Sierra Leonean designers will be showcasing their designs at Africa Fashion Week London (27–29 October), as part of a UK government-funded initiative to help Sierra Leonean fashion firms become more internationally competitive and gain a foothold in Africa’s growing corner of the US$1.5 trillion global textiles and clothing industry.
This trip, which is being organised by Invest Salone, is an excellent opportunity for fashion buyers – who select and order what is sold in stores around the world – to find out more about Sierra Leonean fashion.
Africa Fashion Week takes place annually and consists of an exhibition, a day of fashion shows, panel discussions and a UK–Africa trade expo. This year, the exhibition will feature stands devoted to two Sierra Leonean brands – IZELIA and Tesmaraneh – both specialising in using local fabrics, as well as a catwalk showcase for Sierra Leonean brand, The Pa Musa. The Pa Musa, whose handmade garments are created using the gara tie-dye technique and soft textured fabric, will be displaying pieces from his eclectic new collection at the Africa Fashion Week fashion show on Saturday 28 October, while on Friday 27 October, IZELIA founder Isatu Harrison will be taking part in a panel discussion on the future of fashion sourced and made in Africa.
Invest Salone has been working behind the scenes with the Sierra Leone fashion sector for the last year to support its growth and export potential. This includes providing capacity-building support to fashion and textile firms in areas like pricing strategies, branding development and product offerings, as well as working more generally on tackling constraints to growth such as skill shortages, limited access to capital and expensive shipping services. A key priority of Invest Salone’s support for the sector is working with firms that use sustainably sourced inputs to target high-quality niche markets.
Avril Pratt, consultant with Invest Salone, said that Sierra Leonean fabrics like gara and country cloth have the potential to attract international buyers of textile design, particularly because trade agreements like the UK’s new Developing Countries Trading Scheme allow countries like Sierra Leone to benefit from low or no tariffs on their products. “Sierra Leone’s emerging textiles and fashion sector could make a substantial contribution to the country’s economic development by creating high-quality jobs and increasing exports. Our work with the sector and with individual fashion designers aims to help firms tackle growth constraints, develop new business models and become more competitive and productive.”
Other trade deals that are advantageous to Sierra Leone’s fashion and textiles sector include the USA’s African Growth and Opportunity Act, which gives tariff and quota exemptions to the textile exports of 38 African countries if these meet certain rules; and the EU’s Everything but Arms initiative, which gives duty- and quota-free market access to all but a few products from Least Developed Countries.
Founded in 2011, Africa Fashion Week London’s annual catwalk and exhibition event is one of the world’s largest and longest-running platforms for African and African-inspired fashion and design. It has featured 1,000 emerging and established designers and exhibitors from across the globe including Africa, Europe and the Americas to 42,000 visitors, including buyers, retailers, industry professionals and global media. Twenty-four African countries and 68 countries overall have been represented.