Will the recent success of young African designers on the international stage, namely Thebe Magugu (South Africa) winning the LVMH 2019 prize and Kenneth Ize (Nigeria) announcing his latest collection at Browns Department store in the UK, make a sustainable change for African Fashion, in particular buyers perceptions of African Fashion brands?
I hope so. And in fact this is the ‘raison d’être’ for my work with LAGO54.
Breaking codes and outdated cliches about fashion brands ‘Made In Africa’ has become a major goal, born out of long held frustrations found in the difficulties of trying to feature African creatives and their products in my journalistic career with Elle, Marie-Claire or Vogue.
Two years ago in Paris, I started Lago 54. Built on the belief that product availability in France will lead to press, changing perceptions and eventually sales, the agency started by investing in several brands making limited editions available on the Lago 54 e-shop. It has also evolved into the first European showroom exclusively dedicated to high-end African brands to show their work to professional buyers during Paris Fashion week. Today, it has a singular vision, and that is to clearly discern and match the right selection of brands with the best market. It is to present brands that meet the expectations of buyers and consumers, in terms of trends, prices and quality. In two years, LAGO54 has found close to 40 retailers for the brands it is working with.
Educate the market.
In France (and probably in Europe), for many people, including fashion circles, African fashion means “wax fabric” or “ankara” and very little else. Moreover, among the brands that only offer wax clothing, many are not perceived as very high quality. The new generation of African fashion designers is proving to the world that African fashion is not only relative to one fabric, but has many stories to tell. The stronger your story-telling is, the more convincing you will be.
What buyers want.
Many will be interested in the narrative behind your brand and collection and others will mainly focussed on the product merchandise at hand. But the winning combination of criteria are price, quality and sales process. Presenting unique products (that are new and suitably adapted to the market) , with a standard of high quality (as buyers in showrooms do not hesitate to turn clothes inside out) , considered pricing (which is competitive) and the ability to deliver on all aspects of the sales process is the key to success.
Selling takes time.
It’s essential for brands when entering a new market to be consistently present in showrooms in successive seasons as buyers will watch to see if a brand still exists and take it as an encouraging signal. It can take 3-4 seasons before a brand gets noticed. There are many stories where a brand went unnoticed for 3 years, and then all of a sudden became in-demand. Twinning with the idea of consistency is patience and professionalism. In turbulent times, buyers take less and less risk and being patient will help to give perspective to the process. Getting even one small order from a reputable store can impact the others.
Clear business strategy can optimise success at showrooms and fairs.
Know what you want exactly: selling to professional buyers in the business of fashion, having good sales through your own eshop or doing it for instagram likes. Get the basics right by knowing your product but also by knowing your target market. Keep in mind that you should never compete with the buyers who buy your brand. Your selling prices on your e- shop must be consistent with the prices that your buyers will have to retail at, including import fees. A good pricing strategy is therefore necessary.
Maintaining customer relations.
Monitoring and maintaining customer relations is a critical step in the development of a brand in new fashion markets. Invest time in building good business relationships. Responsiveness, honesty, transparency are keys.
Many African designers use to think that not having workshops to meet a high production capacity is a major problem. But actually in view of slow fashion, it could be seen as an asset. The main thing is to produce a quality product for the right market combined with a perfect sales process.
Emmanuelle Courreges, Journalist and Founder of Lago54, grew up living between Senegal and Ivory Coast, has traveled to more than 20 African countries and is now based in Paris, France. Follow @lago54 and find out more on www.lago54.com