Fashion meets tech: A necessary dialogue
The Nigerian fashion industry, as with most industries within the country, is a tricky one to understand. There are so many layers involved, all working in tandem, that make it what it is today. Still in its infancy, there is no doubt that there is much to learn and also more hurdles to overcome to ensure that all aspects of the industry can rival the long established international standards that have become the norm.
On Saturday 19th November, I attended an intimate gathering of fashion entrepreneurs and personalities to discuss the significance of fashion and tech synergy in modern Nigeria. The event, which was put together by Ingressive, proved to be quite educational and highlighted a lot of issues that have always been there, but had been seldom discussed.
Ingressive is a multinational investment group that aims to connect African businesses with international investment and capital mostly from Silicon Valley in America. The group’s aim is to bridge the gap between investors and tech startups. The Fashion Exhibition on Saturday was put together to highlight how technology influences the fashion industry from manufacturing to design. The guest list was quite intimate with a handful of Nigerian designers like Adebayo Oke-Lawal from Orange Culture, Ayo Van Elmar and Tokyo James in attendance as well as influential media personalities and a few investors.
The moderator, Bili Sule, who is the Head of New Business Development at Jumia, one of Nigeria’s leading online retail platforms, kicked off the discussion with a simple question: “What are the challenges that Nigerian fashion designers face that hinder production?” The responses were different but all had the same underlying theme. Most of the responses stemmed from the fact that there is no adequate infrastructure to support production methods within our country. Designers need to mass-produce quality pieces for retail and face quite a number of challenges in Nigeria in the process. The infrastructure in this instance is not limited to only environmental factors and machinery, but from the very foundation of the society.
It was agreed that part of the reason why mass-production is a difficult feat to accomplish is because it is quite difficult to educate the staff that are responsible for bringing designer’s ideas to life. There is a general lack of education amongst most blue-collar workers and this greatly affects quality control measures. The designers explained that to maintain quality control, pieces could only be monitored if produced in very limited quantities.
Ms. Sule , through her access to market analytics, explained that within the industry, there is a significant gap that needs to be filled. She explained that currently, there is a 90,000-consumer demand for shoes that has to be tapped into. There is no question that there is a lot to be tapped into within the fashion industry and the country still has a long way to go to adequately cater to the large demand gap. It should be noted that not all designers are looking to mass-produce and sell ready-to wear pieces. Brand positioning should also be taken into consideration when discussing production within Nigeria.
There is a select crop of designers who target a niche market within the country and as a result may not necessarily need large factories to replicate their intricate pieces.
However, by and large, most designers looking to generate revenue and profit from their businesses are seeking ways to mass-produce to achieve economies of scale and cater to the demand not only in Nigeria, but also around the world. In order to achieve such facilities, the general conclusion was that there would need to be government involvement and investment in the fashion industry.
Government investment has long been discussed as the answer to most of the production woes faced by our designers and it has been assumed that there is next to no involvement from our government in nurturing or providing adequate infrastructure for the industry. While this is true to a large extent, it should be noted that there has been some involvement on the government’s part in the fashion industry. It was announced earlier this year that the NEPC (Nigerian Export Promotion Council) engaged Style House files, one of the country’s leading fashion consultancies, to manage its Human Capital Development Centre.
The facility, which is located in Apapa, Lagos, aims at improving garment making skills in Nigeria and is supported by the NEPC as a viable sector to promote non-oil exports; according to the Style House Files website. While more involvement in terms of capital investment would also be required, the NEPC’s initiative makes it apparent that the government is on the right track and at the very least sees the growth potential and possibilities of the fashion industry.
Lastly, it was discussed that while there is a lot of interest in investing in Nigerian businesses, a huge determent to actualization has been that most foreign investors don’t quite have a firm grasp of the dynamic consumer behavior in Nigeria. The dialogue was certainly needed and opened a lot of eyes to the amount of work that the country still has to do to measure up and compete on an international level while also becoming a viable source of revenue for our country. The fusion of fashion and technology should be given more attention, as it is the best way to highlight the part of the industry that needs to be focused on.