Sola Oyebade is the CEO of Fashions Finest Africa, a platform he uses to support new and emerging fashion entrepreneurs. In this interview with IFEOMA OKEKE-KORIEOCHA, he speaks on the challenges, prospects, and future of the Nigerian fashion industry.
Why is the Nigerian fashion and cosmetics industry not contributing significantly to the country’s GDP?
While I agree that the Nigerian fashion industry still has a lot of room to grow in terms of contributing significantly to Nigeria’s GDP, I must point out that the industry has experienced a lot of growth in recent years. That being said, there are myriad reasons why the Nigerian fashion industry cannot yet compete with the revenue generated by its French counterparts.
First of all, we have a lot of infrastructural issues in Nigeria, from irregular power supply to lack of good distribution channels and modern manufacturing technologies; all these make it hard to run businesses in Nigeria successfully not to talk of making a profit and contributing more meaningfully to the country’s GDP.
As we speak, we’ve still not mastered the art of mass production of apparel and cosmetics products in Nigeria. Quality control is not there and it becomes difficult to have the same quality across the board for all products that encourages trust and willingness to buy by not just Nigerians but the global economy.
Most companies in the Nigerian fashion industry are SMEs who have major difficulties getting access to the funds that are required to scale up. These are just a few challenges that the Nigerian fashion industry faces. Addressing these challenges will require a concerted effort from the government, industry players, foreign investment and other stakeholders to create an environment that is conducive to growth and innovation in the sector.
What lessons do you think Nigeria can learn from France, which has leveraged fashion and cosmetics to drive growth?
There are a lot of lessons to learn from France regarding its fashion and cosmetics industry. For starters, we need to invest in education and training in the fashion space. I see a lot of young designers and cosmetic manufacturers going to France to study fashion and beauty. This is beyond having fashion and beauty schools and teaching people to sew and do makeup, even though this is great too.
But, we also need to teach people the business of fashion, which is something we at Fashions Finest Africa have dedicated ourselves to doing. Our technical colleges are all dead, and we ought to rejuvenate them and actively encourage people to go there and learn and get certificates in fashion design or cosmetology.
This is one area that France has not slacked on. There are many specialised schools and courses for fashion and beauty and Nigeria should emulate that.
Secondly, France has invested heavily in the fashion and beauty ecosystem, especially in research and innovation. A lot of people think that fashion and cosmetics are just about creativity; it’s not. There’s a science to it and like all things scientific, research is important, same as innovation.
There are many companies in France investing in this aspect and that’s why they can bring up new products that engage consumers and spur market interest. We also need to invest in SMEs and make it easier for them to access funding.
Lastly, collaboration is key. There’s a lot of collaboration in the fashion industry abroad both between designers and different players in the cosmetics industry. In Nigeria, we are starting to collaborate, just a little, but there’s still a lot of distrust in the industry.
This could also stem from the fact that we don’t have one united body that everyone can come under as an umbrella. In London, you have the British Fashion Council; in France, you have La Fédération de la Haute Couture et de la Mode; in Nigeria, we have none. How do we create policies that will aid this industry’s growth? Associations have no governing power!
Do you think the success that France has made in its fashion and cosmetics industry is a sign people think highly of French fashion, creativity, lifestyle and culture?
Oh Yes! France, Paris especially, is regarded as the citadel of fashion. This dates back centuries. The French people were always, and are to a large extent still, regarded as the epitome of sophistication and class in fashion, lifestyle and culture. French designers have been known to shape quite several fashion trends all over the world, and the excellence and attention to detail of their craftsmanship has also created a high level of trust in their brands.
So, you want to buy a Dior product because you believe that it is prestigious and also excellently made – a fine piece of craftsmanship. So, yes, everyone wants to buy their products and emulate them. I would add though, that Nigeria, in my opinion, is positioning itself as such in the African fashion space.
In this regard, I must give kudos to fashion influencers. We are slowly but surely positioning ourselves as the definition of the sophisticated and classy African when it comes to fashion.
What more do you think the fashion industry in Nigeria needs for it to catch up with its peers in other countries?
We need infrastructure, access to funding, investment in education, foreign investment, training, and research – to just name a few. I can’t overemphasise how important knowledge is in building any industry. We need to train people in the business of fashion, law, protecting their intellectual property and so much more, which is one of our major drives at Fashions Finest Africa.
We also need to promote our Nigerian brands more aggressively, both locally and internationally. With the help of social media, this has become easier. More fashion influencers need to wear Nigerian brands more and promote them as such. We also do our bit in exposing new and emerging fashion brands at Fashions Finest Africa through our Epic Show, where we spotlight new and emerging brands on the Runway.
Finally, a governing body is critically needed at this time. I can’t say it enough: without proper cohesive collaboration that influences policies and effects change in the government regarding the fashion industry, we can’t make indelible progress in really growing the fashion industry.
Don’t get me wrong; a lot of individuals are doing a lot through their organisations and influences to grow this industry, but the individual efforts will not be enough if we don’t join forces to effect the necessary change that will help the industry grow.
What are the prospects of the fashion and cosmetics industry in Nigeria?
The Nigerian fashion industry has a lot of prospects. We have a growing population and the middle class is expanding. This means that more people have disposable income to spend on luxury and high-quality products. This presents an opportunity for the fashion and cosmetics industry.
There’s also been an increased interest in African fashion. At our Epic Show last year, our theme was ‘Culture to Couture’, which emphasised the fact that African fashion has grown beyond just a cultural identity to an international phenomenon.
A lot of people want to wear African fashion, and Nigeria is strategically positioned to provide a significant chunk of that fashion. This growing interest is a unique opportunity for Nigerian designers and cosmetics brands to showcase their products on a global stage.
I must not fail to mention the diaspora market. Nigeria has a large diaspora community. This presents a unique export opportunity because it means we have an international market to which we can readily market products. Finally, advancement in technology such as social media and the internet offers the Nigerian fashion industry amazing prospects for marketing and brand awareness.
In conclusion, while we may not be at the level of the French fashion and cosmetics industry, we have the prospects to evolve into a bigger and better industry if we tackle our challenges and leverage our opportunities.