurs are showing more and more confidence and striding with pride across catwalks around the world. And despite the problems faced by black models – as highlighted by supermodel Naomi Campbell in her recent press conference in Kenya – some African models have a growing international profile: these include Alek Wek from southern Sudan, and Waris Dirie from Somalia. Campbell has said she plans to set up a modelling agency in Kenya to increase opportunities.

Just as African music has fans around the world, the continent’s growing fashion scene is gaining fans and more attention. From Hollywood stars to European catwalks, African fashion designers and apparel makers are feeding the industry’s hunger for novelty and new ideas.

African entrepreneurs, from village craftsmen to ambitious and creative urbanites, are finding ways to cash in on this rising awareness.

The rising stars of South Africa were on full display at this August’s Cape Town Fashion Week. David Tlale, who produces glamorous haute couture creations, places community empowerment in his hometown of Johannesburg at the centre of his business. Tlale was joined by rising stars Thabani Mavundla, Thula Sindi, and Craig Jacobs.

Creator and founder of the Fundudzi label of Johannesburg, Jacobs presented a couture collection at Paris Fashion Week in July. A former TV presenter-turned-fashion designer, Jacobs sees a renewed pride in African creativity and a new dialogue about Africa’s place in the world. His motto is: “Africa reworked…Africa re-inspired… Africa renewed”.

Established in 2004, his clothing company for women strives to be socially and environmentally responsible: “Fundudzi is also an eco-conscious label, utilizing materials such as organic cottons, soy and bamboo as well as cashmere produced in Africa which is not harmful to the environment,” he said. “The message which we want to resonate with the rest of the world is that Africa has always been organic.”

“Our label has grown out of the desire to help change the perception of our home, Africa, by presenting clothing designed and created here which can compete on the world stage.”

Jacob benefited from support from various organizations in South Africa to get his business plans sorted out. The country’s tourism body has focused on fashion with its C’est Couture campaign. But he has also struggled with the complexities of exporting his designs and navigating global customs regulations.

“There has been a lot of interest internationally in our collection, but I am not sure what the rules and regulations are … We need an over-riding body to help assist us young entrepreneurs. My experience in Paris, in July, has been that we do have something new and fresh to say in fashion, and we can produce at the same standard as the rest of the world.

There was validation of that. But we as Africans need to follow our own signature, look internally to come up with inspiration, and show that to the rest of the world. “The global village environment, and the access that technologies such as the Internet have provided, means that we can tune into the same stimuli in terms of trends and fashion directions to ensure that we are on par with the rest of the planet. I do believe that the world, bored with the same trends they have been exposed to for so long, are looking for a new guard of inspiration – and we need to empower ourselves with the right tools to answer that call.

“Our positioning is quite simple – our label is dedicated to creating jobs in Africa, thereby reducing our dependency on aid in securing our future …I wanted to create a label which is rooted in Africa, which tells African stories, but which is not tradition or museum curio – rather, intelligent pieces which can fit seamlessly into the global firmament of fashion. The label is focused on redressing the prejudices about the “dark continent” – each collection is designed as a travelogue, informing the world about the rich tapestry of life in Africa.”

Another hub of dynamism in the African fashion scene is Nairobi, Kenya. Kikoromeo connects its catwalk fashion designs with the principle of community development. The label uses mostly Kenyan materials – cotton, silk and wool – and works with local artisans, including women’s groups. Its bags are woven with Kenyan Sisal by Machakos women’s groups, and the beadwork is done by Maasai women’s groups.

Anna Trezbinski of Nairobi, who is popular in Hollywood and has contracts to provide items to top designers like Paul Smith, employs 800 people – mostly Masai women in her workshop in the Great Rift Valley.

This new wave of African fashion designers is proving that anyone with talent, a website and a fan base can puncture the bubble of the European and New York catwalks and make a splash.

“Africa is a haven of inspiration,” says the Tanzanian-born, Nairobi-based designer and collector Lisa Christofferson, who has clothed Ralph Fiennes, Rachel Weiss and Jane Seymour. “Africa for many years now has been the flavour of fashion,” she says. “It has really opened the door for us.”

She believes the internet has expanded her business and her brand. It gives clients and boutiques around the world the ability to import her hand-painted, African-inspired cashmere sweaters, bedspreads and throws. Many are ceremonial cloths of the Kuba Kingdom in Congo.

Another designer based in Kenya, Annabelle Thom, believes changes in the last seven years are responsible: access to TV and film, music channels and a burgeoning middle class with money. “People care more about fashion and if you look around in Nairobi, the average person is beautifully dressed – people are spending money on themselves,” she said.

Ethiopia has also been identified as a bubbling fashion hot spot for its indigenous raw cotton and potential to produce other natural fibres. Ethiopian designer Guenet Fresenbet launched Ethiopia’s first fashion magazine, Gigi, to help take the lead.

Published: October 2007

Resources

  • Afromix: Great links to African fashion designers and fashion events and media.
  • Kikoromeo: Based in Nairobi, Kenya Kikoromeo’s founder and principal apparel designer trained in Rome and Milan and has been in production in Kenya since 1997.
  • South Africa’s leading fashion weeks: Johannesburg Fashion Week or Capetown Fashion Week
  • A video about Kenya’s fashion boom: Click here to view.
  • Uzuri: Premier International African Inspired Fashion Magazine: A quarterly magazine founded in 2005 and based in Texas, it is dedicated to highlighting high fashion in Africa.
  • Dobizo: An excellent website with all the resources necessary for a budding entrepreneur to get started in the fashion business, from step-by-step guides to common mistakes and how to choose a logo.
  • Fashion Nigeria: Newly launched Nigerian fashion magazine.

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator.

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Fashion Recycling: How Southern Designers are Re-using and Making Money

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

With the rising awareness of the importance of doing fashion in an ethical and sustainable way, more and more fashion designers in the South are getting very creative. Fashion earns big money around the world: The global clothing industry is estimated to be worth US $900 billion a year.

In Paris, the Ethical Fashion Show, now in its fifth year, showcases fashion that respects people and the environment while still being glamorous, luxurious and trendy. It has attracted designers from around the world, including Mongolia, Thailand, China, Peru and Bolivia. The show demands that all participants adhere to International Labour Organization conventions – including banning forced and child labour – respect for the environment, creating local employment and working with craftspeople to ensure skills are retained and the fashion reflects the diversity of the world’s cultures.

In Abidjan, Ivory Coast, Felicite Mai is using pride in her nation’s top export commodity, cocoa (Ivory Coast is the world’s number one exporter of cocoa), to make smart fashion wear at affordable prices. She has turned the beige-coloured jute sacks used to ship cocoa beans around the world into clothes for men and women.

“Ivory Coast’s economy is based on agriculture, especially cocoa and coffee. So I decided to promote these crops by creating these fashion designs,” Mai, whose real name is Maimouna Camara Gomet, told the Reuters news agency.

“For me, it’s a way of drawing the whole world’s attention to cocoa and coffee,” she said

Mai comes from a family of cocoa planters and is a graduate of a sewing school. She works out of a studio-cum-shop in the Treichville suburb of Abidjan.

The clothes are usually beige, but some are dyed dark brown or blue. They include skirts, tops, trousers, shirts, waistcoats, caps, bags and accessories; she gets the sacks – most emblazoned with “Product of Ivory Coast, Cocoa” — from the city’s port warehouses. She cleans the jute cloth first, before creating the fashions.

“I had this idea from when I was still at sewing school in 1987. Then I opened my own workshop in 1996 and I first launched these kind of designs in 2003 during a fashion contest at Divo (in the south of Ivory Coast)” said Mai, who has several assistants at her shop.

She has been able to attract as clients local celebrities, artists and musicians and even a few from abroad.

In Brazil, it is footwear that is getting the recycled-look treatment. The brand Melissa specializes in plastic shoes that are eco-friendly and made from 100 percent recycled materials. They use a plastic called melflex made from recovered plastic. The shoes are made in injection molds and the factory is so efficient, it has next to no waste as a byproduct. It recycles all the waste and water used in the production process. And as a plus, they make a point of paying the workers well, and supporting social and environmental causes in Brazil.

Their secret to putting zing into recycled plastic shoes is to have high-profile, celebrity designers design some of the shoes. So far, they have had UK fashion mistress Vivienne Westwood, the Campana Brothers, and the UK-based, Iraqi-born architect Zaha Hadid. Hadid is a controversial figure who always stirs up debate, and her rubber shoes have brought attention to the brand.

The Chilean studio Modulab has turned to recycled rubber from the car industry to make bags. The rubber comes in sheets so it is easy to cut and shape into bags, thus reducing the amount of time and energy used to make the bags. The line is called RTA (ready to assemble) and includes three types of bags: an envelope, a handbag and a messenger bag. Each sheet of recycled rubber comes with the specific slots and pins for the consumer to put the bag together at home, without any glue or sewing involved. Energy used in the making of the entire bag is 100 percent human, except in the production of the material itself.

In Ghana, the cheeky Ghanaian businessman-cum-fashion designer Kwabena Osei Bonsu wanted to do something about the ubiquitous plastic bags that pollute the landscape of the capital, Accra.

In Accra, a small city of 2.2 million people, up to 60 tons of plastic packaging is dumped on the streets every day, a figure that has risen by 70 per cent over the past decade.

“I wanted to come up with an idea that would solve problems in my lifetime,” he said to the Independent.

He came up with the brilliantly simple solution of turning these wasted and damaging plastic bags back into usable and fashionable carryalls and handbags. He collects the plastic sacks and stitches them back together. The business, Trashy Bags, employs a dozen tailors and seamstresses. Launched in December last year, it so far has collected 10 million used plastic sachets from the streets, and sold more than 6,000 bags. Handbags go for US $7.79.

Ghana’s huge quantity of discarded plastic water bottles are gathered up for recycling too. A storage room overflows with more than 3 million sachets that have been collected and cleaned ready for recycling.

Bonsu’s business has turned into a source of income for local people, who receive US $3.89 for 1,000 sachets – a good return where the average yearly income is US $495

“I collect sachets because I am jobless and this gives me money,” said Hadiza Ishmael, a 55-year-old grandmother who has delivered 4,000 plastic bags. “It also makes the place look nicer.”

Published: August 2008

Resources

  • The Re: Fashion Awards show is a brand new fashion phenomenon, set to transform social and environmental standards in the fashion industry within a decade. The RE:Fashion Awards will take place in London in November 2008. The glittering event will see major faces from the fashion world come together to recognise the most significant development in the fashion industry of the 21st century. The deadline for budding fashion designers to enter their contest is August 20th.
    Website: http://www.refashionawards.org/
  • A photogallery of the cocoa fashions:
    here: Photogallery 1
    and here: Photogallery 2
    And a video of Mai making the garments here: Video
  • Ethical Fashion Show: Isabelle Quehe, who established the event, said “You almost never see designers from developing countries doing shows in Paris, so this brings together natural products, local fair labour, respect for the environment and finding sales outlets in Paris.” Potential designers and exhibitors can contact the Ethical Fashion Show by sending collection photos and a brief explanation on how the fashions contribute to the ethical fashion movement.
    Send contributions to: 4, rue Trousseau 75011 Paris
    Email: unilove@wanadoo.fr
  • Once inspired to get into the global fashion business, check out this business website for all the latest news, jobs and events.
    Website: http://us.fashionmag.com/news/index.php
  • A creative agency specialising in the promotion of African culture to the world. They organise RUNWAY AFRICA—Africa’s annual Fall Fashion Show featuring five of Africa’s most promising rising design stars on the runway.
    Website: http://inspirationafrica.org/aboutus.html
  • Green fashion must really be making an impact–the BBC, Britain’s venerable public broadcaster, has started an on-line fashion magazine. Called Thread. Fashion Without Victim, it is dedicated to bringing the “latest of eco-fabulous style”. Through a “unique mix of affordable fashion, exclusive videos, photo galleries and thought-provoking features” the site is committed to promoting all aspects of ethical fashion.
    Website: http://www.bbc.co.uk/thread/
  • Traidcraft fights poverty through trade, helping people in developing countries to transform their lives. Established in 1979 as a Christian response to poverty, we are the UK’s leading fair trade organisation.
    Website: http://www.traidcraftshop.co.uk/default.aspx

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

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Archive

Favela Fashion Brings Women Work

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

A highly successful cooperative of women in Brazil has shown that it is possible for outsiders to make it in the fast-paced world of fashion. Despite being based in one of Rio de Janerio’s slums, or favelas (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Favela), the women have developed a reputation for high-quality merchandise and even put on fashion shows.

Fashion earns big money around the world: The global clothing industry is estimated to be worth more than US $900 billion a year. But fashion also has a reputation for relying on sweat shops, poor pay and poor working conditions. The poor are the most at risk of exploitation in the industry – upwards of 90 percent of sweatshop workers are women (www.feminist.org).

Yet the COOPA-ROCA cooperative (www.coopa-roca.org.br/en/index_en.html) – or Rocinha Seamstress and Craftwork Co-operative Ltd – has pioneered a way to involve poor women in the business, build their skills while creating high-quality products, and be flexible enough to make time for their families’ needs. It particularly helps single mothers.

The cooperative was founded by Maria Teresa Leal in Rocinha – the largest favela in Rio, home to over 180,000 people. After visiting her housekeeper’s home in the favela, Leal was impressed by the sewing skills of the women but found they weren’t making any money from their work. She decided to found the cooperative in 1981 and start making quilts and pillows. By the early 1990s, the cooperative had attracted the attention of Rio’s fashion scene. And in 1994, it jumped into making clothes for the fashion catwalks. Fashion designers in turn taught the women advanced production skills and about fashion trends.

Today, the coop has established a hard-won reputation for quality and sells its clothes to the wealthy elite of Rio. Its success has led to contracts with major clothing stores, including Europe’s C&A.

“Creativity is an important tool for transforming people and raising their consciousness,” Leal told Vital Voice. “My great passion is beauty. Beauty has the capacity to inspire, to touch individuals in a more subtle way. For this reason, I like to make beautiful things with the artisans of COOPA-ROCA.”

Leal realized that most small businesses helping the poor fail despite their best intentions. They often make the same mistakes: they fail to produce high quality goods, they fail to do market research and understand who they are selling to, they fail to develop the skills of their workers, and most importantly, they fail to see that they have to compete in a global economy with lots of other enterprises. How many people have seen crafts and knickknacks for sale that nobody really wants?

Slum dwellers are on the increase across the South. As the world becomes a more urban place – and 70 million people move every year to the world’s cities (UN) – the growing population of poor women and households presents a dilemma: how to provide meaningful work so they do not fall risk to exploitation? Without work opportunities, women can feel pressured to turn to prostitution, or even be trafficked by gangs for work or sex. And women in slums experience greater levels of unemployment than those who live elsewhere (UNHABITAT).

Women now make up the majority of the world’s poor: 70 percent of the world’s poor are women, as are a majority of the 1.5 billion living on less than US $1 a day (UNESCO).

Established in 1981 from a recycling project for local children, COOPA-ROCA started with finding ways to use thrown away scraps of cloth to make clothing. It eventually evolved into a cooperative. It focused on improving traditional Brazilian decorative craftwork skills like drawstring appliqué, crochet, knot work and patchwork.

“COOPA-ROCA works with traditional handicraft techniques that are widely used by women around the world,” explains Leal. “As COOPA-ROCA works with fashion, and fashion is always linked with media, the COOPA-ROCA artisans inspire other women who recognize in themselves the potential to do the kind of work that COOPA-ROCA does.”

For its first five years, COOPA-ROCA concentrated on building the organization and the skills of the artisans. Once a production structure was in place, quality control workshops were set up to increase the quality of the products so they could compete better in the marketplace.

“Many social projects believe that money is the only resource required to begin their work. The COOPA-ROCA case proves that social organizations must use a more entrepreneurial vision to understand the concept of resources.”

The cooperative’s mission statement is to “provide conditions for its members, female residents of Rocinha, to work from home and thereby contribute to their family budget, without having to neglect their childcare and domestic duties.”

By doing this to a high standard, the profile and reputation of traditional crafts has been raised.

The COOPA-ROCA hopes the work shows others how they can increase income in poor communities. The cooperative has 150 members and has partners in the wider fashion and decorative design markets.

The women equally share responsibility for production, administration and publicity. While they work at home, they come to the office to drop off the completed pieces and pick up more fabric.

The success of the cooperative has led to donations of funds to build a new headquarters designed by architect Joao Mauricio Pegorim.

Despite the cooperative’s success, it is still not easy to work with partners. “There are many negative preconceptions about Rocinha and the people who live there, both within and outside of Brazil. COOPA-ROCA is consistently rejected when it applies for loans,” Leal said. “Furthermore, the cooperative’s commercial partners usually do not enter the favela themselves, and I must serve as a bridge between the two worlds.”

But Leal is still ambitious for bigger things: “I envision COOPA-ROCA expanding to include 400 women artisans, producing for commercial partners, selling their own brand in Brazil and abroad, and carrying out fashion and design projects in the new headquarters in Rocinha.”

Published: March 2010

Resources

1) The online service CafePress is a specially designed one-stop shop that lets entrepreneurs upload their designs, and then sell them via their online payment and worldwide shipping service. Website:http://www.cafepress.com/cp/info/sell/

2) Tips on how to start your own t-shirt business. Website: http://www.pioneerthinking.com/dy_tshirt.html And how to do it online: Website:http://www.ehow.com/how_2135779_start-network-online-tshirt-company.html

3) Once inspired to get into the global fashion business, check out this business website for all the latest news, jobs and events. Website:http://us.fashionmag.com/news/index.php

4) iFashion: This web portal run from South Africa has all the latest business news on fashion in Africa and profiles of up-and-coming designers. Website:http://www.ifashion.co.za/index.php?option=com_frontpage&Itemid=1

5) Kiva: Kiva’s mission is to connect people, through lending, for the sake of alleviating poverty. Website:http://www.kiva.org/

6) Betterplace: Is another great way to solicit funds for NGOs or businesses in the developing world. Website: http://www.betterplace.org

7) Viva Favela: The first Internet portal in Brazil. Viva Favela has a team made up of journalists and “community correspondents” – favela residents qualified to act as reporters and photographers. Website:http://www.vivafavela.com.br/publique/cgi/cgilua.exe/sys/start.htm?infoid=40489&sid=74

8) Women in Poverty: A New Global Underclass by Mayra Buvinic (1998). Website: http://www.onlinewomeninpolitics.org/beijing12/womeninpoverty.pdf

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

ORCID iD: https://orcid.org/0000-0001-5311-1052.

© David South Consulting 2022

Categories
Archive

Made-in-Africa Fashion Brand Pioneers Aim for Global Success

By David SouthDevelopment Challenges, South-South Solutions

SOUTH-SOUTH CASE STUDY

African fashion brands have not always been the first place fashionistas turned to when shopping for new clothes or shoes in developed economies. While Africa has long been a source of inspiration in contemporary and traditional fashion, the continent has had a weak reputation for manufacturing and selling mass market global fashion brands.

There are initiatives, such as Origin Africa (http://originafrica.org/), an ongoing campaign working to improve African trade by increasing the trade of textiles and apparels, cut flowers, specialty foods, home décor, and fashion accessories. Origin Africa matches African designers and entrepreneurs with experienced industry leaders to “facilitate, coordinate and advance ‘trade, not aid’ efforts”.

While there are many places in Africa engaged in the global clothing manufacturing outsource industry – often paying very low wages – strong African fashion brands are often absent in most developed countries. Well, at least until now.

Two recent examples have joined the well-publicized success of Ethiopia’s soleRebels, maker of rubber-soled shoes (solerebelsfootwear.co). SoleRebels became an Internet success story, harnessing the power of web-based sales to reach customers around the world.

Now another Ethiopian shoe maker is also pushing its way into the global fashion scene. Ethiopian-made sneaker brand Sawa has just been picked up by the American retailer of preppy clothing J. Crew (jcrew.com). The successful catalogue and online clothing retailer has great clout when it comes to promoting a brand, and this should be a big boost to the reputation of African fashion labels.

Sawa’s headquarters is in Paris, France (the physical home of much of the world’s fashion scene) but all its shoes are sourced and made in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia’s capital, and the company’s website is run from there.

Sawa says the key to its success is to be a business first and foremost – not a charity.

“Sawa project does not have the so-called generosity of brands which use Africa just to glorify themselves,” said Wendesen Birhanu, on the company website.

“Sawa is a fashion brand which has taken the challenge to fabricate shoes in Africa. All the added value benefits the continent.”

The company’s shoe factory is modern and has the workers positioned at their desks making the shoes. The brand logo proudly states “Made in Africa” on all the brown cardboard shoe boxes in a bold, red roundel stamp.

Sawa also uses the slogan “vote with your feet” to show the connection between purchasing the shoes and supporting African business and manufacturing.

The footwear, currently available in the United Kingdom, France and through J. Crew in the United States, has a distinctive rubber sole with the African continent embossed on the bottom – a clever design tweak ensuring the wearers will leave an interesting footprint wherever they walk.

The styles available include Dr Bess, a vintage canvas and leather shoe in a low-cut silhouette. The Tsague is a vintage shoe with a mid cut like that used for basketball shoes.

The shoes have been put through their paces in an independent quality assurance lab and each shoe’s details are explained on the Sawa website (http://www.sawashoes.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=2&Itemid=8&lang=en).

They retail in Europe for between 75 euros and 115 euros a pair – a middle-market price – and come in eye-pleasing colours, from basic black to white to sand, dark blue, grey, brown, red and light blue.

Small and medium enterprises (SMEs) (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Small_and_medium_enterprises) have been identified as an essential part of Africa’s future prosperity and key to its ability to reduce poverty and achieve development objectives like the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) (www.un.org/millenniumgoals).

Obstacles to growth for SMEs include poor infrastructure, unreliable power supplies, unscaleable business models, low quality standards and poor quality branding and design.

Developing manufacturing in Africa is key to improving incomes and wealth. Creating unique, branded products for overseas markets makes it possible to earn foreign currency and be able to benefit from consumers in other countries. The math is simple: once you have saturated the local market for your product, the only way to boost sales and profits is to seek new customers elsewhere. By selling to people in a country with a higher national income, it is possible to charge more and in turn earn more money for each product. In time, this can lead to significant income rises and in turn, human development gains as the spare cash can be put to improving local living conditions, acquiring education or better health services and consuming better quality food.

Another important feature of selling to overseas customers is competition. Having to compete with the pick of the world’s top brands means a company must raise its game to stand a chance. The pressure forces the company to sharpen its product line, become more efficient, stick to strict quality control and embrace the latest thinking in design, marketing and information technologies.

In short, an African company that can weather a few years successfully selling to overseas customers is going to be a fierce competitor back home.

And, as has been forecast many times, the rise of Africa’s middle class consumers will be a big driver of economic growth in the next decade. If this middle-income consumer class buys lots of African-made consumer products, then the impact on job and wealth creation on the continent will be significant.

Another fashion initiative boosting brand Africa is a partnership between Italian fashion lifestyle clothing retailer Diesel (diesel.com) and the Edun ethical fashion label (edun.com), founded by Ali Hewson and her husband Bono, singer with rock band U2.

The collaboration offers a contemporary take on retro street wear from Africa’s past, while having all the garments made and sourced from Africa.

In March 2013, Diesel+EDUN launched a 25-piece denim collection drawing its inspiration from African creativity. The collection uses raw, untreated denim sourced and manufactured in Uganda. It mixes up Malian textile prints for linings, with outside embroidery drawing on traditional Zulu weaving patterns. It also includes a denim jacket inspired by street wear from 1970s South Africa.

Edun was originally set up to encourage greater trade with Africa as a way to address poverty and boost incomes. Begun in 2005, the brand has tried to overturn the perception that ethical and ecologically sound fashion can’t be fashionable and desirable too.

Edun has sought to be “a creative force in contemporary fashion”, according to its website. In 2007, it launched a line dedicated to making t-shirts entirely made in Africa called Edun Live. Edun Live t-shirts “are entirely ‘Grow to Sew’ African. From cotton to finished tee, all production takes place in Africa.”

Edun has the goal of producing 40 per cent of its fashion collection in Africa by 2013. It does this by “supporting manufacturers, infrastructure and community building initiatives”.

All of Edun’s cotton is harvested to CCIU cotton standards. The Conservation Cotton Initiative Uganda (CCIU) is a cotton-farming program that helps to build sustainable farming communities in Northern Uganda.

Edun is currently working in Kenya, Morocco, Madagascar, Uganda and Tunisia.

The Diesel+EDUN (http://www.diesel.com/diesel+edun/) collaboration had its start at the beginning of 2012. After trips to East and West Africa by Diesel founder Renzo Rosso and Edun founders Ali Hewson and Bono, the idea was hatched to work together to “further apparel trade and development in Africa”. The goal is “bringing business to the continent and highlighting to the fashion world the possibility for sustainable trade and creative opportunity in Africa.”

More than 5,000 farmers participated in the 2011/2012 CCIU program, and more than 8,000 have already enrolled in the 2012/2013 season, the website states.

Edun is also working with Mikono Knits (Mikonoknits.com) to promote traditional African knitting techniques.  Founded in 2005 by Froydis Dybahl Archer, Mikono makes and sells hand-crocheted sweaters and tank tops from its Nairobi, Kenya workshop. The plan is to use the success of Mikono Knits to expand the number of underprivileged women the firm can hire to work for the business. The business currently employs 10 women and uses locally sourced organic cotton and wool, supporting the local economy.

Beyond the actual clothing partnership and African-inspired fashion, there is a clever promotion campaign to raise awareness for the Diesel+EDUN line. Called Studio Africa (http://studioafrica.tumblr.com/), it is a marketing and perception-shaping initiative, “celebrating and promoting creativity in Africa”. It is doing this by promoting nine African artists to better communicate the African vibe of the collection and give the artists’ careers a boost. It is curated and edited by Okay Africa (http://www.okayafrica.com/), a cultural guide to “all the latest music/culture/politics coming from Africa and the Diaspora”.

Published: March 2013

Resources

1) Africa Fashion International: African Fashion International (AFI) is the leading Fashion authority on the African continent and is committed to the promotion and development of the best South African design talent. Website: http://afi.za.com/

2) Origin Africa: Origin Africa is an ongoing campaign and initiative dedicated to improving African trade. Comprised of producers, designers, small businesses, exporters, buyers and retailers, it is working to develop, guide and promote African trade in the following sectors: textiles/apparel, cut flowers, specialty foods, home décor, and fashion accessories. Website: http://originafrica.org/

3) SoleRebels:  Ethiopia’s soleRebels profiled in Southern Innovator Magazine Issue 2. Website: http://www.scribd.com/doc/106055335/Southern-Innovator-Magazine-Issue-2-Youth-and-Entrepreneurship

4) How we made it in Africa: A great website packed with inspirational people and stories on business success in Africa. Website: http://www.howwemadeitinafrica.com/

5) Nigerian shoe and garment maker Fut Conceptus has been taking raw Nigerian leather that was once just sent overseas for export, and instead is turning out high-quality shoes and bags made in Nigerian factories. Website: futconceptus.com

6) SME Toolkit South Africa: A website packed with resources and support for anyone starting a small business in Africa. Website: http://southafrica.smetoolkit.org/sa/en

7) African Guarantee Fund for Small and Medium-sized Enterprises: The AGF provides guarantees and technical assistance to financial institutions in Africa with the objective of generating enhanced growth in the SME sector and increasing employment opportunities in the economy, particularly for youth. Website: http://www.afdb.org/en/topics-and-sectors/initiatives-partnerships/african-guarantee-fund-for-small-and-medium-sized-enterprises/

8) Small and Medium Enterprise Support, East Africa: A blog promoting events and support for SMEs in East Africa. Website: http://smeseastafrica.blogspot.com/

9) Integrating Developing Countries’ SMEs into Global Value Chains: A paper from UNCTAD (2010). Website: http://www.unctad.org/en/docs/diaeed20095_en.pdf

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London Edit

31 July 2013

Development Challenges, South-South Solutions was launched as an e-newsletter in 2006 by UNDP’s South-South Cooperation Unit (now the United Nations Office for South-South Cooperation) based in New York, USA. It led on profiling the rise of the global South as an economic powerhouse and was one of the first regular publications to champion the global South’s innovators, entrepreneurs, and pioneers. It tracked the key trends that are now so profoundly reshaping how development is seen and done. This includes the rapid take-up of mobile phones and information technology in the global South (as profiled in the first issue of magazine Southern Innovator), the move to becoming a majority urban world, a growing global innovator culture, and the plethora of solutions being developed in the global South to tackle its problems and improve living conditions and boost human development. The success of the e-newsletter led to the launch of the magazine Southern Innovator. 

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