Buzzy Fashion Week, Where's The Profit?

 Backstage Reportage at Sophie Theallet / Freddie L. Rankin

Backstage Reportage at Sophie Theallet / Freddie L. Rankin

ACCRA, Ghana - Reaching Fashion Week in any city is a major accomplishment for any aspiring designer. Name recognition can be brand-solidifying for startup design houses and the impact is not to be underestimated. Yet, what happens after the camera flashes fade? Ghana's first Accra Fashion Week last month shared a lesson in the gap between buzz-worthy fashion shows and real profitability as a brand.

Organizer behind Accra Fashion Week Nana Tamakloe spoke to Pulse Ghana last week to share the challenges and opportunities for emerging talent presenting in Ghana. His goal was "to connect designers with boutiques, so [that] their goods were sold locally, instead of boutiques just relying on imported clothing." The general intent of fashion presentations is to allow buyers at department stores, boutiques, and concept shops to view collections months in advance before making them available for sale to the masses. The seismic shift of "See Now, Buy Now" has led many of the largest US and European luxury brands, including Tom Ford and Burberry, to toss the traditional schedule in favor of a consumer-driven, immediate approach. 

In Ghana, the process of fashion presentations and subsequent sale to department stores and boutiques is quite different. The retail landscape is largely directed by boutiques in highly popular neighborhoods within Accra, such as Osu-Re. As such, success in fashion in Ghana is dependent on developing relationships with the leaders in these mostly single-location retailers. Without the scale of a department store network, it is near impossible for an individual boutique to buy enough of a designer's collection to ensure profitability for the brand. Despite 28% of the Accra Fashion Week attendees being buyers, participating brands were still unable to garner much-needed sales and ultimately, profitability. Tamakloe continued, "Ghanaian designers [are] not getting the credit [they] deserve in terms of sales and acknowledgement and promotion."

 Courtesy of Christie Brown.

Courtesy of Christie Brown.

Vanessa Bannerman, Head of Merchandising at Christie Brown, a Ghanaian luxury brand, echoed similar sentiments regarding the complexities for designers based in Africa. Bannerman shared via email that "coordination is always a challenge, although I don't think this is exclusive to African fashion weeks." Christie Brown has shown in South Africa, Lagos, and Ghana in recent years. She continued,

"It's always an adrenaline rush trying to coordinate model castings, hair, fittings, makeup, styling, media interviews, [and] showroom appointments in a week. But African fashion weeks have come a long way. In the last three years, I can confidently say the gap between iconic African fashion weeks and other international platforms is closing. We take great pride in that! Of course, the post-show benefits are very few, which can make the initial investment to show a bit daunting. With few true buyers and merchants (both local and international) attending the shows, the business growth opportunities associated with showing at fashion weeks don't really exist...not just yet or at least not to the extent [they] should."

On the other hand, Bannerman describes the benefits of participating in African fashion weeks as two-fold: "It's the same as playing a game on home turf - the support, the encouragement, [and] the ability to command a runway stage, it's phenomenal. It's an opportunity to solidify brand image and positioning on the continent. For a lot of designers, including Christie Brown, it's also a stepping stone as well for creating credibility and laying the foundation to show in Western fashion weeks."

Cape Verdean designer Josefa da Silva of her eponymous label noted that her participation in Accra Fashion Week lifted her social media following from 4k to 10k. Da Silva is more well-known than some of her peers for her celebrity clientele, her accessories collaboration with Dillard's, and her ambassadorship with Cheerios and Shoprite for their "Knock Out Hunger" campaign. However, how much of her collection was sold to buyers at the respected boutiques in the region remains to be seen. That da Silva's business model is diversified along the lines of private dressing, collaboration with US department stores, and philanthropic partnerships may give a peek into the success of her ready-to-wear collections. A final piece of advice from Bannerman should resonate for young designers: "Remember, you get one chance to make a good impression...the question isn't 'Am I ready to accept the disappointment of a buyer not liking me' ... ask yourself, 'Am I prepared if a buyer falls in love with my brand?'"

Continued exposure for African brands through African-based Fashion Weeks is no doubt a positive trend, but supporting these designers with productive connections to buyers and boutiques who can sustain their businesses is even more valuable.