For women and girls in Africa, closing the gender gap has long seemed an arduous journey. The improvement seen in some nations has frequently been smothered by the stunted progress in others.
But despite the many challenges women face in the fight for equality, there is a big glimmer of hope: The demand for African fashion is ascending – and so are women.
Today, women comprise the majority of those working in the African fashion and textile sector. Not only that, but in Ethiopia and Côte d’Ivoire, 80% of entrepreneurs are women. These numbers outrank the US and the UK in terms of the percentage of entrepreneurs among women, with a rate of 41% for the African country against 10% and 5.7% for the two developed countries respectively. More generally, the industry itself is expanding, due to the Africa-inspired designs seen on international catwalks and the growing interest in Africa’s cultural traditions.
So, who is leading this wave?
Women like Waridi Schrobsdorff, the visionary woman from Kenya who went from international model to the founder of Fashion Africa 254 – a project which invests in designers by helping with their education.
Another very prominent example lies with Lisa Folawiyo – the fashion designer who spearheaded the movement of Nigerian designers achieving international recognition for their work. After ten years of hard work, Lisa transformed her company from a fashion label to a lifestyle brand.
Women are also moving Africa’s fashion industry into new, untouched territories. At the forefront of fashion technology is Honey Ogundeyi, the Nigerian entrepreneur behind Fashpa. Honey developed the first fashion technology company in Nigeria – a platform which now also happens to be one of Africa’s leading online fashion stores.
But why is this happening now? Many initiatives and banks - including the African Development Bank (AfDB) – are working towards the African Union’s recently adopted Agenda 2063, aiming to unleash the potential of its women and youth to position the continent as a strong and influential global player and partner. In turn, this will leverage Africa’s strong cultural identity and common heritage.
After all, having women in leadership positions benefits everyone.
In January 2017, the Business and Sustainable Development Commission presented its flagship report, "Better Business, Better World". It was found that companies benefit when more women are in corporate decision-making positions – as do society and the environment:
“For example, one study of more than 1,500 global corporations found that compared to companies with less gender-balanced boards, those with more women board members offer more goods and services to communities with limited or no access to financial products.”
Gail Klintworth, Business Transformation Director at the Business and Sustainable Development Commission, deems this as a huge opportunity:
“Women’s leadership is a sort of ‘secret sauce’ that could propel today’s business into a new era – an era that champions a long-term perspective and places profit on equal footing with positive social and environment impacts. If society allowed women to speak their truth more comfortably and to take that space in the business world, amazing things could happen.”
Africa, it seems, is encouraging women to take the first step. A huge step, given that a 2014 Findex report found that only 30% of women in Sub-Saharan Africa had access to a bank account.
With backing from initiatives and international banks, female entrepreneurs will not only be able to fulfil their dreams in the African fashion and textile industry, they will finally become the leaders of tomorrow.
Article by Amber Beardmore // Photo courtesy of Urbanara