From the ‘shack chic’ of Soweto to the bright and bold prints of Nigeria’s Ankara and Lace, fashion design is breaking out in Africa. In this extract from his new book, “Connect with the Continent”, Terry Behan looks at how brands can connect with Afro-chic’s advance.
“The rise of the African fashion industry should come as no surprise. The International Monetary Fund has estimated that Africa will soon have seven of the 10 fastest-growing economies in the world, with the GDP growing to $29-trillion by 2050, from the current $2-trillion. As the old saying goes, “fashion follows money and money follows fashion”.
African fashion and fashion designers have started to come into their own, selling clothes that are both locally designed and produced for African consumers and, in some cases, exporting to the international market.
Both new and established designers from South Africa, Kenya, Senegal, Mali, Ghana, Nigeria, Ethiopia and Swaziland, through institutions like Design Network Africa, are exhibiting at tops shows in London, Dubai and Miami. Their collective talent lies in their ability to be able to connect with their heritage and history, and then reinterpret and refresh it in a truly Afro-centric way.
The economic upswing across the continent has done more than put money into people’s pockets, it has helped to restore cultural confidence and thus helped people to reinterpret their heritage in a progressive and uniquely African way. This is evidenced in the wide variety of talented designers producing thoroughly unique and desirable products, with ranges that are selling out on the continent and further afield.
This revisited confidence is important and should be carefully considered. Not because it is simply happening—economic development and cultural confidence go hand-in-hand—but in how it is happening.
What’s important to see is how people across the length and breadth of the continent are reinterpreting their culture in refreshing ways. In other words, Africans are modernising, but not necessarily westernising. This is imperative because, unless you’re China, you can’t create an export market by copying or licensing other people’s goods. African design is becoming fashionable because it’s genuinely African, and offers the world something they haven’t yet fully experienced.
Brands wishing to position themselves as Afro-centric and contemporary should look to associate with this emerging trend, and should consider collaborating with the some of the many talented designers across the continent.
The trend towards cultural modernisation has particular relevance when communicating brands to a very aspirational target audience, for it is usually these consumers that become the flag bearers for cultural modernisation. The culmination of a renewed appreciation for cultural history and a developed sense of national pride fuelled by outstanding economic growth, have created the necessary conditions for cultural modernisation to flourish.
Brands wishing to emotionally connect with this audience can leverage off this developing Afro-chic aesthetic in the tangible areas of sponsorship, product design and packaging design, but also in the general tonality of messaging and overall communication style.
Thus far we have seen African mega brands such as South African Airways and GTBank use this design aesthetic to flavour their positioning as contemporary and modern.
Giving them first-mover advantage in this space and allowing them to use this Afro-chic design style as a differentiator to leverage their brands. Expect more brands to follow suit.”
Terry Behan hails from Dublin, Ireland and has lived and worked in England, Greece, Germany and South Africa. He is regularly called upon as a spokesperson for the marketing industry and is highly regarded and acknowledged as an expert on the subject of branding. Behan is a former advisory board member of the World Brand Congress, a board member of the Southern Guild Design Foundation of SA, and a member of the Aspen Global Leadership Network. He has worked extensively with many of the world’s best-loved brands and his passions lies with architecting brand experience solutions for clients globally.
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