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Op-Ed | Internet Access Will Transform Fashion in Africa

Logistical obstacles may still plague Africa’s fashion market, but progress in IT is already having a big impact, argues Fatoumata Ba.
A Jumia fashion warehouse | Source: Courtesy
  • Fatoumata Ba

LAGOS, Nigeria — Not so long ago, Africa was not on many people's radar in the fashion and design industry. Now the scene is changing. The continent is abuzz with rich economic growth and young talent, and the rest of the world is duly taking notice. All around the globe, Africa's creatives are sought after for their locally-inspired designs, putting the continent on the international list of countries to watch.

The fashion industry is one of the most lucrative sectors worldwide and the rest of the world expects the African fashion industry to boom. So why aren’t investors lining up at African fashion shows? Why are there still regions with only two shopping malls to meet the needs of 21 million people? What is going wrong?

While countries like South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya are enjoying vibrant economies, infrastructure still remains a barrier in fashion. The primary logistical challenge in Africa is the sheer size of the continent, which is larger than the US, Europe, China and India combined. Many companies also struggle to reach remote destinations that lack the infrastructure to reach the last mile of delivery. Other challenges include political instability, information technology gaps and counterfeit goods.

On the other hand, in most of Africa, increasing internet access is changing the commercial landscapes. For example, take Africa’s stunning iGDP projections (the internet’s contribution to GDP).

McKinsey’s iGDP ranking compounds the internet’s contribution to the overall GDP and in Africa it is expected to rise from 1.1 percent to at least 5 to 6 percent within the next ten years. This will put Africa amongst today’s leading iGDP countries, along with the United Kingdom and Sweden. Driving this development are urban areas, where internet-capable devices are already available to half of the population.

But when it comes to fashion, just going online won’t do the trick. By 2025, it is expected that 10 percent of all retail activity will be conducted online and mobile shopping is already the norm. The mobile e-commerce trend is also in full swing in Africa and some retailers are using apps like WhatsApp to improve customer service. Africa’s growing middle class is increasingly young, tech-savvy and brand conscious.

For fashion retailers to succeed in the world's fastest-growing mobile phone market, they must integrate mobile into their user experience there. The global fashion industry must therefore be poised to deliver quality products and an intuitive e-shopping experience, while creatively addressing the continent’s logistical barriers.

If it is sink or swim in the fashion world, then online and mobile are your life vests in Africa.

Fatoumata Ba is the managing director of online retailer Jumia Nigeria, part of Rocket Internet’s Africa Internet Group (AIG).

The views expressed in Op-Ed pieces are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of The Business of Fashion.

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