The second Africa Sourcing & Fashion Week (ASFW), held at Millennium Hall, is another big opportunity for Ethiopia to welcome a diverse group of industry actors from around the world. Despite a certain degree of growth in the sector over the past decade, there are still sizeable obstacles in enabling Ethiopian designers to access, let alone compete, in the international market. One of the major hurdles the sector must overcome in order to catalyse growth is the lack of integration between the designers and garment factories, with the ultimate aim of mass producing products. On the local level, however, enhanced job creation in the sector is a huge positive. Samson Berhane, Fortune Staff Writer, was part of the fashion week and reports.
The second Africa Sourcing & Fashion Week (ASFW), held at Millennium Hall, was opened by Tadesse Haile, State Minister of Industry.
One of the exhibitors, Aynalem Ayene, was eagerly awaiting visitors since the expo is a great opportunity to create links with different business actors – particularly foreign buyers, who have no idea about her brands.
She designs, produces and sells clothes, accessories and jewellery under the brand of “Ayni’s Design’ at her shop located near the Imperial roundabout, next to Checheho Restaurant.
The 42-year-old Aynalem started designing as a hobby at the age of eleven. She took some training to develop her hobby as a career in Italy; then, in 2004, she opened a business with a paid up capital of 10,000 Br.
Aynalem argues that opportunities are on the increase in Ethiopia, compared to the situation six or seven years ago, although there is much room for improvement.
“Comparing my sales six years ago with today, there is a huge difference,” said Ayanlem.
Aynalem used to sell through word of mouth marketing when she first opened her business back in 2004.
“It used to be very difficult for fashion designers to find a platform to showcase their work,” she recalls.
A decade ago, she used to sell all of her products at a rate almost 100 pc lower than her current prices.
Now, Aynalem sells bags from 230 to 3,000 Br, based on the type of leather used. At the same time, jewellery made of tiny leather ranges from 800 to 1,500 Br, and the price of traditional clothes vary from 500 Br for a single body to 12,000 Br for a dress.
Aynalem believes this platform matters. She has participated in all of the ASFW expos and says she welcomed more than 40 visitors at the second ASFW.
This year, over 180 international manufacturers and exporters presented their products, from 25 different countries.
Kenya, South Africa, Singapore, Thailand, Israel, Turkey and the US were among the 25 exhibitors.
Locally, fourteen designers and six manufacturers participated in the expo, which is similar to the preceding year. However, the second ASFW exhibited a diversified number of exhibitors relative to the last ASFW.
However, weavers and cotton producing farmers were not present, even though they are the base of the value chain.
The textile industry of the country intensified after the 1960’s, with the introduction of large-scale farming in the country. Currently, the country annually produces around 120,000 tonnes of cotton.
One of the country’s comparative advantages is the production of textiles and apparel, largely due to its climatic advantage in producing large volumes of cotton, cost effective labour and a privilege to enter other markets, mainly AGOA.
However, a major hurdle, which limited the Ethiopian Fashion Industry to be less competitive on the international market is the lack of integration between the designers and garment factories.
“Most of our sales are for individuals, either as home production or on order from dressmakers and tailors,” Fekirte Addis, an international designer with more than seven years of experience. “There is no chain established between the designer and the garment factories.”
Almost all the designers in the country either have no chance to work with garment industries or don’t sell their designs to these industries, according to data from the Ethiopian Designer Association.
Experts in the sector explain that the nature of fabric used for production, the low washing cycle of those traditional clothes and also the fact that the majority of the products made by the designers are handmade makes it difficult for mass production.
Another fashion designer based in Addis Abeba, Mahlet Afework (Mafi), argues that the banking system prevailing in the country deters the sector from growing.
“It is difficult to make an online sale, since the payment system is not available in the country,” Mafi said. “The government should support such a system, since it could be a major source of foreign exchange into the country, as well as developing the fashion industry.”
Another headache for the designers is the lack of garment standards in the country.
“The lack of set standards for the garment industry exposed us to unfair competition,” Fekirte underscored.
With the aim of developing the fashion industry in the country, the Textile Industry Development Institute established a fashion and design department a few months ago.
Recently, the advent of the Hawassa Industrial Park, with close to ten companies involved in textile and apparel production, led to the emergence of big brands like Gap and Calvin Klein in the playground.
“Their coming is good news for the country, with regards to fixing some input problems in the country,” Aynalem said.
Doing it right for Shaldon Kopman, a South African fashion designer and former model, requires a focus and deep look into the essence of consent and stories of the oral African tradition.
He is known for his brand, Naked Ape, which he introduced in 2005.
The new trendsetters, designers, are changing what designs and Ethiopian fabrics are being used, borrowing from the country’s rich ethnic diversity, colours and styles.
With many creating their own industry, they give their own contribution to the absorption of human capacity.
Aynalem, the designer, started her business by employing only two people; nonetheless, this number has now escalated to more than 15. While another designer, Tigist Shiferaw, with seven years’ of experience in the business, employs five employees now, having started with none.
The Designer Association currently has ninety active members. The objective of the Association is to create linkages between the design professionals and other stakeholders.
In the Fourth Hub of Africa Fashion Show, one of the largest fashion shows in Africa, more than 650 people were in attendance.
Like a scene from an exotic movie, the fashion show unveiled a collection of more than 500 dresses.
Among 33 designers presenting their products, ten were emerging – a 25pc rise from the preceding edition of the show.
Actors in the design and production industry have now started employing their own hand weavers – they used to contract out, now they have started to employ full time staff.
The designer usually buys or contracts weavers from Shiro Meda, located in the northern part of Ethiopia on the way to Entoto Mountain, to get inputs for their products.
Among several weavers in the Shiro Meda area, Zeneber Tarekegn is an input supplier for designers like Aynalem.
Zeneber sells the processed cotton at varying prices based on the type of material, which can either be Saba or Menen. The former is around 35 Br a metre – almost twice the price of the latter.
It is not only the input side that absorbs capacity, but the refined catwalks and shows require so many backstage assistants, often with more than a dozen professionals, including makeup artists, fashion stylists, coordinators, accessory makers, models and photographers. On top of this are the busy buyers, manufacturers and apparel industry players.
The fashion show has presented another opportunity to welcome a diversified group of professionals.
The 26-year-old Robel Wondemeneh was one of the attendants at the Hub of Africa fashion show, despite his participation in the previous editions.
Robel started modelling four years ago. However, unlike the previous edition of the Hub of Africa, Robel didn’t participate in the show due to the low payment offered by the organiser.
He gets between 3,000 and 3,500 Br to show a single item of clothing for attendants – twice the payment offered at the Hub of Africa event.
The fashion show organiser paid between 5,000 and 10,000 Br to photographers -from less than a thousand five years ago – said Aaron Simeneh, who has three years’ of experience in photography.
This industry involves companies and professionals across the value chain, working in roles ranging from weaving, design and development, to sourcing and logistics, to trade policy and compliance, to retail and marketing.
One of problems, which limits internationally known designers like Fikirte from entering the global market, is their failure to mass produce their products. This is largely due to the lack of financial capacity.
“Unless the supply chain is organised well, there is no way to improve the industry,” said Fikirte. “Individual sales cannot help the industry to revive since they are subjected to very high operational costs.”
“It is beyond the financial and human resource capacity of the designer to produce on a large scale,” Fikirte added.
Sara Maino, the senior editor of Vogue Italy, was also another attendant at the Hub of Africa Fashion Show.
“The industry is small and needs to grow,” Sara Maino, senior editor of Vogue Italy Magazine, told Fortune during her visit to the country. “We are here to assess and assist the actors in the fashion industry.”
Vogue Italy is an Italian version of the renowned US Vogue Magazine established a century ago.
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