Why African Brands Are On The Global Forefront Of Sustainability
Sustainable fashion has become an eminently debated topic worldwide. Young consumers are the new advocates for this important movement that is bringing awareness to a more eco-friendly planet. Clothing companies are transforming their business models and improving their supply chain to reduce impact of environmental detriment, while developing a system towards greater ecological integrity and social justice.
Africa’s fashion industry, with its current growth and thrive, still remains a sustainable and ethical operation compared to its global affiliates and/or competitors. This is due to the value system in most parts of the continent, where waste is managed efficiently and their focus caters to the welfare of many. Hence, several creatives and brands with deep roots in Africa naturally find traces of these practices manifesting in their work.
With local operations at a smaller capacity, many of the local bespoke and luxury brands are still able to produce quality goods, that international buyers are constantly seeking, to facilitate the demands of their consumers.
Examples of African fashion brands that successfully portray ethical and sustainable practices:
1. Wanger Ayu
This is a womenswear fashion brand made for the contemporary African woman. Founded by a lawyer named Wanger Ayu, all the brand’s pieces are made in Nigeria by artisans. The pieces maintain much of Ayu’s signature style with structure and femininity while going bolder with statement pieces that push the fashion edge.
2. Lisa Folawiyo
This brand is owned by another lawyer, Lisa Folawiyo; famous for being one of the first African designers to take the African Ankara prints mainstream. She utilizes traditional locally-sourced West African fabrics and textiles for world class designs. This brand was selected by the Ethical Fashion Initiative as one of the African designers it would work with and support in strengthening their ethical ethos.
Trebene is a responsible fashion brand that designs, prints and hand-weaves luxury cashmere scarves in Kashmir. Launched in 2015 by a South African socially conscious entrepreneur, Bushera Bashir, the label combines the rich heritage of the luxurious textile with modern designs. It also ensures that every stage of the production process involves fair wages and safe working conditions for employees while contributing a portion of their profits towards quality education of their weaver’s children.
4. Studio 189
Studio 189 is an artisan produced fashion lifestyle brand and social enterprise co-founded by renowned actress Rosario Dawson and Abrima Erwiah. It has recently won the prestigious CFDA Lexus Fashion Initiative for Sustainability. The brand is made in Africa and produces African and African-inspired content and clothing. Currently, it operates stores in New York and Accra (Ghana), an e-commerce site, a manufacturing facility in Accra, and supports various community led projects in Africa and in the USA. Studio 189 works with artisanal communities that specialize in various traditional craftsmanship techniques and focuses on empowerment, creating jobs and supporting education and skills training. The label has partnered with organizations such as the United Nations ITC Ethical Fashion Initiative, NYU Stern School of Business.
(Source: https://www.whitewall.art/lifestyle/ by Gilles Bensimon)
Ethiopian model-turned-designer Liya Kebede founded this ethical African fashion brand as a way to preserve the centuries-old weaving techniques of her native country, Ethiopia, whilst simultaneously creating jobs for local artisans. The label handcrafts its resort wear from locally sourced, non-GMO cotton that’s detailed with vibrant embroidery. It is currently in many global boutiques and well known e-commerce platforms.
The ability for these brands to maintain their sustainability is due to the limited production of custom-made goods and selling them to a handful of boutiques. However, their inclination of preserving craftsmanship and accessing locally sourced materials and facilities restricts their scale due to limited and beneficial resources such as power and connectivity, which hinders their delivery time. Nevertheless, these challenges encourage the labels to create a direct-to-consumer model while building their own narrative, and slowly teaching retailers to pivot the traditional wholesale system and cater to the “Made In Africa” anecdote.
The face of fashion is already changing, and the story of Africa is making leads globally. African brands aren’t expected to compete against big retailers, however, they are influencing the way consumers shop. As small retailers, they have already made a profound impact on the industry by bringing positive changes to the future of the world. Consumer habits of fast-fashion consumption is slowly being replaced by more conscious choices, making room for a less fickle and a more endured taste for quality.