Photograph — Middle East Eye

The fashion industry in Africa is booming, with Egypt and Nigeria leading the way in this growth. Both countries are expected to collectively generate $2.5 billion in revenue from fashion by the end of 2023. Interestingly both countries have experienced different approaches to this lead. 

Nigeria has always been a fashion hub

Nigeria’s fashion industry has a long and rich history, dating back to pre-colonial times when different ethnic groups developed their distinctive clothing styles using local fabrics and embellishments. Although the industry was not very large or profitable in the early ’60s, it caught on shortly after, when the industry experienced a surge of creativity and innovation. Fashion then was a blend of traditional and modern styles, influenced by colonialism, globalization, and modernization. There was a growing demand for domestic and international items. By the 1980s and 1990s, the fashion industry witnessed a boom with the introduction of ready-to-wear clothing by local designers. This time there was a growing demand from the domestic and international markets. According to a report by PwC, Nigeria’s fashion industry was valued at $50 million in 1991, a significant increase from $10 million in 1985. Unfortunately, as the years went by, factors like economic recession, political instability, and import restrictions made the industry take a back seat. Consistent inflationary situations made the demand for fashion items fluctuate.

However, fashion has always been a melting pot of cultures and external influences. This means it is a complex and ever-changing industry that is influenced by a variety of factors. For example, in the mid-2010s, there was a renewed interest in African culture and heritage that ignited interest in indigenous African pieces. According to Euromonitor, Nigeria accounted for 15 percent of a $31 billion fashion market in Sub-Saharan Africa in 2015, and the industry grew 17 percent between 2010 and 2019.

Recently, the entertainment industry, particularly Afrobeats, has also spotlighted Nigerian fashion. Global trends and innovations further shape Nigeria’s fashion industry; for example, the TikTok y2k trend popularized vintage thrift outfits. A Statista report reveals that Nigeria’s resale market is rapidly expanding, reflecting the growing importance of circular fashion for environmentally conscious consumers.

Fashion meets Industrial Revolution in Egypt

Conversely, Egypt’s fashion industry embraces a technical edge. Renowned for exceptional cotton production, the country’s industrial prowess has been a consistent hallmark. As of 2009 and 2010, Egypt had contracts with 23 international countries for cotton exports amounting to $140 million. The North African country has always been a leader in the industrial revolution, with manufacturing being front and centre. Despite occasional setbacks, Egypt has maintained a position ahead of much of Africa, even ranking well in industrial achievements. Egypt’s recent focus on manufacturing, including the establishment of thousands of factories, has enhanced its industrial strength. The country is also setting up the world’s largest textiles factory, set to produce 30 tons of textile daily, in Mahalla. 

Egypt’s investments extend to sectors complementary to fashion, such as tourism. With over seven million tourists in H1 2023, Egypt’s status as a premier tourist destination complements the industry’s growth. The country’s inaugural fashion week event drew global fashion leaders, showcasing Egypt’s expanding market. Egyptian journalists, Mirna Abdulaal and Farah Sadek poised that Egypt would not have been able to host such a grand event if it weren’t for its burgeoning market, which witnessed significant growth over the years. According to the Apparel Export Council of Egypt, the country’s fashion exports rose by 41 percent in 2021 to $2.49 billion. 

This demand is perhaps why Egypt is home to several fashion tech startups that facilitate designer-customer connections and make African fashion more accessible. StartupList Africa notes Egypt hosts 11 operational fashion tech startups. One of these platforms Gahez, connects local fashion designers and manufacturers with customers. Another, La Reina, allows Egyptian women to rent designer outfits for special occasions.

Both Egypt and Nigeria exemplify the diversity and dynamism within Africa’s fashion scene. Egypt’s economy is currently Africa’s second-largest with $363.1 billion in nominal GDP, right behind Nigeria’s $432 billion. Both countries have a growing young population with an increasing disposable income. Meanwhile, both countries are just a few of the fashion hubs of Africa. From Dakar to Ethiopia, Africa’s fashion industry is poised for a global takeover. 

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