Africa’s fashion industry must embrace technology to increase digital economy

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AFRICA’S fashion industry must embrace technology in order to thrive in an increasingly global digital economy.

The call came on  November 13 during the African Development Bank’s Fashionomics Africa webinar, which drew leaders from Parsons School of Design in New York and Google Africa, as well as African fashion brands Tokyo James, KISUA and IAMISIGO. This latest edition of Fashionomics Africa’s webinar series themed, Technology at the heart of tomorrow’s fashion, discussed the promising alliance between fashion and technology.

‘Embracing technology is the key to unlocking the potential of Africa’s fashion industry in a digital economy. Going digital, for African fashion entrepreneurs, is not anymore an option – but is a must,’ said Emanuela Gregorio, Fashionomics Africa coordinator at the Bank.

The onset of Covid-19 prompted innovations and tech-savvy solutions to develop a sustainable fashion industry on the continent amid lockdown restrictions. The solutions include artificial intelligence and e-business, both the focus of discussions during the third webinar organised by Fashionomics Africa.

Brendan McCarthy, co-director of the undergraduate fashion design programme at the Parsons School of Design, told webinar attendees how vital education was for the sector. He said the Fashionomics Africa platform was helping to develop collaborative strategies to educate the entrepreneurs of tomorrow.

Mojolaoluwa Aderemi-Makinde, head of the brand and reputation at Google, sub-Saharan Africa, said: ‘Fashion entrepreneurs need to focus on what they do best while we are creating the tools and supporting them to navigate online and grow their businesses.’

Aderemi-Makinde said Google was developing a partnership with the Bank through the Fashionomics Africa Masterclasses to support fashion entrepreneurs in boosting their businesses by using digital tools.

Attendees at the virtual session also discussed how the future of Africa’s workforce lies in the rise of the fourth industrial revolution, the unfolding digitization of the global economy. The panellists said new skills in digitisation, biotechnology, artificial intelligence, and robotics will be needed in all industries, including fashion.

‘The way we experience fashion is going to change in the next ten years,’ said Samuel Mensah, founder and creative director of KISUA, the South Africa-based fashion brand. ‘Technology will know your exact dimensions. Technology will advise on your choices. The shopping experience…is going to become very personal,’ he added.

If designers fail to embrace technology, they won’t be able to compete, said British-Nigerian designer Tokyo James: ‘Technologies are here to amplify our voices. As fashion entrepreneurs, we create crazy stuff and use technology to push it to a wider audience. If you’re not in the world of technology, you will be left behind.’

Launched in 2015, Fashionomics Africa promotes investment in the textile and fashion sector by leveraging data, information and communication technologies as drivers of development. It aims to increase entrepreneurs’ access to finance while nurturing the business skills and digital tools for start-ups as well as micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs).

The Fashionomics Africa online marketplace and mobile app, supported by the Fund for African Private Sector Assistance, enables African fashion and textile entrepreneurs to create and grow their businesses. It is the first pan-African business-to-business and business-to-consumer digital marketplace dedicated to textile, apparel and accessories MSMEs, a collaboration with DHL as logistics partner to reduce transportation costs.

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