By O. Paul Andrew

Walking down Akin Adesola Street in Victoria Island on a typical visit two years ago I noticed Emenegledo Zegna. “Oh my God: Zegna in Lagos”, I chuckled. Rushing my hand into my breast pocket, I called a friend in Geneva to inform what I saw. “That’s no biggy”, my friend replied, going on to inform me that Tunde Folawiyo and his wife, Reni, were putting together a luxury concept store on Victoria Island called ‘Alara’.

Inward Looking Strategy

Now there is no end to foreign top-end luxury designers flooding into Lagos, and other recently discovered affluent African cities. However, it is not only foreign brands that are seeing a surge in demand from wealthy African consumers. African designers are also capitalising on the successes achieved by a flourishing home economy and new money to spend on luxury. The story coming out Africa’s economic arena is creating a huge consumer buzz and spending power and yet internal consumption can only rise: the continent of 1.1 billion people is 60 percent youthful.

Added to this is the increasing number of educated workforce and migrants returning back to Africa. Most returnees are well equipped and informed about developments and are quick to deploy their skills and expertise. The case of such migrants like Duro Olowu, a lawyer turned designer, and Oswald Boateng are turning the tide on impressions of Africa’s rich fashion heritage.

Diasporas Demand

While supporting internal growth and expansion, African luxury brands could also see a strong upside for export. Today there are huge African diasporas in Europe, Americas and Asia where there is demand for African designers. In Europe, this space is already being filled by top designers of African descent such as Duro Olowu and Ozwald Boateng. Local African retailers/designers like Deola Sagoe, Clan, Maki Oh, Osei-Duro, Oluchi should emulate this strategy.

Many African fashion designers are already creating a mega-presence on the world stage. Top-end luxury fashion designers from Africa have recently showcased their work at New York Fashion Week as well as local fashion shows from Johannesburg to Casablanca and Abidjan. Among the most notable of these are Duro Olowu, Deola from the House of Deola Sagoe and CLAN brands and Maki Oh.

Raw talents abound in Africa. There is a huge gap between fashion and finance in the continent. South Africa seems to be home to abetter structured markets compared to others, Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe to mention a few. What Africa needs is internal grooming of talents that will take charge of local markets and the fashion sector. However, exporting African style is not as straight forward as walking the catwalk. The difficulty most African designers’ face has to do with fabrics and the need to encourage local factories to produce garments that are of African origin, like Kente from Ghana and Aso-Oke from Nigeria as well as other fabrics that will support and encourage local designers to compete with the outside world. Some of these fabrics are of good quality and could be designed to compete favourably with international standards.

There is also a huge gap between fashion and finance in the continent. Funding for African luxury and fashion designers would play a vital role in the way fashion business is done in Africa. Private equity funding has recently relinquished many African industries from local shackles and aided their path onto the world stage. Fashion is but another creative industry – along with music and movies – that could benefit from private equity funding. Nigeria’s Nollywood has already created a whole new paradigm shift away from the oil and gas dominated mono-economy and helped rebase the country’s GDP.

In Africa, there are few cities that are prime locations for the fashion and luxury market. However, in our showcase of African Cities of the Rich, we have looked at Lagos, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Nairobi, Casablanca, Marrakech, Abidjan, Accra and Dakar. These are the engines of growth on the Continent.