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UNESCO Recommends Policies to Strengthen Fashion Industry in Africa

The United Nations agency specialising in international cooperation through education, arts, sciences and culture released a report at the launch of Lagos Fashion Week in Nigeria.
Nigeria, Nigeria fashion, Orange Culture, Lagos Fashion Week
A campaign image from Nigerian designer Adebayo Oke-Lawal's brand Orange Culture. (Orange Culture)

The United Nations agency specialising in international cooperation through education, arts, sciences and culture released a report on Thursday at the launch of Lagos Fashion Week in Nigeria. The report underscores the value of annual textile exports from the continent ($15.5 billion), imports of textiles, clothing and footwear ($23.1 billion) and the role of African suppliers in raw materials for apparel and footwear (37 out of 54 African countries produce cotton).

“Fashion is really taking off in Africa, and this report shows that it can be developed even further. In order to achieve this, designers, professionals and the entire production and distribution infrastructure need more support from public decision-makers. The potential is enormous, not only for the economy, but also for young people’s inclusion, women’s empowerment and for African culture to resonate globally,” said Audrey Azoulay, director-general of UNESCO, in a statement released with the report called “The Fashion Sector in Africa: Trends, Challenges and Opportunities for Growth”.

The fashion industry across Africa “is brimming with opportunities, driven by the rise of the middle class, a young and growing population, rapid urbanisation, and the emergence of digital technologies,” states the report. It notes that while 32 African countries organise annual fashion weeks which contribute to the growing recognition of the sector’s potential, several roadblocks prevent it from reaching its full potential. These include a persistent lack of investment and inadequate infrastructure, limited educational and training systems, insufficient intellectual property protection, and difficulties in accessing new markets and sourcing quality materials at an affordable price.

“Across the continent, people are increasingly looking for products ‘Made in Africa’ which they see as a symbol of pride and a way to affirm their identity. But in order to meet this growing demand, the entire production chain needs to be strengthened. This UNESCO report is useful because it maps out the path to achieve this, and it will increase the awareness of public decision-makers,” said Omoyemi Akerele, director of Lagos Fashion Week.

The report recommends four policies to ensure the increasing reform of the African fashion ecosystem, including: integrating the fashion ecosystem into national development plans; enacting inter-ministerial coordination to guide the development of the fashion sector; developing intellectual property legislation; and enhancing data collection and analysis, highlighting the need for more work like the study conducted by the Council for International African Fashion Education in mapping the state of fashion education and training with the view to provide road maps for improving access to quality education and vocational programmes. Another key set of recommendations in the report focused on the improvement of policy relating to fair remuneration across the African fashion sector.

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