image: Thebe Magugu

image: Thebe Magugu

Look beyond the African-inspired caricatures that make their way onto the seasonal runways of big-name fashion brands and the corresponding ad campaigns and you will see that no shortage of the designs that are either coming out of African countries or from African-born designers living abroad are inherently modern. For instance, Thebe Magugu’s  “expertly layered aesthetic speaks to a new generation of stylish and empowered South African women,” according to Vogue, while Kidd Hunta is “redefining the look of Zimbabwean identity with tailoring filtered through a sub-Saharan lens.”

These brands operate in a budding young ecosystem. Millennials currently comprise 37 percent of Africa’s population and 70 percent of the Sub-Saharan African population is under the age of 30, making it the world’s most youthful continent and the home of “steadily growing per capita income that drives the emergence of consumer markets with a surprising level of sophistication and growing spending power,” per Deloitte. Couple this with the projection – by Economist Intelligence Unit – that by 2030, Africa’s top 18 cities could have a combined spending power of $1.3 trillion.

No shortage of this economy is fashion-specific. As of 2015, Sub-Saharan Africa’s combined apparel and footwear market, alone, was worth a reported $31 billion, according to data from Euromonitor, with a handful of analysts pointing to the potential for African nations to become even bigger players in garment manufacturing thanks to favorable trade policies and convenient access to European and U.S. markets.

“Lagos, with its love of glamor, is turning into a real fashion powerhouse, Johannesburg has that edge that makes London look sleepy, Nairobi is super creative and Casablanca’s scene is small but distinctive,” says British-Eritrean writer and journalist Hannah Azieb Pool.

And yet, this market, as a whole, remains largely untapped.

So, what is standing between Africa and a spot at the table of international fashion capitals? It is not a lack of original perspective or inherently innovative output. Instead, the problem for many of these designers – and for the region as a whole – is, in many cases, the absence of a centralized discovery platform for editors, buyers, and consumers, alike. This is something that supermodel Naomi Campbell – who was recently in Lagos, Nigeria for Arise Fashion Week – noted, in suggesting that that Vogue magazine launch an African edition to recognize the continent’s contribution to the global fashion industry.

Campbell is not alone in thinking that there is opportunity in the largely untapped fashion industry in Africa. Industrie Africa sees the void, as well, and wants to change it.

Touting itself as “the continent’s definitive guide to fashion industry talent and designer discovery,” Industrie Africa, which launched on June 1st, is the brainchild of fashion veterans Nisha Kanabar and Georgia Bobley. Giving a platform to 80 designers from 24 nations across Africa, a project that took over a year to come into fruition, Industrie Africa “empowers a network of regional talent to become more influential players in the global narrative, positioning the continent as a leading, connected fashion frontier.”

In short, the website is the continent’s first digital showroom for brands that are “predominantly based in Africa.” It provides a significant step in the effort to bridge the gap between African fashion and the rest of the world. 

It is worth noting that while noble in and of itself, such an effort will be particularly effective if it helps put stylists-to-the-stars – such as Beyoncé, who has helped put Nigerian-born, Los Angeles-based designer Amaka Osakwe and her label Maki Oh on the map when she and others wore Maki Oh designs in the music video for Lemonade – on notice of these budding young design brands, as tastemakers of such stature can almost single-handedly put a brand on the map. Industry Africa might be a sure-fire step in globalizing this otherwise under-utilized talent.