The fourth treatise in our series on potentials of the creative industry for creating jobs and contributing to the development of our economy is focused on the fashion and design sector. I had earlier written on the film industry, the music industry and the visual arts industry in Cross River State.
The need for urgent diversification of the economy of Nigeria and of course Cross River State cannot be overemphasized. I had stated in an earlier treatise that creative economy is one of the sectors with great potentials for achieving this and the fashion and design industry is a low hanging fruit that can be harnessed for success.
The fashion industry is a product of the modern age. Prior to the mid-19th century, most clothing was custom made. It was handmade for individuals, either as home production or on order from dressmakers and tailors.
By the beginning of the 20th century, the era of new technologies such as sewing machine, the rise of global capitalism and the development of the factory system of production and the proliferation of retail outlets such as department stores clothing had increasingly came to be mass- produced in standard sizes and sold at fixed prices.
Although the fashion industry developed first in Europe and America, today it is an international and highly globalized industry, with clothing often designed in one country, manufactured in another and sold world-wide.
Globally, the fashion industry is worth 1 trillion US Dollars. In Nigeria, the industry can be said to still be in its infancy and has room for it to grow and contribute to the development of the economy.
Even more so, in Cross River State, it has become pertinent for stakeholders to work together to make the fashion industry to be a major player in the state economy.
Nigeria’s burgeoning fashion sector is enjoying an unprecedented level of exposure that translates into unique opportunity for designers, stylists and other stakeholders in the fashion sector. Nigerian designers are becoming regular features on some of the world’s runways and Nigerian fashion and designs are appreciated globally.
It is not just about the designers and Nigerian fashion, fashion and design is a tool for job creation and economic development. Increased investment in the sector will create jobs for tailors, pattern cutters, sales assistants, stylists and more.
The economic importance of the development of the sector cannot be overemphasized. A few years ago, the sector was barely existent but today research shows that the sector contributes substantially to the gross domestic product of the nation’s economy.
Nigeria being a culturally rich nation has a wide range of traditional fashion designs and potential for producing more through creative enterprise in the 21st Century.
In contemporary times, many fashion designers of Nigerian origin have become renowned globally, some of whom include Ituan Bassey, Deola Sagoe, Folake Folarin–Coker (Tiffany Amber), Lanre Da-Silva Ajay, Lisa Folawiyo(Jewel by Lisa) to mention but a few.
In Cross River State, there are also a few fashion designers who are fast growing and becoming known locally and internationally. Some of those worthy of note include Lovita Creations, Leyi Ush Style House, Mimi Philips Couture, Affifima Couture and many more.
The Nigerian fashion industry has taken a whole new turn that our Ankara fabrics that was used as wrappers by most women have become so popular because fashion designers have brought the best out of them.
Let us look at a couple of ways that fashion design encourages economic development in Cross River State.
It encourages entrepreneurship – For many business-minded entrepreneurs trying to overcome severe financial constraints, fashion design encourages economic development in Cross River State by allowing anyone with an eye for fashion an opportunity to generate income both locally and internationally.
The market for well-designed clothes is unique based upon the simple fact that despite a global economic slowdown, consumers will always have a need for clothes. Furthermore, if a particular market for clothing is lower than usual, innovative entrepreneurs can take advantage of previously untapped overseas and emerging markets as a means of increasing sales.
It stimulates the local economy – For Cross River based designer Lovelyn Ita, her company Luvita Creations employs more than 7 people even in an economy that is presently struggling.
Fashion design encourages economic development in Cross River State through the employment of talented tailors, textile artists, aspiring models, and support staff necessary for the operation of large design studios; along with the resulting sales opportunities for local fabric retailers and production facilities.
Fashion designers help to bolster the state economy by the infusion of capital both from the sales and expansion of their small businesses into new markets.
Next, let us consider some of the challenges facing the fashion industry and their solutions.
The first is access to finance for new and existing fashion designers. Capital is important for every investor and in Nigeria, it is difficult to access loans from commercial banks. This challenges has limited start of new businesses by entrepreneurs and growth by existing fashion designers in the state.
There is thus need to improve access to finance by establishing special funds in selected banks where fashion designers can draw from to start and grow their businesses. I am aware that the bank of Industry has made some effort in this direction but this fund must be reinvigorated and restructured for the fashion industry.
The second issue is power. Many fashion firms use various machines ranging from cutting machines to sewing machine and embroidery machines during production. These require electricity to operate. The power supply in the country presently leaves much to be required.
Fashion and design entrepreneurs and investors in the state are thus facing great challenges in this area. This has led to slow down in production and subsequently loss of income. The government and other stakeholders must work to improve power supply nationally so that fashion designers can have access to cheap and reliable power supply to run their businesses.
The third challenge is poor capacity in the industry. Study has shown that there is a huge capacity gap in the fashion and design sub-sector in Nigeria in general and in Cross River State in particular.
With very few standardized fashion training institutions, aspiring fashion designers are left at the mercy of sub-standard fashion schools and non formal learning opportunities which leaves them not being able to compete at international levels.
The government in partnership with the private sector and international agencies must work to establish internationally approved fashion training institutions in Nigeria and Cross River State to support capacity building in the fashion industry.
The fourth and last but not the least I will consider is access to market. Beyond the glitz and glamour, designers within Nigeria struggle to find a sustainable market locally and keep up with the international fashion industry.
Nigerian fashion designers compete in the market with international and globally recognized brands even within limited resources and other challenges mentioned above.
In the light of these, the government, development agencies and stakeholders in the fashion and design sector must strategize to create national and international distribution and market chains to help improve product sales globally.
Despite challenges facing the industry, fashion is arguably the next big thing in Cross River State and Nigeria.
I cannot complete this treatise without appreciating the effort of the Cross River State Government in developing the sector by investing in the construction of the Cross River State Garment Factory located in Calabar. The Garment factory is expected to boost the fashion sector in the state and produce thousands of apparels for the Nigerian and African market.
In concluding, I will like to say that I see Cross River State as the next big destination for fashion and design industry growth in Nigeria and opportunities exist for investment by fashion designers worldwide. Stakeholders in the sector must thus work together to actualize the dream and reap the benefits of the growth of the sector.
Emmanuel Etim is a development consultant based in Nigeria.
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