The textile and clothing industry is the second largest employer after agriculture in the developing world, and a large percentage of this workforce are women. It is labor intensive and offers large employment opportunities, particularly for the youth and women. In some low-income like Ethiopia, with clear institutional support, the industry has created 40,000 jobs and some of the largest global retailers (e.g H&M) are now considering sourcing from Ethiopian factories.
Africa has the fastest-growing and most youthful population in the world. Every year, more than 11 million young Africans, many of which are women, are entering the labor force. Many fashion entrepreneurs and SMEs in Africa cannot grow due to the lack of financial resources, limited access to industrial capabilities, and market constraints. On the other hand, the strong demographic growth of Africa offers incredible opportunities at local and regional scale for African fashion entrepreneurs and firms.
The Fashionomics initiative, launched in 2015 by the AfDB to foster the fashion sector in Africa as a lever to develop jobs, industrialisation, regional integration, entrepreneurship and more equal societies, is fully aligned with the new “High Fives” strategic priorities of the Bank, the Gender Strategy 2014-2018, the Jobs strategy 2016-2025 and other Bank’s efforts. Developing the TA&A sector in SSA could result in creating approx. 400,000 new jobs (up to 2025), if African TA&A exports grow from current levels, around USD 3 billion, up to USD 5 billion.
Launching the Fashionomics online platform is feasible and will help to foster the textile, apparel and accessories (TA&A) sectors in Africa as an important contributor to economic growth and job creation, especially for women and youth. There are successful cases in Africa (e.g. Ethiopia, Lesotho, Mauritius) whose successful development of the TA&A sector can be replicated. Creating an online Fashionomics platform would increase transparency, provide valuable information to stakeholders (contacts, jobs, access to business opportunities, access to financiers and investors…), help to develop skills, increase productivity and generate more business. Being true that an online platform will not fix all the problems of the industry, it truly can contribute to develop the industry, specially as an useful tool to African entrepreneurs and SMEs.
The study focused on two pilot countries (Côte d’Ivoire and Ethiopia), whose textile and apparel sectors, financial landscape and use of technology were analyzed. The study concluded that the Fashionomics platform should be open to all African entrepreneurs and businesses across the textile and apparel value chains in need of developing the skills, hiring specialized talent, gaining access to business opportunities, financial resources; and relevant contacts. The platform must keep a focus on MSMEs, especially on women and youth, with specialized marketing and content addressed to these groups.
Based on the research conducted, the platform would need to cover in a first stage: sector news, training and education, sector organization and information (including financial institutions and investors), communication and showcasing products. The main sources of revenue would be advertising (both selling space to big groups and selling sponsored content like jobs, premium listings, etc), sale of products like courses or templates, and support from DFIs. As in other internet businesses, a multi-revenue strategy needs to be executed. Crowdfunding and e-commerce should be left for subsequent versions the platform given the current low levels of development in SSA. Sustainability is also a key issue to consider when designing the final version of the website. In summary, the platform will be a reference in Africa for all stakeholders in the TA&A sectors for finding relevant connections, information, sector news, trends and business opportunities (including accessing jobs and potential investors).
Actively promoting the platform (e.g. through social media) will be key for its success. The entrepreneurs and SMEs interviewed are connected and using social media to promote their businesses. The platform has been conceptualized according to the current reality of financial and technology development in Africa. The first prototype of the website, also developed as part of this study, will result very useful for potential users, sponsors and other stakeholders to have a real impression of the potential of the Fashionomics platform.
The platform would need the Bank’s economic support during the first three years. This limited investment could translate into the creation of a number of direct jobs mainly through continued support (skills development, generate sales, business partnerships, financing and investment, etc) to African fashion entrepreneurs and companies that would generate more employment.