It’s boom time for all kinds of clothing businesses… but don’t become that next corner shop!
Where do Africans get their clothing from? Yes, I know we buy it in shops and open markets but where does it really come from? Who makes them? The answers to these questions hold the key to fully understanding the huge size and scale of Africa‘s clothing market.
Every piece of clothing worn by Africans, from simple shirts and dresses to more elaborate items, come from four main sources. Let‘s look at each of these sources and the interesting opportunities that lie within them:
a) Non-designer and mass-produced apparel
This is the main source of clothing for millions of Africans. Most mass-produced garments are typically western-style clothing and range from casual wear (like shirts and jeans) to formal attire. These clothes are usually made in large-scale factories in Eastern Europe and Asia (especially China, Bangladesh, Vietnam, Turkey and Thailand). Mass-produced clothing is typically low-priced and sold as non-designer brands in shops and markets throughout Africa. This segment of the market appeals to consumers who want new and decent western-style‘ clothing at an affordable price.
b) Second-hand ‘used’ clothing
You may not like to hear this but second-hand used‘ clothing imported from Europe and America is a significant source of clothing to millions of Africans, especially the poor. However, contrary to common belief, this type of clothing is not entirely made up of rags. In fact, high-grade‘ second-hand clothing is often highly-priced and attracts a huge demand from middle-income bargain hunters.
Although several countries in Africa have banned the importation of hand-me-downs from the West‘, the biggest value of this type of clothing is that it is very cheap and offers a variety and quality that mass-produced clothing does not always have. In our opinion, second-hand may continue to dominate certain items of clothing in Africa.
Take women‘s bras, for example. Very few countries in Africa have the facilities to make bras because of the complicated manufacturing process. As a result, bras are one of the most sought-after items sold at the many second-hand clothing markets in parts of Africa. Unless affordable and quality substitutes become available, the second-hand clothing market will likely continue to boom.
c) Designer clothing
This is the category of the clothing market that appeals to Africa‘s rich, upper class and fashion-conscious consumers. Designer clothing is the highest-priced in the market and is usually sold in high-end shopping areas and boutiques. These clothes are typically the products of famous celebrity designers in North America and Europe. Entrepreneurs who deal in this type of clothing usually buy from high-fashion boutiques overseas.
Interestingly, there is also a growing crop of African brands that are causing quite a stir within and outside the continent, and can rightly be classified as designer clothing. One of the best examples is Deola Sagoe, whose clothing line has been featured on fashion runways around the world and is worn by top international models and wives of Presidents.
It‘s also important to mention here that there is a rising trend of cheap imitations of designer clothing that are flooding African markets from Asia. A lot of this clothing, though mass produced, is made of inferior material but imitates some of the top-selling international designer brands.
d) Indigenous garments
Across the continent, there is a renewed love for African-inspired clothing styles, designs and colors. Using local fabrics, and sometimes merging western styles with indigenous flavors, the market for locally-made African clothing is certainly on the rise and the potential and opportunities in this trend are huge.
With a growing appreciation of African fashion, the continent‘s large population will provide a huge market for this young but promising segment of the clothing industry. In addition to the local market, African-inspired garments have an outstanding export potential outside the continent.
Malawi‘s Lily Alfonso , Tanzania‘s Kemi Kalikawe and Kenya‘s Njema Helena are just a few of hundreds of entrepreneurs across Africa who are building their passion for fashion into successful businesses. These entrepreneurs, many of whom are already gaining attention in their own countries, are building a viable local clothing business that may dominate the continent‘s market in the near future.
Knowing the segment of the market you want to serve in the clothing business is very important. In the mass-produced category, low prices are a huge motivator. For the luxury designer segment, it‘s all about impressions of quality, class and style. Knowing the kind of customers you want to target will help you to make the right decisions, especially those that concern pricing and the location of your business.