UNESCO's Insights on How To Unlock Africa's Fashion Potential

UNESCO's Insights on How To Unlock Africa's Fashion Potential

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The world’s attention is fully on Africa and its creative industries. From music and film to art and fashion, there’s an undeniable hunger for Africa-Made products. The creative industry in Africa, while it has its issues, is a thriving economic force and a dynamic cultural expression.

You need to just see how the world has voraciously taken to Burna Boy, Tems, Black Coffee, Tyla and the Amapiano movement; artists like Nelson Makamo have Oprah Winfrey and Kelly Rowland as fans; and Thebe Magugu, Kenneth Ize, Orange Culture, Christie Brown Lukhanyo Mdingi and Sindiso Khumalo are seen as the new faces of African luxury fashion, with a global clientele.


This makes the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) report on "The Fashion Sector in Africa: Trends, Challenges, and Opportunities for Growth,” very timely.

Released on Thursday, October 26 in Lagos, Nigeria, the report delves into Africa’s fashion landscape and provides valuable insights about the state of the industry.

In the report’s foreword, Audrey Azoulay, UNESCO's Director-General, says that the report highlights Africa's untapped potential to emerge as a global fashion leader. 

“For Africa, fashion is a powerful driver of creativity, economic development, and innovation, creating many jobs, especially for women and young people. To better understand the forces at play in this field, UNESCO has produced the first overview of the fashion industry at the continental level and outlined prospects for its future.”

The 82 page report is available for download, here.

5 Things to Know from the UNESCO Report on Fashion in Africa. 

The African Fashion Sector's Promising Potential

The fashion industry in Africa is undergoing a significant transformation, fuelled by various factors. The continent's expanding middle class, urbanization, young population, and the influx of digital technologies are propelling this progress. Spearheading this change are African fashion designers who incorporate traditional knowledge and techniques into their designs while also contributing to economic growth and challenging global perceptions of the continent.

This renaissance in African fashion blends tradition with innovation, resulting in a dynamic movement that is creating jobs for women and young people and driving prosperity. The report states that 90 percent of fashion businesses in Africa are small and medium-sized enterprises, making a direct impact on local communities. Beyond its visual appeal, African fashion serves as a catalyst for creativity, economic development, and innovation.

African Fashion Capitals

African cities- Abidjan, Casablanca, Dakar, Johannesburg, Lagos, and Nairobi - are emerging as influential fashion and design hubs with a significant impact on the industry's future. In addition to their financial and commercial prominence, they foster creativity and innovation in fashion.

Africa's fashion capitals are vital in shaping the future of the industry, galvanizing markets, and creators across the continent, thanks to the many fashion weeks. These events not only capture local markets but also garner international attention. The report emphasises role of fashion weeks in showcasing African talent and elevating the reach of African brands on the global stage.

The Challenges Hindering Full Potential

Although Africa's fashion industry holds great potential, it is hindered by various obstacles. These obstacles include insufficient investments and infrastructure, inadequate education and training systems, weak intellectual property protection, as well as challenges in accessing new markets and sourcing affordable materials.

Overcoming these hurdles is crucial to realising the industry's full potential. Despite its immense promise, the African fashion sector faces significant challenges that must be addressed to unlock its true potential.

The Rise in African-Made Luxury Fashion

TAIBO BACAR- Cape Town Fashion Week 2023

A rising trend is the surge in fascination with luxury fashion produced in Africa. The surge of African-made luxury fashion has been noticeable due to the expansion of e-commerce in the continent.

The UNESCO report states that e-commerce has enticed a considerable 28 percent of Africans in 2023, a significant rise from the 13 percent in 2017. E-commerce has also broadened the local consumer market.

Furthermore, this has presented African brands with new possibilities as textile, clothing, and footwear exports have reached an impressive US$15.5 billion.

Social Responsibility, Sustainability and Economic Growth

The African fashion industry is a major catalyst for creativity, economic growth, and progress. It presents numerous job opportunities, particularly for women and youth, and serves as a significant platform for the advancement of the creative economy.

A key highlight of the report is the capacity of this sector to promote gender equality and establish Africa as a leading force in sustainable and organic cotton production on a global scale.

READ: African Luxury Fashion Shines at Unstoppable Africa Gala

Nevertheless, there are obstacles that must be overcome for the industry to reach its full potential. These include inadequate investment, incomplete intellectual property laws, expensive fabric sourcing, and environmental impacts.

As African fashion evolves, it must confront these challenges head-on by securing more investment and infrastructure support, strengthening intellectual property legislation, and finding cost-effective ways to source materials.

The sector's environmental impact cannot be ignored either, as it remains a major contributor to global pollution. To effectively address these issues, reliable data and input from experts and civil society are crucial in shaping public policies that protect creators while promoting sustainable and inclusive fashion.


Most importantly, the report finds that Africa’s fashion industry has great potential for expansion, employment opportunities, and cultural advancement. By making appropriate investments, implementing effective policies, and promoting sustainability, African fashion can remain a driving force for progress, originality, and economic growth. 

Additional reporting from the UNESCO Report available here

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