Bridging The Gap Between Fashion And Sustainability In Africa


Bridging The Gap Between Fashion And Sustainability In Africa

The term "sustainability" is a buzzword in fashion that can mean the use of clothing materials that are ecologically friendly, recyclable, and socially acceptable.

By Iverson Akhigbe

August 07, 2022

Africa's fashion industry is constantly evolving. The industry which previously consisted primarily of the effects of western influence has progressed to become an industry where a brand new generation of local designers are shifting to the main priority. In this context, the main priority has always been the sustainability of fashion, and this can only be achieved through Africa's traditional sustainable fashion practices. The term "sustainability" is a buzzword in fashion that can mean the use of clothing materials that are ecologically friendly, recyclable, and socially acceptable.

For several years, small and large fashion brands in Africa have struggled with the sustainability of fashion movement. This is because the importation of clothing materials comes from China, and usually, these clothing materials are manufactured with environmentally harmful chemicals. Of course, there are textile industries that have infiltrated the African fashion market in various built-up cities in the continent, so not everyone has to import from China. Some fashion brands in Africa have also taken it upon themselves to source for local and home-grown eco-friendly options like mohair and merino wool, in a bid to ditch the polluting materials.

According to the UNEP’s report, the fashion industry produces 20 percent of global wastewater, and 10 percent of global carbon emission, which is more than all marine shipping and international flights. Additionally, toxic dyes and micro-plastics from textile industries are major ocean polluters. These are major indications that the global fashion industry has been harming the planet for a very long time. With recent media coverage and with the development of organizations tirelessly fighting for the sustainability of fashion, knowledge about the issue is being engraved into our minds. Now, fashion designers and fashion consumers are gradually comprehending the impact that certain fashion choices have on the ecosystem, and why the sustainability of fashion movement is important.

In April of last year, the Lagos Fashion Week returned for the fourth consecutive Season One showcase which provides an opportunity for a deeper exploration of concepts and themes from the usual October showcase. The digital showcase was titled 'Woven Threads,' and it was inspired by traditional crafts and the need to adopt a more responsible approach to producing fashion in Africa. The three-week presentation highlighted the brilliant works of ten selected African designers. Photo slides, live sessions, and workshops were all organized under the supervision of Omoyemi Akerele, founder of the Lagos Fashion Week. Akerele’s goal was to explore distinct textile workmanship with the use of embroidery, weaving, spinning, and customization, as a way to further promote the sustainability of fashion and clothing production in Africa. Fresh developments and opportunities like these are giving rise to the existence of so many ethical fashion brands across the continent.

One ethical fashion brand that creates a cross-cultural dialogue through fashion is the Senegalese-produced women's wear label, Tongoro. After the label was propelled to fashion-fame by Beyoncé, so many other ethical fashion brands in Africa have been positioned for international influencer marketing. Influencer marketing is a form of social media marketing involving endorsements and product placements from influencers, people, and organizations who have a purported expert level of knowledge or social influence in their field. With the rising demand for "Made in Africa", sustainable fashion brands are enjoying the benefits that come with international promotion. Having these sustainable fashion designs featured in international magazines like Vogue, Forbes, and Elle, doors are being opened for the conversation that surrounds sustainability in fashion.

In Africa's fashion market, secondhand clothing sales are booming, and this might be a potential solution to solve fashion's sustainability crisis. According to statistics, more than 80% of people living in Africa wear secondhand clothing. Specifically, in countries like Nigeria, Benin, Ghana, and Kenya, the secondhand clothing business is growing fast, and it's quite a lucrative business to venture into. Secondhand clothes come to Africa from all around the world, and if that didn't happen, these clothes would go to landfills and be discarded. The secondhand clothing market can be categorized into two; thrift stores and resale platforms. Although, the recent boom has largely been fueled by thrift stores. In a world full of fashion trends, smart shoppers are making their choice sustainable by shopping for secondhand clothes and accessories, hence, helping to solve fashion's sustainability crisis.

Last year, the secondhand clothing market was worth a staggering value of $32 billion. This value is set to reach $51 billion by the end of 2023. While secondhand clothing may be perceived as worn out and tainted, some fashion consumers still consider them to having super quality over unworn clothes.

One thing we all must realize is that the sustainability in fashion movement is not a trend. You know how we call anything 'urgent' in fashion a trend, when it comes to sustainability, it's not. Over the last 30 years, we have been hard-wired to a life of fast fashion, a life of hyper-consumerism, mass production, and life that causes damage to the environment. This has to change because eventually, it is a matter of survival and human extinction.

Besides only blaming the fashion industry, we all need to change our buying behaviours as well. Fashion consumers are to a huge extent the victims here. In as much as we are powerful with our money, I strongly feel this is the time for us to say, "No, I won't buy this clothing piece if I don't need it." In times like this, we all need to rediscover long-term relationships to the products we purchase because it is also a solution to the sustainability crisis in the fashion industry. Just like how we talk about gender inequality and women's rights, we all collectively have to raise our voices to amplify sustainable and ecological fashion and beauty in Africa.

In the words of Vanessa Victoria Friedman, Fashion Director and Chief Fashion Critic at The New York Times, “I hope that this subject of sustainability becomes part of every conversation held all the time just buy the buy – like how we talk about the weather. The environment, social, and sustainable aspects of fashion simply becomes a part of every conversation about fashion.”