Ethical production is a key to connecting with consumers

Tuesday, December 7 2010

Jacqueline Shaw, Ethical Fashion Forum

The Ethical Fashion Forum presented at the USAID West Africa Trade Hub's regional fashion designers workshop in Accra, Ghana, Nov. 30 to Dec. 2 (see related story). Jacqueline Shaw of EFF offered her perspectives on the event.

Clare Lissaman of the Ethical Fashion Forum presents at the workshop.
Clare Lissaman of the Ethical Fashion Forum presents at the workshop.
“You are most welcome.” I have received this greeting many times while visiting Ghana but this trip has had a different agenda - to attend the USAID West Africa Trade Hub’s three-day Apparel Export Training and Workshop as a UK designer and above all as a representative for the Ethical Fashion Forum (EFF). I accompanied Clare Lissaman, an EFF director who presented two talks in the program, EU: Market Opportunities and Ethical Criteria and Standards in Relation to Fashion.

The Ethical Fashion Forum has a professional fashion network of nearly 5,000 members and offered the opportunity for attendees of this workshop to connect with our network of buyers through the forum and events we organise such as the recent Source Expo in London October 2010. We aimed to connect with the broad network of designers, suppliers and manufacturers in West Africa and to discuss the area of ethical fashion sourcing and production. 
 
"Production actually is quite ethical in Africa and you have a story to tell,” Clare told participants at the workshop. “The main issue is understanding the market and where it is going” as well as the lack of resources. 
 
“In the whole of Africa there are 1 million spindles to spin cotton while in China there are 65 million,” Clare noted.
 
On mentioning COFTA (the Africa arm of the World Fair Trade Organisation) none but one had heard of it. Bringing this type of awareness to producers demonstrates how important it is for EFF to work with partners like the USAID Trade Hub . Clare informed designers that the EU consumer buys into stories even more than they buy into sustainable fabrics and so encouraged designers to tell their stories.
 
Designer Austin Ashikodi from Auiz Bern said "endless possibilities" exist to create many things in Africa. Royal Dennis designer Dennis said, "This is the time for Africa. For the next 10 or 20 years I see Africa as the top fashion market.”
 
Paul Ade-Martin of company Marco Martinez said the greatest challenge was lack of structure in the fashion industry.  
 
Participants agreed that there was a market for made in Africa products but designers need to know how to sell themselves.  The workshop featured an eclectic mix of designers - some presented very ethnic clothing and some recognized the EU/UK/USA markets and understood the need to include more western commercial styles.
 
The success of the ASOS Africa collection produced by an NGO in Kenya and selling well on the infamous ASOS online website recognises that there is an interest in African made product. But our buyer contacts have pressed into us the importance of product quality being high for any designer companies to enter into the UK/EU/USA markets. 
 
The EFF has recently launched a Source Directory which lists suppliers, buyers and industry professionals. We also feature businesses in the Source Magazine – a great marketing opportunity. International professionals in our global network have access to the directory and magazine.
 
When I asked if designers see Africa as the future of the textile industry there were many positive responses. Producers at the workshop said they want to keep production local, create jobs and see Africa producing more of its own textiles.
 
The EFF aims to be a part of this journey by building the network in Africa and helping to connect and initiate strategic relationships. Working with the USAID Trade Hub is a starting point for this work .
 
The EFF runs the Ethical Fashion Network to support designers and suppliers all over Africa and offers promotion, access to market, and links with international fashion professionals. Membership of the network is free of charge; to join visit www.ethicalfashionforum.com.
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