ABUJA, Nigeria — Africa’s fashion industry is rapidly growing to meet local and international demands but a lack of adequate investment still limits its full potential, UNESCO said Thursday in its new report released at this year’s Lagos Fashion Week show.
Currently valued at $15.5 billion worth of exports annually, the earnings from the continent’s fashion industry could triple over a decade with the right investment and infrastructure, according to UNESCO Director-General Audrey Azoulay, who launched the organization’s first report on fashion in Africa in Nigeria’s economic hub of Lagos.
With a young population of 1.3 billion people set to double by 2050, the continent’s fashion industry has also proven to be both “a powerful lever for the promotion of cultural diversity (and) also a way to empower young people and women,” said Azoulay.
Across the continent, fashion continues to grow on various fronts – including in movies and films – in the form of textiles, garments as well as accessories and fine crafts, all with a long history of prestige and symbolic of the African culture.
The demand for African fashion brands is also spurred by the growth in e-commerce, the UNESCO report noted. Africa leads mobile device web traffic in the world, according to the U.S. International Trade Administration. That has opened more market opportunities such that across Nigeria, for instance, young people on social media are steadily opening fashion brands.
“Africans want to wear Africa. It’s really beautiful to see because it hasn’t always been like this,” said Omoyemi Akerele, who founded the Lagos Fashion Week in 2011 to encourage the patronage of Nigerian and African fashion. “But fast forward, a decade after, that’s all people want to wear.”
Featuring a mix of designers from across the continent, the annual fashion show celebrates — and provides a market for — local brands mostly highlighting African culture and crafts in various colours and styles.