Africa has always been a continent of rich and diverse cultural traditions, and its fashion industry has historically been a reflection of these traditions. However, in recent years, technology has played a significant role in transforming the African fashion landscape. From the way designers create and showcase their work to the accessibility of African fashion to the global market, technology has become a driving force behind the fashion revolution in Africa.
E-commerce, 3D printing, social media and virtual fashion shows are some of the technological inroads the African fashion industry has seen.
E-commerce and Online Marketplaces
The most notable way technology has transformed African fashion is through e-commerce and online marketplaces. With the advent of smartphones and widespread internet access, African designers and brands can now reach a global audience more easily than ever before. Platforms like Afrikrea, Konga, and PayPorte have become popular online marketplaces where African fashion designers can showcase their products to a wide customer base, both within Africa and internationally.
These platforms provide a space for emerging designers and established brands to sell their products, making African fashion more accessible to a global audience. The convenience of online shopping has also contributed to the growth of the African fashion industry, enabling customers to browse and purchase products with ease.
Virtual Fashion Shows and Runways
The COVID-19 pandemic accelerated the adoption of virtual fashion shows and runways, and African designers quickly embraced this trend. Virtual fashion shows have not only allowed designers to continue showcasing their collections during lockdowns but have also opened up new opportunities for creativity and innovation.
Designers can now experiment with digital fashion, creating clothing and accessories exclusively for virtual platforms. This has given rise to a new dimension of fashion, where the boundaries between the physical and virtual worlds blur.
In December 2020, the Accra Fashion Week made history with a virtual edition that premiered from the 11th to 13th. The event showcased works from prominent designers from all over the world.
In the same year, Congolese designer, Anifa Mvuemba, released the latest collection for her fashion brand, Hanifa, on Instagram using virtual models. During the show, the digital models sashayed down the runway with the designer’s outfits draped on headless, three-dimensional bodies.
Artificial Intelligence (AI) in Fashion
AI is being employed in various aspects of the fashion industry, from trend prediction to personalization. In Africa, AI is being used to analyze consumer preferences, predict fashion trends, and optimize supply chain management for fashion brands.
Save Your Wardrobe, founded in Tunisia is a wardrobe management app that uses AI and Machine Learning to provides users with the tools to not only optimise their wardrobes but also to extend the life of their garments through a range of on-demand clothes care services. Founded in 2017, the startup offers services such as repairs, alterations, eco-cleaning, customisation, upcycling, leather repairs etc.
User access the service via a booking system; the items are collected by the logistics collector and returned once ready.
In 2023, Save Your Wardrobe joins the prestigious list of grand winners of the LVMH Innovation Award.
A Nigerian startup called Fitted has also developed a digital platform that uses machine learning to eliminate inefficiencies in the custom tailoring industry. Utilizing AI , the startup effortlessly generates and preserves customer measurements, resulting in a substantial reduction of approximately 90 percent in measurement time. Through its cloud-based platform, tailors can efficiently manage and monitor orders, facilitate global payment acceptance, establish connections with suppliers, and directly interact with their clientele.
The product offerings include a tailor's portal, brand shop and an order management system. With tailors in about 13 countries including India, Pakistan, Ghana, Kenya, South Africa, the US and the UK, Fitted was founded in 2021 in Nigeria.
Social Media and Influencer Marketing
Social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok have become powerful tools for African fashion designers and brands to connect with their audience and gain exposure. African fashion influencers and bloggers have emerged as influential voices, helping to promote and celebrate African fashion on a global scale.
These influencers not only showcase African designers' creations but also highlight the cultural significance and diversity of African fashion. They play a crucial role in breaking stereotypes and creating a more accurate and nuanced portrayal of African style.
3D Printing and Sustainable Fashion
Another technological advancement making waves in African fashion is 3D printing. This innovative technology has the potential to revolutionize the way clothing is produced and customized. African designers are increasingly exploring 3D printing to create unique and sustainable fashion pieces.
By using 3D printing, designers can reduce waste, minimize the use of traditional textiles, and experiment with intricate designs that were previously challenging to achieve. This aligns with the growing global interest in sustainable fashion and eco-friendly manufacturing practices
As African fashion continues to evolve and gain global recognition, technology will remain a driving force behind its growth and innovation. These startups are just a snapshot of the dynamic fashion tech scene in Africa. The continent continues to foster innovation and entrepreneurship in the fashion industry, driven by the intersection of traditional craftsmanship, cultural diversity, and technological advancements.