Following the outbreak of the global pandemic known as Coronavirus, the crisis faced by fashion designers is rapidly growing. Decisions being made by the leading fashion brands in the coming week or months will go a long way to determine the survival of the industry and tends to make a long-lasting impact on workers and their families – and indeed on the future of other minor fashion designers.
Moturayo Ojo a fashion designer at Oge Stitches at 2 Ajibulu street in Mafoluku Oshodi Lagos. Speaking to Lagos Post Online, said;
“Long before the lockdown, we get busy daily but all through the total lockdown, we sat at home all through doing nothing. As much as we are happy getting back to work, what we are making isn’t enough to sustain.
We have been managing but it’s really not easy. Imaging the rapid increase in the price of materials for sewing. The prices of materials and items have doubled. Some things we buy for 500 Naira previously have increased to 1000 Naira overnight. Our suppliers who ship these items keep complaining about the non availability of goods and the high cost of the few available ones.
So because clients were not willing to pay up and we keep running high on production cost, our level of income dropped drastically by 70 percent. Now bills are piling up, shop rent has increased, electricity bills have doubled, bills are piling and income is very low. Most times we rely solely on the materials and items we sell.“
China is the hub of raw materials when it comes to importing raw material for clothing. As the major supplier, the Lockdown measures in China disrupted the supply of this raw material to clothe producing countries. Brands reacted to lockdowns in Europe and America by cancelling an estimated £20bn worth of orders, refusing to pay for completed goods and even demanding discounts on goods. After intense pressure, a growing number of brands are now backtracking on decisions to cancel orders and have agreed to honour existing contracts.
Looking at the above challenges, the Nigerian fashion industry has experienced a temporary downturn in the projected growth that came out of interests that the global market expressed especially after movies such as Black Panther and The Queen of Katwe where African fashion was strongly illustrated.
Over the past 10 years or more, the world has seen a surge in the demand for fashion outfits from various parts of sub-Saharan Africa, and more specifically, Nigeria. For Nigerian fashion, it is directly connected to the emergence and promotion of the Nigerian entertainment industry (Music and Nollywood) as big players in the global space, thanks to technology that has allowed direct access to consumer distribution of music, musical videos, movies, and all sorts of content like never before.
One can only ponder what ensuing effects and further challenges the current COVID19 pandemic will create. With restricted movements in major hubs such as Lagos, Abuja, and Ogun states which has created limited access to areas such as Aba in Abia state (a major center for the manufacturing of clothes in Nigeria known as Aba made), the fashion industry are among those that are going to get hit hard with a steep decline in revenue numbers at the end of the year.
According to a report by Stears Business titled “The State of the Nigerian Fashion Industry in 2019”, the global fashion industry is worth over $2.5 trillion, with Africa’s share estimated at less than 1% of that amount. Digging further into that report, it also indicated that the Sub Saharan Fashion Industry is worth $31 billion, with Nigeria accounting for 15% of that amount ($4.7 billion). Those figures are low when compared to a country like South Africa, which has about 46% market share of the Sub Saharan Fashion Industry ($14.4 billion). Several factors contributed to Nigeria’s small market share, such as the low purchasing power of the average Nigerian. Also, Nigerian Fashionistas are unable to scale up production and distribution to the mass market at lower costs due to financing and infrastructure challenges (electricity and transportation networks), and the lack of a robust value chain of raw materials to finished products.
Like many industrial sectors, the fashion industry is simultaneously looking into how it will survive during this pandemic, taking cognizance of the fact that this pandemic will result into a chain reaction, as the downturn of each sector can affect another sector, therefore adapting itself to our new normal and trying to predict what the world will look like post-COVID-19 becomes top priority. At the beginning of the pandemic, it was assumed generally that this will pass by very shortly but as at today and with the uncertainty looming in the air. That expectation has since died.
Adapting to the new system might require new levels of technological dependency on online shopping, digital events and everything else that makes a compelling online presence. Brands can no longer afford to have defunct or non-functional websites, the experience must be optimum and seamless and for this, many suggest collaborations between Nigerian tech companies and fashion brands.
Before the outbreak of the pandemic, African fashion was approaching its moment in the global fashion spotlight with a steady expansion of the industry and Lagos getting mentioned alongside international fashion capitals like U.S.A, Milan and Paris. While no one can accurately predict what the industry will be like post-pandemic, morale is still high and people are still optimistic.
Anuoluwapo Akanji C.E.O of Gohub store, dealers in ladies wears and foot wears on various ecommerce platforms such as jumia and konga revealed to Lagos Post Online saying that;
“Before coronavirus rocked the global market, there were basically two ways to import fashion accessories from China to Africa. A merchant could reach out to manufacturers directly, send the minimum order quantity, make payments and expect shipment. Alternatively, you go through an agent based in China who shops and sends.
Since the economic lockdown in China, we can’t order because they are no longer producing and all economic activities on standstill, which has resulted in me going out of stock and out of stock means out of business. Even the few I could make available, I increased its prices because of the alternative rigorous restock measures I took. I have to now buy from other retail people that are obviously not Chinese products and are expensive.” She noted.
At this moment, every industry affected by the pandemic is struggling to remain relevant. Depending on which angle with which you are looking at it from. Members of the Nigerian Fashion Industry are in a prime position to respond with innovative solutions. These solutions will allow them to sustain during this lockdown, and recover and reboot post the pandemic with success achieved from deliberate decisions made to repurpose their business strategies in the times of a volatile, uncertain, complex, and ambiguous climate.
Within the last 10 years, Nigeria’s fashion industry has grown in size and sophistication, attracting global attention. Going by GDP data from the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS), the “textile, apparel, and footwear” sector has average growth of 17% since 2010. This rise has been fuelled by an increase in demand but also partly by unprecedented initiatives that continue to edge Nigeria into the global fashion consciousness.
Events such as Lagos Fashion week, GTB fashion exhibition and other fashion exhibitions held in Nigeria, have championed this movement through their anticipated annual runway shows and incubator-style techniques used to grow brands.
Furthermore, the small size of the market cannot be attributed to Nigerians’ taste for foreign fashion. A Mckinsey survey found that only 11% of respondents considered international brands to be more fashionable than local brands. While research like this presents a case for a thriving local industry, there is still an apparent disparity with reality: roughly 60% of the clothing sold on Jumia, are imported.
Let us border it all down to Lagos. As the number of coronavirus cases in Lagos rises, the fashion industry in Lagos is experiencing a standstill, the first of its kind. Supply chains for designers who source their raw materials from China and Europe have been disrupted for an indefinite amount of time, while events that would have required people dressing up have been banned. The income of many designers, which many insist wasn’t much previously, has taken a huge and unexpected hit. This has led to some soul searching. That was why it wasn’t so surprising when the Lagos based fashion designer, Moturayo Ojo added saying;
“Since the outbreak of this Coronavirus, business has been slow and we have recorded very few footfalls, so it has been a case of sitting at home and doing nothing until recently that the lockdown was eased a little, that we experienced little activities in this business. Although it is minimal, half bread they say is better than none.
The suspension of parties and social gatherings has largely contributed to the fall of our business; in the absence of social gathering there is every tendency that there will be no Asoebi. Even the Asoebi that was booked before the lockdown was canceled and withdrawn.
Not only social gathering, the absence of religious gatherings as well like church services has added insult to injury. Even now that church services have resumed again, the response is still very slow.
Customers themselves who even have good reasons to sew new clothes will always complain of not having enough money to pay for their merchandise.”
It’s clear that the Nigerian fashion industry, which has been under scrutiny in recent years and has been vastly promoted by patriotic Nigerians outside the shores of Nigeria, will have to adapt if it is to survive the pandemic. In recent years, designers and industry insiders have criticized the increasing numbers of fashion weeks in Nigeria, especially in Lagos, questioning their frequency and lack of impact. Now, thanks to the industry’s diversion to digital platforms during the pandemic, the potency and usefulness of this fashion week have been questioned.
It is also an opportunity for these platforms to prove their importance to the fashion community and some are doing just this by bringing the show online.
Conversations about Nigeria’s fashion industry tend to focus on the big and popular brands, ignoring thousands of smaller brands and local fashion designers that represent a large volume of the industry. This small groups serves by far the largest number of people, and though they may be lesser-known than their premium rivals, who manufacture and sell thousands of units and has a larger market share if compared par head, this smaller tailors has proven to be important and that is why we focused our story on them.
All categories are important at this stage of Nigeria’s market but according to Mckinsey, 55% of Nigerians are price conscious. Which means the populace will always go for the lower prices. Nevertheless, society remains ambitious, explaining why as much as 44% treat themselves to more expensive items.