Fashionomics: Designers Get Support From AfDB To Take African Fashion To Global Stage


Africa Development Bank to strengthening Africa’s fashion economy.

The world seems to be fascinated with African cultures and designs. Wherever you are in the world, be it New York or Paris, all fashion runways agree to the fact that African fabrics are inspiring more and more designers. We have for example seen the Maasai Shuka being adorned by models and celebrities, with the most recent being the beautiful Lupita Nyong’o adorning an African inspired design to the premier of her new movie Queen of Katwe. Designed by Cameroonian designer Kibonen Nfi, the strapless yellow gown adorned with royal blue floral patterns with a matching head wrap to match oozed royalty and had everyone talking about the gown for days!

Lupita Nyongo in a dress by Cameroonian designer Kibonen Nfi. Image from Vogue
Lupita Nyongo in a dress by Cameroonian designer Kibonen Nfi. Image from Vogue

The interest in African-inspired fashion is not a flame that is about to die any time soon; however, the African fashion industry needs help. Why? Because despite the fact that the fashion industry in Africa could generate over 15.5 million Euros in the next five years, more needs to be done to help the textile and fashion industry in Africa become part of the worldwide value chain.

The fashion industry globally is expected to double in the next 10 years, generating up to US$ 5 trillion annually. In the USA alone, US$ 284 billion are spent every year on fashion retail through the purchase of 19 billion garments. This presents a tremendous opportunity for Africa at various levels of the value chain: from design to production to marketing, the fashion industry is a profitable business, but only if the sector is properly developed to open up its potential for revenue and job creation.

African designs. Image from

Some of the major challenges faced include:

  • Textile production facilities which are missing in most of the countries as they require more investment than apparel/clothing facilities.
  • Constrained access to financing for entrepreneurs and SMEs
  • Limited local and regional input suppliers and export companies
  • Lack of institutional and government support to the sector in many sub-Saharan Africa countries
  • The need to develop intra-African exports and markets
  • Limited access to information, including trends, buyers, market data;

Guided by its belief that global and regional value chains are paramount to boosting inclusive growth, the African Development Bank debuted Fashionomics in May 2015 during its annual general meetings to discuss ways to strengthen the global value chain of Africa’s fashion industry. With Fashionomics, AfDB aims to invest in the fashion sector, to provide access to finance for entrepreneurs; mostly women and the youth, and to incubate and accelerate startups by identifying and financing projects.

The African Development Bank’s (AfDB) Special Envoy on Gender, Geraldine Fraser-Moleketi who unveiled the project under her leadership said that the initiative will offer the bank’s support to micro, small and medium-sized businesses in the fashion and textile industry. She also pointed out how despite the fact that Africa produces 10% of the world’s cotton, we have very few textile factories and without sufficient industrialization on our end, much of the fabric is imported from Asia.

One of the main issues raised during the discussion is the unavailability of fabrics. As much as we have cotton produced in the continent, we still have very few good finished textiles. Managing Director of Vivo Activewear Wandia Gichuru emphasized on this saying that designers keep importing fabrics, because they do not have the technology and machinery to do it themselves, and if we would have our own cotton processed locally, the headache of acquiring quality textiles would be long gone.

African embroidery designs. Image from
African embroidery designs. Image from

So how can the Fashionomics online platform contribute to strengthening the fashion sector’s value chain?

The Fashionomics project seeks to build a dedicated website, a networking platform for all the links in the value chain – designers, suppliers, brokers, distributors, as well as investors – and a place to share knowledge that includes data, tutorials, market opportunities, various potential contacts, etc. in the textile and fashion sector. Its primary objective is to give members in the industry to develop and grow in their various businesses. The website, which will also be bilingual (English and French) will go public in the first quarter of 2017.

Its objectives include:

  • To increase access to markets and finance
  • To provide mentorship and networking opportunities and
  • To develop the skills of the target group operating in the formal and informal sector.
  • Increase transparency and provide market info; the sector needs more coherent and consistent data; this will help attract investors
  • Putting suppliers and buyers in touch and generate more business
  • Promote ethical fashion and sourcing to successfully integrate the Kenyan and African textile industry into the global market.

Already, there is a head start for fashion designers in Kenya. A total of 40 promising fashion designers selected in a competition set up by Kenya’s Equity Bank – Design Your Destiny – underwent financial training. Upon graduation, they got access to financing in a KES 100 million seed fund Equity Bank has put in place to strengthen the country’s fashion chain, from agriculture to spinners and fabric traders.

However, in order for the fashion industry to get to a point of acceleration and tremendous growth, we need to focus our strength which lies in forming collaborations in value chains that work, asking for help where we need it, getting sustainable financial support and ultimately rooting for each other’s success.


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