From toothpaste to food packaging and even automobiles, there’s a rising global consciousness and effort to embrace environmentally friendly ways of living and doing business.
The Fashion industry is progressively joining the growing list of industries championing this shift. Fashion, being the second biggest industry after oil ($1.5 trillion as of 2020), is also the second-largest pollutant and wasteful industry after oil.
Issues ranging from fair wages for employees, reducing the use of harsh chemicals, responsible waste disposals to incorporating more biodegradable fabrics are gradually becoming frontline topics and dominating debates within the industry.
This gradual push and the rising narrative are evident in the growing market for sustainable fashion. As of 2019, it was valued at $6.35 billion has increased at an annual compound growth rate of 8.7%, and is expected to grow to about $8.25 billion in 2023 at an annual growth rate of 6.8%.
However, small in comparison to the overall global fashion market, it is still a significant size and a promising opportunity.
And Nigeria, still Africa’s biggest economy and arguably the continent’s biggest fashion consumer market, is primed to take advantage of this growing opportunity.
This is so because of the way local fashion brands already do business. For the most part, garments and fabrics are made by hand and require human effort or input. Because most tailor-made garments are usually custom-built to suit the client, very little waste occurs during production.
This puts Nigerian fashion brands at an advantage and well-positioned to reap the benefits inherent in incorporating sustainability into their model. For these brands, here are a few key opportunities to leverage and challenges to consider:
Heritage: There is no ethnic group in Nigeria that doesn’t have a fabric typically woven or decorated by hand. Local designers need to exploit this by looking inward, authentically, and passionately celebrating their heritage and selling that to a global audience.
Local craftsmanship: Hand-made, hand-done are popular terminologies in ethical fashion. We already do this in Nigeria. Most locally made garments are from fabrics done and products finished by hand. Our artisans make fabric designs by hand, buttons out of wood, ebony, ivory, etc.
Natural fibre fabric: Cotton is our primary fabric. We weave them into heavy woven fabrics like the Asooke of the Yoruba people, the Akwete of the Igbo people, or the Igbu (Ukpon Esan) of the Esan people in Edo state. These are very luxurious fabrics that tell a story unique to us.
Lack of local variety: With regards to milled cotton fabrics like twill, moss or georgette that designers require, there isn’t enough local production to match demand currently. However, this can gradually change as more private individuals get involved in this sector, presenting opportunities within the manufacturing and financing spaces of the value chain.
Not Export Ready: Lack of adequate preparedness especially with pricing, packaging, payment, and labelling remains a key challenge. Also, a lack of adequate knowledge of the target customer and how to reach them can greatly limit businesses from exploiting these opportunities.
Global Transacting: Receiving funds locally from international trade is also challenging but is rapidly getting addressed with the rise of new and innovative digital payment solutions like Paystack and Flutterwave.
Despite the challenges, sustainability presents an opportunity for fashion companies to plug into to not only help improve Nigeria’s local economy and their business prospects but also showcase the country’s culture and heritage on a global stage.