A Taste of Africa: The Business of African Fashion in the United States
Ever imagined a world without textiles? Definitely not. The fashion industry in the United States is thriving. Recent data from Orbelo indicates the Apparel market gathered a revenue amount of US$494.89 bn between 2019 and 2023 and is expected to grow annually by 1.96%.
But how much of these did the African fashion industry in the US contribute?
In this blog post, we will explore the business of African fashion in the United States, including its history, growth, challenges, and opportunities.
An Overview of African Fashion
Bold. Intricate. Versatile. These are the words that first come to mind when we think of African fashion, commonly Ankara fashion, one of Africa's popular fabrics.
Some vibrant Ankara pieces from Kayammah
African prints were originally created as batik knockoffs for Indonesians by the Dutch in the 19th Century but were later adopted and widely acclaimed as being African by West Africans. Over the years, the print has evolved to match the rich African culture that dates back centuries.
Initially, Ankara fabric was only used for cultural activities in Africa and for poor people who could not afford Western clothing.
But that has changed.
The rise in the demand for African fabric today, not just in Africa but the United States and the rest of the world is overwhelming.
I can say, the African fabric is taking back its power and regaining its glory in the fashion industry.
Different styles of African fashion like Ankara, Dashiki, Adire, and Kente have gained widespread popularity in the United States with many African designers and fashion entrepreneurs establishing their businesses in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Atlanta.
The Rise of African Fashion in the United States
Between the periods of January and June of 2022, the US imported $1.416 billion of apparel from African nations making it the largest importer followed closely by Italy and France.
Several aspects led to the surge: Black movements in the US, the rebound of textile industries in Africa, affordability and availability of the fabric, social media, and the presence of innovative designers and stylists.
Black-Owned business (Img:Shutterstock)
Black Lives Matter. Black-Owned Movement. As Americans, these are movements we're all familiar with. And ones that have brought great attention to fashion labels that work with African print in the United States.
African fashion designers and entrepreneurs living in the United States and the United Kingdom art African turning West African fabric into contemporary American silhouettes and they’re leveraging social media as their marketing tool.
The Business of African Fashion in the US
Patience Asiyo started her brand Kayammah in 2022 with the sole aim of making African fashion in the United States relatable and affordable.
“When I moved to the US, I wanted something that would always remind me of who I was, my cultural heritage,” Says Patience who Immigrated to the US from Kenya and now resides in Florida. " The hurdle was locating a store that dealt with African fabric in my state, the ones I found, their prices were exorbitant, to say the least. And that's where the idea to establish Kayammah came about.”
She is just one among many Americans who have tapped into the market of African fashion.
The African fashion industry in the United States is a growing market that is attracting significant attention from investors, entrepreneurs, and fashion enthusiasts.
For black consumers, African print signals a taste for vibrant colors as well as a cultural identity.
While the largest market for African fashion is black people born and raised in America, recent years have seen a rise in new buyers.
Challenges Faced by Entrepreneurs and Fashion Designers
While the market has been welcoming for fashion designers and entrepreneurs dealing with African fabric, it has not been a smooth ride.
Racism and Bias
80 percent of Black business owners say that they have faced significantly more challenges getting their business off the ground due to their race while 85 percent said they had to overcome more challenges compared to their non-black counterparts.
Besides racism and bias, fashion designers and entrepreneurs who have ventured into the African fashion segment face is access to funding and resources. Black entrepreneurs have a harder time getting loans and investment capital limiting their ability to expand and grow their businesses.
Additionally, they’re likely not to have the same connection or access to resources that large and established luxury brands like Prada and Yves Laurent have.
Sourcing authentic African fabrics and the right artisans for production
Authentic African fabrics such as Ankara, Kente, and Adire have cultural significance and are often handmade using traditional techniques. However, counterfeit or low-quality fabrics are flooding the market, making it difficult for designers to find reliable suppliers.
Kente Fabric (Shutterstock)
Moreover, working with such a fabric often requires specialized skills and techniques. Locating artisans and tailors outside Africa who can work on such fabrics and patterns is often a big challenge. It becomes worse when you have to meet production deadlines when labor is being outsourced from a different continent.
Market Penetration and Awareness
While there is a growing interest in African fashion globally, it's still a hurdle in penetrating mainstream markets and building brand awareness.
Imagine having to compete with the likes of Ralph Lauren Corporation, Luis Vuitton, Versace, Valentino, Givenchy, and other local brands for the same market.
These are fashion players that have been in the game and have understood and made their foot in the market. Without the right marketing strategies, new businesses are doomed to fail.
The Opportunities for Growth and Expansion
The global demand and discussion of African-inspired clothing have led to a tremendous boost in sales for designers and entrepreneurs dealing with African fashion in the US. There are event brands whose works have caught the eyes of influential people and celebrities such as Michelle Obama, Beyonce, Alicia Keys, Rihanna, and Thandiwe Newton.
This means that the industry has the potential to birth a need for African-led e-commerce fashion platforms to create structures that cater to global demands and also help upcoming brands to thrive.
There are also some key growth opportunities that Americans dealing with African fashion can tap into and including the following:
- The growing interest in African culture and heritage among consumers in the US presents an opportunity for African fashion to showcase its unique designs and vibrant prints.
- Cross-cultural interchanges especially collaborations between African fashion designers and mainstream brands.
- The rise of e-commerce platforms is providing designers and entrepreneurs with a global audience and market
- Fashion events and exhibitions can help designers gain exposure and connect with industry professionals, buyers, and influencers.
Kayammah is a black-owned business based in Atlanta and Florida but has its roots in Kenya focused on creating vibrant, versatile, and timeless African print outfits at affordable prices.
From dresses to shorts to tops, we have it all and you should strive to have a few pieces of our collection in your wardrobe. You have no excuse not to get a few pieces as they're very affordable, we've different designs and sizes.
As we strive to get a pie of the fashion industry revenue in the United States, our focus is on you as our esteemed customer.