Africa may become the next China

(MGN Online)

Traditionally, Africans remained offline and uninvolved in the digital world. This has made it virtually impossible for many companies to directly communicate with African markets. Consequently, companies have avoided the continent altogether.

With the proliferation of smartphones, Africans have suddenly become accessible via the Internet. With Facebook opening up its first office on the continent last year and Essence Magazine moving its flagship Essence Festival to South Africa; many companies are seeking to establish themselves in the new frontier.

While Africa has long inspired the entertainment worlds of movies, TV, books, and fashion, its clout has not greatly benefited the continent. With Africans now online, the continent’s ability to monetize their newfound accessibility remains to be seen.

Jeremy Bamidele
Jeremy Bamidele Courtesy of Jeremy Bamidele

Africa, via apparel manufacturing, is particularly poised to take advantage of the opening of its markets. With a skilled workforce and money exchange values positioned in favor of foreign conglomerates, will Africa become the next China?

Africa has a very skilled workforce and a long history in apparel production, especially regarding difficult to find skills including hand beading and creating structural pieces. They also have some of the lowest prices on the most beautiful fabrics and prints in the world.

Many large brands have opened up factories to import African fabrics to other countries where the pieces are sewn. Many consumers don’t even realize that the fabrics that make up their made in Italy gowns are actually from an entirely different continent.

But why do brands have their pieces sewn elsewhere when the human capital needed to generate the pieces is right where the resources are? The reason is partially PR related. Many consumers around the world have a preference for goods “Made in Italy” and other European countries, especially western ones.

This is largely due to a perception that high exchange rates are indicative of a more skilled workforce that can produce higher quality goods. Even the Chinese elite is hesitant to spend high amounts on “Made in China” designer apparel.

The irony becomes that much of “Made in Italy” garments are not produced from textiles created by the old artisans that people believe, but rather by indentured servants from Asia and Africa. These are some of the only people left with the skill to do hand beading and other difficult maneuvers with the speed and finesse needed to produce a profit.

Africa will become a production powerhouse, but like China, its reputation as third-world country will likely continue to leave consumers with the idea that their products are second-rate.

Furthermore, “When we turn to places like Ethiopia where the wages are $21 a month, we’re not only taking advantage of that economy but we’re siphoning off the GDP of America,” said Gio Ferrigno executive producer of Fashion Week Los Angeles.

“It [the money] will never be put back into the economy.”

 

Jeremy Bamidele is the editor-in-chief of both Los Angeles Entertainment News and LA Privy Magazine. We thank him and Kam Williams for sharing this story with us.

One Comment on “Africa may become the next China”

  1. I appreciate you writing about this topic, after all, people have long discounted the African continent as a destination for their investment based on preconceptions that in many African countries are simply out of date.

    That being said, I have few issues with this article.

    1) “Africa has a very skilled workforce and a long history in apparel production”

    “Africa” should not be labelled as such in a blanket statement.

    Are a significant number of workers in Cape Town highly skilled? Absolutely! How about Malawi? No, most Malawians are just farmers. Also, every corner of the globe has a long history of apparel production by necessity of their relatively isolated, pre-globalization past. So it makes no sense to specifically mention that.

    2) “This is largely due to a perception that high exchange rates are indicative of a more skilled workforce that can produce higher quality goods.”

    This quote makes absolutely no sense. Honestly. Because I far as I can tell, no one checks the EUR/ZAR exchange rate before they make a clothing purchase.

    3) “Africa will become a production powerhouse, but like China, its reputation as third-world country will likely continue to leave consumers with the idea that their products are second-rate.”

    Since when is Africa a singular country? Africa is a continent with a collection of 54 countries within it. While many of these countries face similar challenges, each one still needs to be looked at individually, as circumstances can vary wildly between neighboring countries (i.e. Zimbabwe and Botswana).

Comments are closed.