Shaw is a fashion sourcing consultant with an extensive experience in the fashion industry, especially in the region of Africa. The consultant works with small and medium sized enterprises and even government organizations who seek to start a business in Africa.
Jacqueline Shaw has been working in the Africa Fashion Guide for ten years. The consultant, director of Africa Fashion Guide, a business which connects African designers, craftspeople, manufacturers and textile designers with UK and EU fashion design companies and consumer markets, as well as with retailers worldwide, she highlights the innovative shifts and projects occurring in the promise land and tackles some of the challenges that have slowed the vowed growth of the continent. Numerous of her private clients derive from different countries across the world, ranging from Australia to the Caribbean. The entrepreneur is also preparing the launch of an online sourcing platform that will allow retailers across the world who would like to source or establish in Africa. The release is programmed for spring.
MDS: Africa has been the promise land for a while now, why hasn’t it already happened?
Jacqueline Shaw: It has been happening and it is happening. When we look at where it is being done, retailers are in clusters, they’re in region, in particular countries where they have particular trade policy agreements where they have more ease with logistics and have more access to the raw materials or to countries that provide the raw materials. Clusters or regions such as North Africa, the African countries denoted as Middle East like Egypt, Tunisia, Morocco, countries such as Mauritius, Madagascar, South Africa. The northern countries or the southern countries tend to source for major brands and retailers, especially in the US.
MDS: What are the biggest challenges for retailers when considering Africa?
J.S: For retailers, everything is about the bottom line and the cost and time to market. They’re working with countries and regions that have access to their own materials. The full processing is what they need, so if they’re working with China, they know China has access to their raw materials with the new and modern textiles as well as having textile mill dye houses. On the outside maybe retailers want to work with places where the price is low and they have the manpower, the capacity, but they may not have the raw materials like Bangladesh. The challenge with Africa is that the processing system of fashion industry in the supply chain is not as dynamic as in Asia right now. But it requires investment in supply chain machinery and processing of raw materials.
MDS: Who’s the actor that is leading, Chinese investors, retailer, or the government?
J.S: There’s a bit of both. The governments are now doing things, but it’s international governments who are investing in collaborative projects, either local or programs. For example, the organization International Trade Center (ITC), which is part of the United Nations, it’s not an African based government, but they are like a world government, so to speak who deals with developments and they collaborate with projects and programs in countries on the continent and create production houses or supply chain opportunities. They get designers in and retailers to work with Africa, which includes the participation of the Ethical Fashion Initiative. Then there is the Ethical Apparel Africa and they have support from The Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ), USAID, which are international governmental agencies who will collaborate with Africa-based organizations.
MDS: Is price a first factor when retailers consider Africa as a sourcing location?
J.S: Price is always a factor anyway. The fashion industry is competitive, everybody wants to get the cheapest cost price. When it comes to Africa, there are a lot of unknowns. Quality is number one, and then there’s the fact that capacity can be reached. Also, that retailers can get their merchandise out of the country, whichever country it may be, so easier shipping is essential. Retailers want to do things quickly and cheaply and the best quality that fast fashion can be.
MDS: Sourcing is becoming a matter of proximity, what role can Africa have in this change?
J.S: For Africa, it’s closer in proximity than Asia. Africa is a young continent with a young population and a large labor force that is only growing. The reason why Asia has so much success it’s because Asian countries are proven, they have history, they worked with them, they know them. The market is very faster and so it’s easier to stick with what you know than to go somewhere that’s unknown, that is new and that is a risk for you. Especially these new man-made textiles and polyester mixes and nylons for example, Africa must ship these in and there’s extra cost of getting access to those materials, whereas Africa would need to get those in.
MDS: Automation and industry 4.0 are supposed to be the future, is Africa prepared to compete with that?
J.S: I think that the evidence says that it’s the opportunity for Africa. As I said, there’s a young population: by 2100 40% of the world will be African. What’s happening right now is that we’re seeing tech hubs in Nigeria, and in especially in Kenya: Nairobi is dubbed as the ‘Silicon Valley’ of Africa. A lot of young tech stars are evolving and there’s been a lot support in this area. Even bigger than that, we see Facebook opening offices, we see Alibaba’ Jack Ma investing in Africans when it comes to retail tech, we also see Twitter CEO, Jack Dorsey, who visited last year and was talking bout moving to Africa for three months a year, because he says that Africa has a bright future. Even Google has offices in Africa, so we see big tech giants who are setting up prophecies, who are doing programs and investing in young Africans in that area because they’re seeing something that many people may not be seeing. I believe that right now it is challenging because there are factors such as electricity difficulties, but mobile penetration is growing, and it is quite huge in Africa. So, access to information or young Africans particularly s happening more and more. They’re seeing hat is happening and they’re trying thing out, Africa is the place to look at when it comes to tech for those businesses.
MDS: Will sub-Saharan Africa have a bigger role in the future?
J.S: It is not right yet, there are still a lot to do. I know that, there are Chinese investors in countries like Rwanda, which is trying to increase its own production industry, as well as in Senegal. Have eyes on Nigeria when it comes to production industry, because there are a lot of people doing things themselves. They may not be getting investments or full government support, but those who can get local financing, maybe not FDI but then you get local investor who have money to invest in the textile industry and I am hearing a lot of that out of late. It is growing, it can’t compete right yet, it’s not in the same place as the northern or southern countries that I mentioned. But theirs is something bubbling for investors, such as Chinese settling in countries, Nigeria and Ghana where they are seeking to invest in their local manufacturing as well.