Why fashion brands in Nigeria make unaffordable clothes

The fashion industry in Nigeria has an affordability problem.

Deola Sagoe's design at 2018 Lagos Fashion week [daughtersofAfrica]

According to Statista, the revenue of the global fashion market in 2020 was approximately $1.46 trillion U.S. dollars; it is anticipated to increase to about $2.25 trillion by 2025. The USA, which is the largest apparel market in the world, raked in nearly $360 billion in revenue that year only.

Unsurprisingly, Africa's share of the global apparel market is less than 1%, which, as of 2020, pegs it at $31 billion, according to Euromonitor. Of this relatively miserly market share, Nigeria holds 15%, an estimated $4.7 billion. Nigeria’s GDP in 2020 was 432.2 billion dollars

The question that naturally results from this is: how can the fashion industry contribute more to the country’s GDP?

To tackle this, we have to start from the root of all clothing production - textiles and fabrics. Nigeria still imports most of its fabrics from China, even though cotton is found in 26 of Nigeria’s 36 states and Nigeria is the fifth-largest cotton-producing country in West Africa.

As of 2019, Nigeria spent $312,464.56 million to import textiles from China. Although the CBN has attempted to revive textile production in the country by banning the importation of finished textiles and offering loan services to cotton farmers, these textile materials still keep getting smuggled into the country through the borders of neighbouring states.

According to the Manufacturing Agency of Nigeria (MAN), in the 1970s and early 1960s, Kaduna, Kano, Lagos and Aba had over 100 functional textile factories but by 2010, these textile factories had dwindled so terribly that there were only 25 of those 100 factories left. One can only imagine the grim reality on ground now, a whole 12 years afterwards.

Before the untimely demise of these industries, they contributed about N6 billion naira yearly to Nigeria's GDP.

There are scant figures to reflect the contribution of this industry in more recent years, but one can expect that the numbers won’t be heartwarming, considering how according to the Nigerian Textile Manufacturers Association the country annually loses an estimated $325m in potential Value Added Tax revenue from textile companies, due to smuggling.

The mass exit of businesses from the textile industry is no surprise; with inflation and devaluation of our currency, the cost of running businesses is at an all-time high.

Business owners have perennially had to provide their own water, buy raw materials and machines, bear the brunt of Nigeria’s inability to surmount its electricity problem, while also paying rent and staff salaries. Staying afloat might be more important than contributing massively to the GDP.

While the Bank of the Industry has loans designed to alleviate the hardships faced by fashion-related businesses, the question remains: are these loans with 9% interest rates actually enough to help textile business owners, designers and other fashion-centric businesses scale? Wouldn’t a flux of direct foreign investment like we see in Tech be a stronger, more viable solution?

While that is surely a thought to mull over, it might also be pertinent to look into how the Nigerian fashion industry is divided into design and production on one side, and then sales and distribution on the other hand.

There seems to be a clear need to fashion out a way to improve on the status quo. Nigerian fashion designers need to have a better distribution model than what currently exists.

Only very few fashion designers have stores in other states apart from Lagos and Abuja. When it comes to distribution, reliance is placed on unreliable courier services with high delivery fees.

The picture is not entirely gloomy, however. Events like Lagos Fashion Week, GTB Fashion Weekend and Arise Fashion week put Nigeria's fashion industry in the limelight and showcase its clever, ingenious designers.

Certainly, many Nigerian designers have gained international recognition. Kenneth Ize, a Lagos Based but Austria born fashion designer was an LVMH 2019 Prize finalist.

He recently collaborated with Karl Lagerfeld to release a capsule collection. Interestingly, Ize uses Aso-Oke fabrics locally made in Nigeria. Other notable Nigerian designers with global impact are Lisa Folawiyo, Deola Sagoe, David Wej and Andrea Iyamah.But their outfits are high end. Andrea wants to make clothes of international standard and not for t he average Nigerian.

The market for haute couture designs is not the average Nigerian and, not even many Nigerian celebrities. Nigerian celebrities have Lagos based fashion designers like Xtrabrides Lagos, Chic by Veekee James, Tubo, and 2207 by Tbally churning beautiful but similar outfits for them.

But where does that leave the average Nigerian who finds some of these Nigerian designers outrageously expensive?

Affordable ready-to-wear fashion that caters to the average Nigerian is rare. Nigerians are still heavily importing ready-to-wear clothes from China and buying thrift or used clothes or relying on our brothers in Aba.

Until more affordable clothing [not just okrika or akube ones] can be made available for a mass number of Nigerians across board, we may never leave where we are.

This will, no doubt, involve more assistance and incentives from the government for people in the fashion space, including the folks at Aba people making Nigerian-made clothes and shoes.

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