This costs how much? Why?
Over the past five years, the fashion industry in Nigeria has seen significant growth. Every year, more designers appear on the scene, and the existing ones reach new career heights by expanding their reach and upholding their aesthetic to a more globally recognizable standard. As with any industry still in exponential growth infancy stage , there are many hurdles to overcome. One of these hurdles is the controversial price-point of the available fashion within the country.
I recently had a chat with a few college students about Nigerian fashion brands and the ones they liked. The responses I heard were quite bleak. I heard different things from “ I love ‘so-and-so’ brand but of course I cant afford it” to “ How can I like a Nigerian brand that doesn’t like me?” . The latter question really got me thinking. What does that mean? Why would this college student think that Nigerian brands don’t like him? When I asked him to elaborate, it started making a bit more sense.
He felt that the brands didn’t like him because they were priced higher than anything he could afford at that point, yet the aesthetic of the brand chose him as a target market. As a result he felt personally victimized. The only visual I can use to explain this is a mousetrap. The more I thought about it, the more I admitted to myself that it wasn’t exactly news to me that there has always been a general debate about the justifiability of the prices of some fashion brands in the country. I mean, I’m sure you’ve heard a conversation go like this:
A: How much does this cost?
B: Oh , it costs ‘x’ Naira”
A: “ Ehn?! For what?! This piece of fabric?!
While this hypothetical conversation is not exactly surprising, it should be noted that most of the time, when these exclamations are made, it is usually in reference to a really high-end globally revered brand or for a very niche haute couture piece. In this case, in Nigeria, the dialogue is usually in reference to a simple article of clothing from a self proclaimed ready-to-wear brand.
It is clear that there needs to be a dialogue about the cost of fashion and the real value of the finished product in Nigeria. We cannot deny that there are a lot of brands out here that charge exorbitant prices for articles of clothing that are pretty standard, I have a couple of theories as to why these high prices came about in the first place.
The first theory addresses the reason behind why some brands are seemingly overpriced from a production angle. Any business owner has encountered, at some point, a serious capital/cash flow challenges in their business. In Nigeria these challenges are more unique because they arise as a result of the lack of efficient infrastructure that should cater to production needs. For example, the electricity inconsistency leads to more capital being spent on diesel for generators, which in turn increases, the cost of production. The extra-incurred costs have to be recouped and as a result, the cost gets transferred to the consumer.
Another theory is more holistically economic. By now it should come as no surprise that our income per capita in Nigeria is quite low. The youth, whom are more likely to patronize Nigerian fashion brands, are severely underpaid. After monthly obligations and other expenses, the leftover disposable income is usually not enough to cater to their fashion needs; not at the current high prices at least. In turn, they end up not spending. Again, the loss in clientele coupled with production costs, lead designers to hike up prices of their clothes to mitigate the opportunity cost.
To take it a step further, it should be noted that in addition to low wages, in 2016, there has also been a significant drop in the purchasing power parity of our currency. The value of the naira has gone down, inflation is up and salaries are pretty much still the same. It should come as no surprise that the already unavailable disposable income is even more so neutralized and therefore less people are buying. This domino effect cause prices to increase as the books have to balance.
My last theory involves brand strategy and placement. As I mentioned before, the Nigerian fashion industry is still in its infancy. There is a lot to learn and brands are constantly tweaking strategy, trying to make their business more viable and sustainable. Most of the high prices of certain brands come from a place of mistaken brand identity. The trend at the beginning of the fashion boom was that there were a lot of designers that wanted to be known as high-end, couture brands. Some even named their brands accordingly.
With time, what we, and I’m sure they, found was that their brand aesthetic was not in fact couture, but instead ready-to-wear. Couture is less about slapping an exorbitant price tag on a piece of fabric and more about the craftsmanship that goes into creating something unique. If we are to use that definition of couture as a yardstick, it should come as no surprise that many of the brands were in fact, not anywhere close to being ‘couture’. As a result, we ended up having a lot of read-to wear-brands charging couture prices. To be completely diplomatic, there are definitely some couture designers in Nigeria with justifiable price tags, but at the most, majority of the fashion brands are high street to mid level with price tags that don’t match.
So what can be done to find a middle ground? How can designers charge responsibly so that the consumers can justify their spending? It seems that solutions are already underway. A number of Nigerian brands have now released diffusion lines off their labels. The diffusion lines are more price-friendly and also serve the same aesthetic as its high-end parent brand. In turn, the diffusion lines serve as cash-cows for the parent brands and helps cover production costs, which in turn keeps the prices steady for a time.
There is also an emergence of legitimate ready-to-wear brands that charge reasonable prices for clothing and leather goods. Brands like 87 Origins, which have a price-cap of NGN 12,000 on their entire collection, and still possesses the quality and standard of foreign ready-to-wear- counterparts like Zara and H&M, are certainly becoming more attractive to consumers. This is because spending modest disposable incomes can be justified and maximized by patronizing such fiscally responsible brands. Furthermore, because of the increase in the price of imports as a result of the rising rates of the dollar and pound, less people are ordering things form sites like asos and are spending more on Nigerian brands which in turn is helping the businesses produce more effectively and keep the prices steady
As I mentioned, my theories are what they are; purely theories. But there is validity to my claims. Whatever the case may be, it is clear that the Nigerian fashion brands are as resilient as the people behind them. These brands adapt to external stimuli in the same way any living, breathing, organism of a business should; with calculated moves and the underlying goal of self-preservation. What is admirable is that a move towards change can be put in motion by a simple question: “ This costs how much?! Why?!”.