As the rest of the world is making a shift towards ethical and sustainable fashion alternatives, Africa is yet to join the movement.
Presently, Africa’s fashion scene is comprised of cheap fast-fashion imports majorly from China. High poverty levels on the continent have made it a destination for low-quality clothing.
Even though sustainable fashion brands exist in Africa, there are few, highly-priced brands, and their market penetration is low.
Why Africa Needs Sustainable Fashion
According to population projections by the United Nations, Africa’s population will double to reach 2.5 billion people by the year 2050. Furthermore, Africa is the continent with the highest growing population.
Frequently, policymakers on Africa have focused their attention on food security, health care, and affordable housing. Clothing is discussed as a distant footnote.
The link between fashion, food security, and health care is barely noticed. And that link is climate change. Furthermore, the fashion industry contributes 10% of all the greenhouse gas emissions on earth. In effect, the industry’s usage of water and energy has also highlighted it as one of the planet’s biggest polluters.
Climate change is already having a negative impact on food security and consequently, health.
As Africa’s population continues to rise, the demand for clothing also increases.
Hence why, fast fashion brands and other low-quality fashion makers are already taking strategic positions in Africa’s biggest capitals like Lagos, Nairobi, and Cape Town. The effects will be catastrophic for the environment. After all, African sustainable fashion makers do not have the financial muscle to impact the market.
So, despite Africa’s potential as a profitable market for ethical fashion, global ethical fashion giants lack a notable presence.
One possible reason for this is the inaccurate perception of the individual wealth index of the average African. Indeed, sustainable fashion is usually priced higher than ordinary fashion. In most cases, it is classified as luxury.
According to Deloitte, more Africans are entering the middle class and rich categories. This group can afford items from top sustainable fashion brands in the world. Markedly, South Africa and Kenya are the two top luxury markets in Africa.
Second-Hand Clothes In Africa
Eventually, Africa’s contribution to sustainability in fashion has come through the consumption of imported second-hand clothes. Correspondingly, 80% of people in Africa wear second-hand clothes.
The biggest markets are Ghana, Benin, and Kenya. Repurposing of unwanted clothes is good for the environment. In effect, clothes that would have otherwise ended up in landfills find a new use.
Local textile industries in Africa, however, have been performing dismally as a result of competition from cheap second-hand clothes. What’s more, African nations have tried to remedy this by trying to ban or limit the entry of second-hand clothes.
This has not worked. Not to mention, most local textile industries lack the capacity to produce enough clothes that are also affordable.
It’s important to realize that Africans’ reliance on second-hand clothes was not caused by an acknowledgement for sustainability. Second-hand clothes appeal to Africans because of good pricing and better quality than new manufactured fast fashion items.
This was an accidental victory because there is very little knowledge of sustainable fashion in Africa.
Consequently, global sustainable fashion brands should begin looking at Africa with a renewed interest. In order to be able to make an impact, most Africans will have to be educated on the concept of sustainability in fashion.
Indeed, a majority of the world’s fastest-growing economies are in Africa. It is important that sustainable fashion is entrenched in their DNA. The effect of fast fashion should be laid out bare and the importance of ethical clothing emphasized.
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