Editorial | Investors would be wise to watch African designer brands

LUSAKA from Zambia – The African continent has seen substantial growth in its fashion industry over the past decade, overcoming challenges such as inadequate physical infrastructure with the arrival of digital marketing and retail platforms such as Kisua , Onychek and Zuvaa. These online players enable African fashion brands to reach their growing regional and global customer base faster and more efficiently.

Meanwhile, African fashion companies are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their skills, teams and media campaigns, gaining global recognition along the way. Adebayo Oke-Lawal, the Nigerian designer of Orange Culture was a semi-finalist of the very first LVMH Prize and let’s not forget Lisa Folawiyo, as well as Bridget Awosika and Kelechi Odu, among others in Nigeria, who all have a point of view, loyal following and global appeal, according to Lagos-based fashion writer Mazzi Odu.

Global fashion and luxury conglomerates have a large number of criteria that determine what constitutes a good investment. A quantitative (financial) assessment of investment objectives is often not available for public scrutiny, as most African brands are not publicly traded companies. On the other side of the coin, however, there are the qualitative criteria. One universal aspect that investors consider is whether a brand has a design aesthetic with a unique selling point that also resonates globally with the potential for significant growth. Ultimately, it must have sufficient growth potential to provide investors with a significant return on their investment.

The growth of brands such as David Tlale and Taibo Bacar demonstrates such potential with a unique handcrafted heritage – in the form of handmade traditions, African-inspired embroidery and tailoring. This remains at the heart of African design, aspects that are the building blocks of luxury brands around the world. This means that what the African market needs is an investment in quality, in the development of African sewing skills. And it is the craft skills that will make African fashion stand out in the global market.

Emilie Gambade, brand director of the Associated Media Publishing group in Cape Town, whose portfolio includes the South African editions of Marie Claire and Cosmopolitan, seems to agree.

African fashion companies are increasingly sophisticated in their skills, teams and media campaigns.

“[Africa has] an incredible wealth of expertise and know-how, designer brands that have a strong and unique aesthetic signature – from Laduma [Ngxokolo of MaXhosa] to Thebe Magugu, Maki Oh, Rich Mnisi, Lukhanyo Mdingi to Loza Maleombho [now exhibiting at the Museum of Modern Arts] that international luxury holdings could support and work with. These and “so much [other] young designers from the continent work directly with local artisans.

These include Cape-based knitwear brand Nicholas Coutts, Brother Vellies with handmade shoes in South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya and Morocco, and Lightfoot Zambia, with fine leather accessories.

While the creators listed above are all at very different stages in the development and distribution of their brand, a few could one day reach a scale where they attract an investment vehicle like L Catterton, a private equity fund. formed by LVMH and Groupe Arnault, which made an investment in an Argentinian women’s clothing brand, Rapsodia. The fund’s Asian unit also recently invested in South Korean fashion eyewear brand Gentle Monster.

The brands targeted by L Catterton are not pure luxury, but position themselves as premium design in their respective markets, and have a proven track record in meeting investment criteria – a distinguished brand identity , a superior management team, a large and loyal clientele. Critically, it is important to note that these global investments were made through the regional unit of a conglomerate with specialized expertise in the regional market.

Could this be an appropriate global investment approach for Africa, in which contemporary African fashion brands are stimulated by developing them first in the region and then further afield? If some of Africa’s most talented designers decide to expand into the high-end segment or move from pure luxury to the contemporary market, then I certainly think it’s a possibility – and an attractive opportunity for the right investor.

The opinions expressed in op-eds are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of The Business of Fashion.

Before being named one of Fashion’s Future VOICES, I made a promise to myself that I would be better informed about the fashion industry, especially working in the field in Zambia. Being one of the VOICES, and having the platform to write about a subject that I am passionate about, strikes me as a vital step towards fulfilling that promise. Special thanks to my editorial mentors, Robb Young and Robin Mellery-Pratt, whose invaluable advice allowed me to explore and critically reflect on what it will take to have a brand backed by a conglomerate on the continent. . My personal highlight throughout the writing process would be a change of perspective not only on the fashion industry in Africa, but also on my place in it. As such, creating a platform for Future VOICES is a great opportunity for us to question what we think is possible and what the industry thinks it can do.

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