‘Goverment needs to actively support the fashion industry’
The 2016 Heineken Lagos Fashion and Design Week was four days of showcasing Africa’s best to the world, and thousands of visitors were present to witness some of the best the industry has to offer. Omoyemi Akerele is the Executive Director and Founder of the LFDW as well as the founder and artistic director of Style House Files. Style House has created other programs like Fashion Focus, Fashion Business Series and X Retail to further strengthen Nigeria’s gradually emerging fashion sector. In this interview with TOBI AWODIPE, she talks about the just concluded fashion week, challenges confronting the industry as well as its potentials and ways the nation could benefit immensely from the fashion industry.
The Lagos Fashion and Design Week has come to an end. What did you hope attendees gained? How do you think it improved African Fashion in general and Nigerian fashion in particular?
We hope we’ve been able to reiterate one of our fundamental beliefs at Style House Files that fashion can be a key driver of economic growth, opening doors for micro industries such as retail, wholesale, manufacturing, merchandizing, design and more to thrive. This will help move the conversation beyond fashion to a deeper focus on how to add value to the industry. For LFDW as a platform, our initiatives provide knowledge acquisition, skills development, access to market, access to funding and showcasing talents to a networked global audience. The LFDW platform has created and continues to create diverse opportunities for positioning fashion to contribute significantly to Africa and Nigeria’s new creative economy.
It is no secret that the industry is brimming with lots of potential in terms of income generation and creating employment for our teeming youth. How can the country tap into and effectively maximise this?
I believe Nigeria can tap into and effectively maximize the said potential by supporting the need for an affordable and sustainable industry that allows designers and fashion entrepreneurs to produce locally at affordable prices for profit, while simultaneously encouraging citizens to be involved by buying items produced in Nigeria, while keeping production conditions favourable.
According to the Africa Development Bank (AfDB), Nigeria is not listed among the top 10 Apparel Exporting African nations. Why is this so and what can be done to change this statistic?
The discovery of oil in the late 50’s presented the country with the opportunity to build a vast amount of wealth that could have elevated millions out of poverty, but sadly, this happened to the detriment of other industries such as Agriculture, Textiles, Manufacturing and so on. Our nation quickly became a mono-economy, and now it is seeking ways to turn things around.
This statistic can only be changed if there’s a conscious decision on the part of the Nigerian Government to actively support the industry in several areas.
What are some of the challenges confronting the industry, preventing it from achieving its full potential?
The industry is facing too many challenges – Infrastructure, funding, distribution, logistics, textiles, protective policies, capacity building and skills development, just to name a few.
Agriculture, influx of imported textiles, unstable electricity, lack of adequately trained manpower and a retail environment that can support the industry’s growth are some of the other problems the sector faces.
The Nigerian textile industry is almost comatose now, affecting fabric sourcing. In your opinion, what do you think the government should do?
I believe that reviving the Nigerian textile industry has been foremost on the government’s agenda for a while. Funding has been made available for the sector but the problem obviously goes beyond funding.
I mentioned some of the problems confronting the industry above; the government cannot attempt to solve the textile problem in isolation of the other challenges faced by the value chain in entirety.
Why does the industry not yet have a well-defined mass production market with ready-to-wear, affordable and quality pieces from known or upcoming designers?
This already exists but for scalability that can make the desired and necessary impact, the brand owners need funding. Brands like Eve and Tribe, Ada by AlterEgo, Karen Ubani are already in the ready-to-wear market with affordable pieces that are of good quality.
At one of the business series during the LFDW, it was revealed that leather exported to Italy is sold at about 30 Dollars whereas the finished shoe is sold back to us again at hundreds of dollars. What steps can be taken to correct this anomaly and channel our resources appropriately?
I believe the easiest way out of this is to reduce the exportation of raw materials and focus on the exportation of finished goods that have more value and can generate the much needed foreign exchange that the Nigerian economy needs. Until we are able to do this, the situation is not going to change.