This month we look into how to brand Kenya as a fashion destination and the lessons we can learn from other countries.
What does it mean for a country to be deemed a fashion destination? Fashion hubs like Dubai and South Africa have emerged mainly due to support from domestic and international fashion enterprises as well as government. Growth of a fashion industry is also highlighted by the increase of large fashion events held in the country such as South Africa growing from 2 in 2004 to 9 in 2008. With that comes an increase in awareness of domestic brands among consumers. Singapore has grown its fashion industry through a rapid growth in recent years benefiting from its fashion designers’ focus on building international recognition.
There is of course no hard and fast rule for growing an industry other than the obvious concerted efforts in various arms of the industry. From centralizing fashion events into large ones gaining international recognition coupled with the growth of fashion designers making their mark in the market both local and internationally. With this in mind, we want to look into how Kenya can be branded into a fashion destination.
Business of Fashion wrote on feature in June 2014 (coincidence much) on Kenya as “Africa’s Next Frontier” a title we will own. It was stated by the author, Robb Young, “for any outsider, the key to a meaningful conversation about the Kenyan fashion industry lies in understanding two Swahili words: mitumba and kadogo, which consistently punctuate the polished, internationally-accented speech of so many of Nairobi’s movers and shakers.”
As rightly stated, the mitumba debate constantly needs discussion in light of the thriving textile industry we once had, the present challenges faced by designers against cheap imports, the reality of expensive materials whilst growing their brands to be economically viable. So what is the future of mitumba in Kenya and what role does it play, if any, in growing a strong Kenyan fashion industry?
A nation of an estimated 47 million people, Kenya’s apparel industry is valued at approximately $330m a year, according to the Kenya Association of Manufacturers. Kenyan factories exported garments worth $335 million in 2013 and the business employed 40,000 people, says Jaswinder Bedi, a Kenya-based director of the International Textile Manufacturers Federation. Benjamin Karanja, a spokesman for Family Bank, estimated Gikomba Market (second-hand clothes market) turnover was $1.1 million a month in 2013. The state statistics agency said imports amounted to 100,000 tonnes worth about $90 million in 2013 alone. This would mean at least 4,000 containers and potential duties amounting to 4.8 billion shillings ($54 million) a year, according to a Reuters estimate.
While there is so much focus on exports, this demonstrates the capability of growth in investing in the local textile industry reaping the same fruits. Right now the international focus is on Africa, John Kaveke (long standing fashion designer in Kenya) says, and people are looking here for inspiration. “Now is the best time to start cultivating what is local,” he says.
The fashion industry is one highly noted and spoken of in the international community. Notably because fashion merchandise stimulates local economies by providing jobs from the designers, photographers, producers of textile and tailors to name a few stakeholders. It is for this reason that development post 2015 and leading to Kenya’s Vision 2030, fashion needs to be incorporated in the agenda so as to broaden the scope of development. Undoubtedly, the creative economy’s potential for transformative development in Africa is boundless and waiting to be unlocked.
So, what are the headlines? As of December 2014, the British Fashion Council released a report deducing that fashion directly contributed nearly £21 billion to the UK economy. It also has an indirect economic impact, in encouraging spending in other industries, of over £16 billion. That equals a total impact of £37 billion in 2014. The industry employs nearly a million people, across a wide spectrum of roles, and provides diverse opportunities for young people – a critical issue given the growing concern about employment opportunities for the next generation.
For London Fashion Week, more than 5000 visitors attend during that period with merchandise orders reaching over £100 million. With regard to New York Fashion Week, in 2012, this event alone (not including the entire fashion industry in the US) pumped a record $865 million into the city’s economy, an increase of $92 million on the revenue earned five years before.
This June, we will be answering questions like what can we learn from others on how to brand Kenya as a fashion destination and create the economic impact locally as others countries have done? What elements presently in Kenya are contributing to that? What measures are being put in place or can be placed to include fashion as an economic sector and not just a “glamour page” discussion? How can we elevate Kenya to truly have its fashion industry grow and impact the world?
We will also look into the need and importance of a Kenyan Fashion Council. Is a Fashion Council what we need so as to input guidelines, protective measures for industry players (such as models) and aid in centralizing the focus and strength of the industry. What impact will staging large focused fashion events have in Kenya, learning from our neighbors in Rwanda with Kigali Fashion Week, Tanzania and Swahili Fashion Week as well as the Fashion Weeks held in South Africa.
This topic can in no way be exhausted in one month but we hope that it will inspire, engage meaningful discussion and contribute to the industry and perhaps encourage us, as Kenyans, to keep pushing for a economically viable strong and impactful fashion industry.
What better way to launch this series than to celebrate this incredible nation of Kenya. This country is our own and we are indeed the architects of Kenya’s future. I would like to wish everyone a happy Madaraka Day as Kenya turns 53.
Happy Independence Day!
Author: Wanjiku N. M | Editor and Founder of TDS | Twitter: @WanjikuNM