Surviving a Pandemic, Way Forward for African Fashion Brands

To create applicable verdicts about the future, we need to always look and learn from the past. Because those who do not learn from history are bound to reproduce her errors.

It is no news that the fashion industry; alongside other sectors, have taken a severe jab from the Corona virus pandemic, which has caused major setbacks, especially in the modus operandi of the global sector with respect to appearances, seasons and evolution. The virus, similar to the Spanish flu of 1918, is an infamous fatal pandemic that is eating away years of progressive growth, thereby causing global relapses as of what we are encountering currently. Countries have had to resort to executing economical stimulating policies and incentives to its citizens in order to keep business activities afloat. 

As of 1919, the Spanish flu had engulfed a 3rd of the world, which in turn caused people alongside the government to deploy counter measures in containing it. As such, distancing, sanitation, and very importantly the incorporation of masks into daily clothing ensembles aided the cause. These aren’t any different from what we are currently deploying in an attempt to put out the corona fire.

“I heartily favour a woman wearing a heavy chiffon veil all the time she is on the street. It may become necessary to order everyone in New York to adopt this measure. These veils are very thick and would serve as an almost absolute preventative. Let’s forget style and stop this epidemic,” said New York Health Commissioner Royal S. Copeland, in the Oct. 16, 1918 edition of WWD.

This, to the fashion space, beams a touch of the old ways paving the path for our future as even Truth Over Trend once stated, “the way forward is at best, backward”.

Deploying movement restrictions and travel bans across the globe seems like a fit to cut off the virus’s spread. But, it has also hampered industries and progressive economical activities, including the fashion world. The pro to this is that it caused a massive outpouring of creativity and innovation wherein the industry as a whole begins to deploy virtual measures of advertising, marketing, and sales even beyond what was obtainable in the last decade. Fashion shows are being hosted online, interpersonal brand experiences with clients are mostly virtual, and even purchase of merchandise via the internet becomes the new normal wherein the market continues to survive as the world shakes off the dreaded virus.

Thus, taking a look at the African fashion scenery, the continent as we know it is a vivid contributor to the fashion history and space the world is concerned for, as she utilises the recourse availed her as an insufficient region to compete with the developed parts of the world. The pandemic also affected her as a lot of manufacturing plants, stores, outlets were forced to close and events cancelled (as it was with other parts of the world), but so did it avail her a new horizon to create at beneficial terms and swiftly as opposed to what the Fashion Capitals are capable of.

The industry, especially in Africa is capable of thriving by deploying flexible work ethics that caters for the essentials as opposed to excessive and (on the long run) creating a common base of well chain-linked networks that provides a means of collaboration (resource pull), specialisation and adequate deployment of the limited resources at hand.The future of African Fashion is highly dependent and tailored towards collaborations and incorporation of digitally inclined strategies for her to go beyond the status quo.

Anita Ukah

“It has been said that Africa is the future of fashion and that is undeniably true. From Nigerian craftsmen making exotic designs to designers and their awe-inspiring pieces. It is amazing how much work and heart put into the production of pieces.

“We have a lot to offer: our rich textiles; colourful fabrics and leather, all these can compete with the global markets especially when it comes to the finishing of most Nigerian products.

“We have a lot of culture and heritage, and we keep these alive by representation and presentation.Telling our stories and expressing who we are through fashion is imperative cause that’s one of the ways to keep our identity alive. Most international brands use African prints and even just rebrand what we have and market. 

Anita Ukah

“You are the best person to tell your story, you don’t sit and let someone else do it, milk you for it and then complain. Although, using African culture and heritage cannot be everyone’s style but finding ways to incorporate or identify with it is important because that’s a way to keep it alive.

“As of today many Nigerian works are being recognised abroad, as well there is a demand for them.

“Regarding how we have been able to remain sustainable as a leather bag brand despite such harsh times, t he cost of leather in Nigeria are generally fair which made top international brands often import leather from Nigeria, and I don’t think they would import from Nigeria if it were considered expensive. This enables us to source all our working materials locally, so getting materials wasn’t an issue at first. But then, there was the scare of going out and contacting the COVID-19 virus as we work with craftsmen, this also meant coming in contact with people and everyone being at risk. The situation then gradually went from that to the lockdown. People were rarely going out and didn’t quite see the need to purchase fashion pieces and even if they did want to make a purchase, there was the issue of delivery.

Anita Ukah

“However, knowing what I want for my brand (Uzoleatheratelier)  keeps me and the enterprise going. We are working towards having a brand of locally made goods that cater to variety of people within the socio-economical pyramid. My craftsmanship is really important to me as i consider one of the most important things in a product is it’s finishing. My pieces are finely crafted and high quality is always attained, this applies to the leather and all other materials used as well.

“Meanwhile, most Nigerian fashion brands import fabrics and other materials, so with closure of borders, manufacturing has definitely been challenging and also with events and celebrations being brought to a halt or minimum, this drastically reduces the demand for most fashion items as people have fewer places to be and therefore do not purchase clothing like before the pandemic. But, as the situation has been, most fashion brands have ventured into production of protective face mask and even incorporated fashion pieces like beads, sequins etc into making them. Profits made from production of face mask would (I think) not be comparable to that made from other fashion pieces prior to the pandemic.

“But, at least a new niche was carved and at the end of the day, little profits are better than no profits at all. The lockdown has been eased and business for me is gradually picking up. Business is not what it used to be but that’s why it’s important to think of new ways to move ahead.

Anita Ukah

“Also, accessibility of textiles for production of items by local brands may present its own challenges, as finding particular type of fabrics over time is not assured due to the fact that they are mostly imported into the country. 

“So, tackling the issue would involve local production of textiles and materials and this is not common as running and maintaining such an establishment would come at a great cost.” 

“However, E-commerce businesses are actually best in times like this as business still goes on whilst keeping safe. Regarding online stores and Social media, there’s a higher tendency of reaching a wider range of customers coupled with a high consumer base for almost anything on social media, thereby making business activities via E-commerce platforms certainly advised in times like this,” Uzoleatheratelier, Founder and Creative Director, Anita Ukah explains during an exclusive interview with theparakeetshow.com 

Anita Ukah

Meanwhile, we would be turning a blind eye if we do not recognise that there are prominent limitations such as, scarcity of quality affordable fabrics, drop in sales of clothing items and fashion merchandise, order cancellations, inability to gather; amongst many others. All of these affect segments of the fashion industry, majorly Fashion Designing, Modelling, Photography, and slightly Fashion Publications. But, if the African Fashion industry pulls resources together to enable a joint and much solid impact in the global market, such would sporadically influence the positioning of Africa as a 1st or 2nd World Fashion Capital. Owing to this, truly some parts of Africa would benefit more while others less, but this would be based on principles of offer and acceptance where what is offered meets the global needs and demands of fashion savvies.

Anita Ukah

Creative Team:

Words by: Tiwalade Keazor

Creative Direction & Styling: The Parakeet Studios

Costumes by: @shuga_clothings @fitsbywunmi @dmc_luxury_

Bags: @uzoleatheratelier

Muse: Anita Ukah

Makeup Artist: @splendourmakeovers

Photographed by: Ope Kareem

 

 

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