Monday, 20 May 2024

Business Opportunities in the Fashion Industry in East Africa

With a population of 177 million citizens, of which over 22% is urban population, there is vast opportunities for clothing makers and retailers to invest in East Africa. There is currently a yearly growth rate of 5.5% in the East African Community (EAC), making Africa the fastest growing region in the world, with predicted growth rate of 4.2% in 2013–2014, according to the Pensions & Investments (PTI).


The largest share of fashion manufacturing industries in East Africa are located in Kenya where they contribute over 40% towards export value. Other countries that contribute include Tanzania (28%) Uganda (10%) and Rwanda (6%). The three countries combined make up 43% of apparel manufacturing in East Africa, yet for this particular sector to grow, there is need for an increase in production and exports.


The fashion industry has the potential to create secured jobs for the African youths of today and tomorrow. NGOs and fashion organizations like the ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative, AFI’s Fastrack and Next Gen, and the LFDW Fashion Focus are already adding jobs across the continent. The EAC trend shows that the region stands out in terms of production and export value of fashion goods, which was expected to increase by 12% in 2023-2028. This is due to its membership in the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), EAC’s new free trade area with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and East African Community (EAC) members also signed on to become associate members of COMESA.


Africa is fast becoming fashionable in many respects, and luxury goods coming out of the continent are fashion conscious. East Africa leads the race in African Fashion. A strong garment sector is rapidly emerging in the whole of East Africa. It is a good source of employment and a new form of income for people.


Understandably, more research is needed for this sector to more fully develop and flourish, which could enable the employment growth predicted for this sector in East Africa. In East Africa there are significant opportunities for manufacturers, distributors and retailers but it should not be underestimated that there are other equally significant risks that should be considered because issues can arise from poor working conditions or from unethical practices.


According to the Atlas of Economic Complexities, East Africa has growth potentials in Textiles and Fashion Industry. For example, Tanzania alone, in 2019, exported over US$50 million worth of Men and Women's suits and pants, t-shirts, bags, fabrics, and more. Kenya's apparel sector is one of the most vibrant in the region. The country's main export garments are women's clothing, men's clothing, ready-made garments, trousers, vests and track suits.


The growth in the East African apparel sector is driven primarily by export trends, with an increasing share of exports being destined for European markets. The high level of competition in both domestic and international markets has forced producers to focus on improving quality standards, rationalizing production facilities and introducing modern technologies. Kenya has approximately 1,000 garment factories employing over 30,000 people. In 2019, Kenya exported over US$150 million worth of Men and Women's suits and pants, t-shirts, bags, fabrics, and more. 


Whilst most of these exports from Tanzania and Kenya are fabrics, and other raw materials, there is a renown being created of clothing from these regions, especially in the social and entertainment scenes on the global stage. Louis Vuitton, Gucci, and Zara are some of the most consumed and talked about fashion brands in Africa, especially by celebrities and socialites on social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook. It is also important to note that there are many African designers who are creating their own labels for international brands. A few of these include Kenza Malima (Kenzo, Kenzo Homme), Christina Ejeta (Ejeta), Stella Mwangi (Stella M) and Yves Saint Laurent (Yves Saint Laurent Paris).


The East African community has the potential to become the next big fashion hub in Africa, with the support of its member states, Kenya and Tanzania. The countries share some creative similarities in terms of consumer trends, creative talent and logistics capabilities. 


Imagine if a celebrity like Vera Sidika were to start a clothing brand, or rather expand her already growing brand "VS" in Kenya, and sell products to her two million followers! 


Vera Sidika, according to Standard Media, is the lady who started the whole socialite revolution in the country. She used different outrageous mechanisms to gain social media following, including bleaching her skin, allegedly adding the size of her hips, and breast implants. She wanted to be perfect for social media, which she achieved. After getting the followers she wanted, Vera Sidika started with doing adverts on her Instagram pages. She later established her name as a brand and started selling beauty products.


VS became a brand invested in Beauty and Personal Care, and in a Beauty Spa for men and women, in Nairobi. There is potential for Vera Sidika, and many other social media celebrities to create clothing brands. East Africa is becoming a vibrant and active region for fashion with the development of new brands that are now available on the international level. For example, a haute couture brand "NAKAMARU" is based in Kenya. 


The brand, which was established by a Kenyan woman named Grace Nakamara, has over 500 African celebrities as its clients/fans who have supported her growth on Instagram and Facebook, with her growth currently being more than 12 million followers combined. In 2016, she opened a branch in Nigeria. In 2017, she showed at New York Fashion Week with one of her designs featured on Beyoncé's "Lemonade" album cover. Her designs have been worn by Michelle Obama and Oprah Winfrey. 


East Africa is a must invest in the Fashion industry, from farming of cotton, to processing textiles, to fabrics, design of clothing and apparel, and to retailing and event. 


Source: EAC, PTI, COMESA, Standard Media