Known by Kenyans for its multi-billion infrastructure projects such as roads, the African Development Bank (AfDB) is now targeting Kenya’s fashion entrepreneurs.
The initiative is in line with the Bank’s Jobs for Youth in Africa strategy, which aims at creating 25 million jobs for youth on the continent as well as equipping an additional 50 million in the next decade.
Having launched an initiative to assist fashion entrepreneurs in South Africa and Nigeria and Kenya AfDB is targeting to improve skills, financing, supply chain, access to markets and many other challenges.
In his opening remarks, Gabriel Negatu, the Bank’s Regional Director for East Africa, said despite the industry’s tremendous potential to contribute to Africa’s economy, “it was under-developed.” He reiterated AfDB’s commitment to advance the industry. “The Bank wants to bring it (the industry) forward and create an African platform for its effective operation,” he said.
With its deep pockets, the African bank is expected to have a tremendous impact on the industry in which most of the materials are imported and the entrepreneurs themselves are left to seek markets and build their own capacity. There has been a rapid growth in fashion designers across the country but without supporting infrastructures such as manufacturing, cotton production and marketing.
The sector’s challenges in Africa are many: problems with skills, financing that is difficult to obtain, expensive real estate, lack of value added, supplier locations, competitiveness, administrative burdens, insufficient infrastructure and production capacity, access to markets, marketing, online payment issues in a region where banks are scarce, and so on.
The banks seeks to empower African countries to produce local fabric en mass in order to boost the fashion and textile industry. “As long as we have to keep importing fabric we will continue being at a disadvantage; when we import, we have to sell products at a higher cost. The AfDB should come in and back large scale investment where designers can easily get local fabric,” said Wandia Gichuru, a Kenyan fashion entrepreneur.
During the meeting in Kenya, Fashionomics was lauded as one that would boost local designers especially in countries like Kenya where second-hand clothing was hurting the local textile industry. “Kenya has amazing talent, but the industry poses challenges to designers trying to retail. Again, confidence in local brands is shaky; designers have to fight the second-hand apparel industry. Only a few designers have established stores where their brands can be purchased,” noted Diana Opoti, a fashion expert.
With a potential of to be worth US $15.5 billion in five years according to statistics, the industry faces major challenges including: lack of capital, skills, high transport costs to ship raw materials, high operational cost, loss of intellectual property and lack of government support among others.