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Technology key to Africa’s fashion industry growth –Yekeen-Ajani

Technology key to Africa’s fashion industry growth –Yekeen-Ajani

Bukola Yekeen-Ajani, CEO and Co-founder, Garment Business Consult Limited, in this interview with ABUBAKAR IBRAHIM, speaks about the challenges and opportunities in the fashion industry in Nigeria and highlights how the upcoming Garment Innovation and Sustainability Summit (February 17, 2024), will throw light on what is being done to improve skills, upscale and drive mass production in the continent. Excerpts:

How did you come up with the idea for Garment Business Consulting Limited?

With years of experience and hard work, we discovered that there are skills and technological gaps and sometimes unfavourable policies. So, we asked ourselves, how can we fill in those gaps and provide solutions? The answer was backward integration.

We started this business in Ibadan by selling fabric products and running a boutique and we realised that the fabrics we sell were the same with the ready to wear products in the market. So, that piqued our interests, as we already source for fabrics and we have the store to sell the ready to wear products.

We started looking at the value chain from fabric sourcing, product design, production, then distribution. We realised that the only thing missing is the skill set to design and produce and I had to go to a fashion school to fill the gap. After graduating from the school, we started Garment Business Consulting Limited as a mass manufacturer of garment products in 2021.

How has the Nigerian fashion industry evolved over the past few years?

The Nigerian fashion industry has really grown. The industry operators are trying. We have done a lot and I still believe that we will do much more in the future.

According to analysis of Statista data, the Nigerian fashion sector is expected to reach $1.31 billion by the end of this year. This figure is expected to expand at a robust annual pace of 10.03 percent (CAGR 2023-2027), culminating in a market volume of $1.92 billion by 2027.

With this data, you can see that we are evolving and progressing. The future of the fashion industry in Nigeria is bright.

What are the key challenges facing the Nigerian fashion industry today?

The challenges in the sector have to do with the foundation and perception of the fashion industry in Nigeria and Africa at large. We’re talking about training, sourcing and even the marketing and merchandising aspect of the whole thing and the general perspective of the fashion industry in Africa.

One of the problems we are facing in Africa mostly is the way we perceive fashion design and profession on the continent, it is different from the way it’s seen in the Western world.

So many people believe fashion designing is still informal or at the informal level of professions and that school of thought alone has created a wider gap in terms of the type of training we give our people and the way that we position the fashion industry as it is.

To be honest, when we started, we were faced with a lot of challenges because we wanted a structured fashion business. But there was no reliable data or record to work with. So, it took a lot of work and resources to start from scratch and go to the field.

How can technology be used to improve the Nigerian fashion industry?

There is no way to separate technology from mass production if you really want to compete in this industry. You have to learn the art of bringing technology into whatever aspect of fashion that you’re into because when you’re talking of numbers, you can’t compare human capacity with machines.

We used to have more than 50 workers, most especially the finishers, because we take quality assurance very seriously and as our operations continue to grow, we realised that it’s more cost effective to get machines for the workforce we already have than to employ more people into the fray.

We have not really embraced the mass production aspect of fashion and that is the way forward. That is the gap that we’re talking about. That is the gap that the Turkish and Chinese are filling for us, because you have 5000 dozens of ready to wear products to produce, it will take the machine a week or less to get it done but manually is a whole different story.

So, with technology, we are trying to automate all our production processes. We’re inculcating technology in terms of production, sourcing, stocktaking, and design to meet global standards.

How can the Nigerian government support the growth of the fashion industry?

Awareness and adoption. Earlier, I talked about policy and that is where the government comes in. I remembered when I went to Kenya, they had started “made in Kenya” advocacy. By now, the government should focus more on made in Nigeria products, especially garments, because we are fashionable people.

It’s high time we embraced made in Nigeria apparel and garments because we’ve created that gap with our wants and numbers. The market is there; we just have to tap it. With favourable policies and technological advancement, the industry will continue to grow with jobs created.

What are your plans for the future?

Garment Business Consult Limited has an academy that will train people on the pros and cons of the industry, leveraging technology as the way forward to achieving efficiency and meeting global standards.

Following the commencement of trading under the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Trading Agreement and the imminent onboarding of Nigeria to commence trading under the Agreement across a market of 1.4 billion African consumers (i.e., 54 African countries) valued at $3.4 trillion in terms of the combined gross domestic products, Garment Consult is set for massive scaling while also taking the industry along.

This was what led us to further create the Association of Women in Fashion Tech as part of an effort to position Made in Nigeria brands across Africa and globally, hence our “Garment Innovation and Sustainability Summit.”

When is the Garment Innovation and Sustainability Summit, and what should industry players expect?

The summit will be held in Ikeja, Lagos, on February 17, 2024. It is going to be a one day event that will feature presentations and panel discussions around emerging market opportunities and access to the AfCFTA, digital innovation in the African garment industry and value chain, circularity in the fashion industry, improving access to finance in the industry in Africa, and women’s rights in our contemporary society.

More than that, the Summit will also witness the launch of the Association of Women in Fashion Tech, with a current membership strength of 2,000 fashion SMEs and entrepreneurs; the Garment Consult Fashion Tech Academy with state-of-the-art training and certification programs; the Garment Consult Pan African Affiliate Partnership Program; the Garment Consult Global Distributorship Program; and financing the African Fashion Initiative.

We are looking to bring everyone in and drive an African fashion industry that will foster growth and adopt today’s technology for a sustainable tomorrow.