Talk Talk Fashion Baby

"How many of you are wearing underwear... <insert dramatic pause> ... made in Africa?" was posed to an audience last week.  The question came from fashion designer and IP lawyer Romaine Abbey Quartery at the launch and panel discussion of report, "The African Fashion Design Industry: Capturing Value Through Intellectual Property" at the African Ministerial Conference 2015 (covered here). I had the pleasure of chairing the surprisingly lively discussion, with fashion designers, IP specialists and government representatives discussing all things fashion, including mentioning unmentionables. This was not your typical plenary session.

Panel discussion
Romaine noted that a very large portion of clothing worn in Africa was not made or designed in Africa. While some audience members enthusiastically noted their use of African made clothing, the audience was more reticent about their choice of undergarments. It was a very effective manner to demonstrate that consumption of fashion in Africa is primarily a story of importation rather than domestic creation and exportation.  Romaine also noted, in her experience as a former judge, the striking lack of awareness on the part of infringers and creators in the industry.

The panel also benefitted from contributions by Clare Lissaman of the Ethical Fashion Foundation with her discussion on the role of certification marks (e.g. Fairtrade and "Made in") in supporting sustainability labour and environmental practices.  Given that fashion is a female-dominated sector, the industry has a lot of potential to make positive social and economic impacts. Well known male designer Alphadi presented some of his personal experiences with copying, as did locally based designer and former YSL model Sadiya Gueye (video in French.)

Panellists Hicham Lahlou, a designer, presented his thoughts on policy impact and Africa Design DaysBryan Ramkilawan, head of the Cape Town Fashion Council, discussed Africa's strength in design and how South African fab labs are leading to innovation and creativity in local fashion. He noted international retailers are saturating markets in South Africa and called for a focus on more ethically produced garments and acceptable living wages.
South Africa Fashion Week
Simon Deiner / SDR Photo
Education was a strong recommendation by the panel -- both in terms of IP and in fashion education in general.  African countries clearly have a rich cultural heritage to build upon, but the panel suggested that education would be a means to facilitate the translation of this heritage into fashion design. Other recommendations included support for events, fashion shows and prizes to highlight the contribution and creative excellence of the industry.

The report
The report, which provides a comprehensive look at IP and fashion, and the experiences of the fashion design industry in seven African countries, highlights some of the challenges the industry faces. The research examines how better use of IP system can benefit the African fashion design industry. It focuses on challenges, opportunities and constraints facing the industry and how to leverage local and indigenous creativity to enhance competitiveness. Special consideration is given to the impact of fashion on women.

The report's recommendations include the following: support for the strengthening of national IP offices, cross-bordering licensing schemes and further IP training.  It recommends that countries should engage in mapping exercises to better identify cultural heritage. Innovation policy should create, "preferential credit schemes to women fashion designers can enable gender empowerment in the fashion trade by incentivizing the use of IP as a form of collateral." Further use and creation of collective and certification marks are highlighted. Overall, the recommendation is that the short term focus should be on increasing awareness and demonstrating the possibilities of IP.  In the long term, governments and industry should develop a strategy to build up the African fashion design industry.

All and all, a lively discussion on a topic that has been relatively neglected. I look forward to seeing how the African Fashion Design industry and, the associated policy, develop. 
Talk Talk Fashion Baby Talk Talk Fashion Baby Reviewed by Nicola Searle on Thursday, November 12, 2015 Rating: 5

1 comment:

  1. to the question,..i always wear my brand of underwear,always do a range per collection, does it sell,..NO! locally people do not see (especially men) the point and would rather buy a "brand" name made in some mass production country and inferior in quality!


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