Such a title might be a contradiction to read on the website of an African fashion week. However, we won’t feel comfortable doing so if we didn’t have foresight on how to progress beyond this issue. One question we hear a lot from our applicants is “Are you going to have buyers? Which buyers would you have?” etc etc. In fact before we began Accra Fashion Week, one time I found myself in the middle of two gossiping ladies at another fashion event where one designer actually was criticizing the event explaining why she wasn’t doing it that year and that how the previous year there were no buyers.
The lady further went to a fashion week in China and one in London and she still has no buyers, and here is the reason why “African designers do not understand how the buyer culture works” (obviously not all, but almost all). Buyers do not jump up and go to a country looking for a show to enjoy, they go to places looking to crack business deals with fashion brands, 9 times out of 10 if they are not at a fashion week you are part of, it most likely means there is no brand that was ringing bells loud enough for them to attend.
Fashion weeks in the main capital are not as they are here, where one super man or woman organizing an event and expected to carry the success, promotion, and deals for some 20-30 designers, just the thought of that is ludicrous. Fashion Week in the west are a compilation of various shows in various building put together by the brands, hiring their own models, spending their own money, seeking buyers themselves that will take an interest in their items, and executing their own event promotion external to the fashion week schedule. Unfortunately in Africa, our fashion industry is not flourishing enough for our designers to hold independent fashion shows as such where they pay for all models, venue, promotion and all, unless they find sponsors, and so our designers are made to rely these events that brings all designers to the light.
Unfortunately, by paying a small fee to be part, designers already begin to feel disarmed from any other responsibility of furthering their brand. They hardly work on their pre and post press coverage, they do not work on their guest invitations, they do not work on their creative input into the shows, nor doing the right amount of branding to appeal to designers, and when the event is closed, some question the organizers for their success, mind you we have not even opened dialogue about the buyers yet, but simply a distinct relationship between the tremendous efforts by designers abroad during fashion weeks compared to the expectations of event organizers in Ghana.
So now we know this, lets look at 4 reason why international fashion buyers turn a blind eye to African fashion.
1/ Buyers Are Swarmed By Many Creatives Even In Their Own Country: Before coming down to deal with any complications of Ghana’s international trade agreements, uncertainty with production processes and more, buyers are swarmed with designers in their own country whom they have never bought from before, or who they bought from previously, or even sometimes, whom they are buying from now attempting to have them buy more, and so forth. Buying from new clients and countries is a great hassle unless they are sure they can secure the process or they are seeing something totally different and profitable. What have you done to make the buyer know stocking your item would be profitable? Are you highly in demand where his shops are based?
2/ Another reason is Most Africans Do Not Create Fashion By Seasons: Buyers like to ensure what they will stock in their shops will not be out of fashion or bought elsewhere before the time you are able to produce the quantities they need. Most designers showcase fashion that is already out in public that they are ALREADY selling. If you have a collection that is well publicized and sold prior to our fashion week, And a buyer visits your show and purchases in bulk, here is what happens. When the bulk orders are made, delivery and all such is done, it might take another 4 months before they are available in stores, by this time your items are out of fashion and really nothing new being that they have been out in public for over 5 months or so. Even within the basic trends of print fashion we have seen cape dresses, off shoulder dresses and flair sleeves all come and go out of season in one year, 2016. Buyers are peculiar with what they buy into. And stocking clothes that are out of fashion is a big turn off to buyers. Using the cinema reference, Batman Vs Superman was release last year, no one will visit the cinema to watch it now. This is your out-of-date product in a store. If you wish to attract buyers, the collection you showcase must not be available to the public during your time of showcasing. If you are very dedicated to seek buyers, do not shy away from showcasing a collection that is set to be released for a later date. Ghanaian designers currently do not have seasonal releases and most collections are available as they are shown, and therefore buyers see our fashion shows as kids play, and do not even consider attempting to be part of the trading process.
3/ Buyers Don’t Buy Designs They Buy Brands: Buyers are not your marketers, you do not sit down and make a nice dress and hope they will buy it and promote it for you for sales simply because it is nice. They are more like distributors hoping by the time your clothes hits their shop you have aroused interest or some demand from the general public. Until you really popularize the demand for your brand you really cannot call for the presence of a buyer. This is why I like to use the cinema reference. A film company makes a film and the cinema will buy the rights at a certain price to show that movie in their venue. The cinema is not looking to purchase a film nobody wants to see and then start promoting because they will lose money if the tickets don’t sell, they look to buy a film the audience are desperate to watch. Meaning that film producers need to do excess promotion via various avenues in order to appeal to buyers, one various review magazines, blogs and TV shows. This is your relationship with the buyer, “If I take your clothes to stores in the UK, do you expect me to start promoting you there?”- The Buyer
If you brand is strong and well pushed, they might even call you ahead of your show. Fashion might be luxury but it will also forever be a necessity and to those involved it’s business. Despite the situation of the world people will always wear clothes. Despite how funky a creative you are, buyers are living lavishly in a world of endless sales, so why should they buy your clothes? What promotional and branding efforts have you executed to ensure that people will walk into their stores asking for your brand before it’s even stocked? What work have you done to ensure that you are in media that their clients are tuned in to? Buyers also need to survive, they are business women and men and not charity workers here to push you after purchasing, that’s not their field of expertise. Most African brands are not known beyond the fashion circles in their own countries. If one wishes for buyers to pay attention to their work, they need to execute a hefty amount of PR and promotion and when you do, believe it or not, the buyers will contact you themselves to attend your show, just like a cinema will contact a movie company it doesn’t know for a well demanded movie before it’s released. You can’t ask for international buyers if you are not working towards an international brand. This point should really not be underestimated and should actually be paid for, thank us later.
4/ Most African Fashion Designer’s Do Not Follow World Trends: I am not so much of a believer in following world trends, nevertheless, clothes in mainstream shops and in fashion magazines sometimes can be seen to have similar themes running through them, buyers again are business men. They follow what they feel is trendy in public, whether is generated by press or authentic. The question is how are you infusing the world trends into your upcoming collection, which they know designers in Africa for not doing so.
So What To Do?
This article is not to say a number of African designers in Africa have not struck lucky here or there, but speaking generally. The world is constantly evolving, Africa is in it’s own unique spot and at a pivotal point with potential to revolutionize the fashion world. However, our position and forward steps can not mimic the ancient steps that created success for nations miles ahead, that would be no different from a new record label trying to succeed by sales of CDs. Africa needs to be more innovative with how we approach our fashion weeks. The list of points above was simply an extract from one of a number of documents provided to participating designers in Accra Fashion Week. Others include, putting together collections, creating the right look books, pricing your items and much more. Also our forward motion on how best to move forward in the buyer culture is a part of what we share amongst our applicants. Thanks for reading, please remember to share with a fashion friend.