How many jobs do you think are in the fashion industry? I am sure the first ones that come to your mind are fashion designer, seamstress and fashion model. In the Congolese community, those are the most mainstream roles in the fashion industry. However, in fashion there are 100 of them, which include and are not limited to Marketing, Finance, Beauty and Operations. So if the question is can the fashion industry revive the Congolese economy? The Answer is yes, it can be one of the driving forces.
In 2015 Fashion was a $1.2 trillion global industry, which included luxury fashion, fast fashion and accessories (bags, jewellery, watches and shoes). Fashion and apparel industries employ 1.9 million people in the United States and the UK fashion industry is estimated to support 850,000 jobs. The number of people that work in this industry in Congo is unknown to me.
So why and how are Congolese people so limited in their understanding of an industry they swear to love? If you do not understand what I am speaking of, I am speaking of Sapologie. A term engrained in the brain of every Congolese person regardless of whether they were born inside or outside of both countries respectively.
La Sape, an abbreviation based on the phrase Société des Ambianceurs et des Personnes Élégantes (French; literally “Society of Ambiance-Makers and Elegant People”) and hinting to the French slang word sape which means “attire”, is a subculture centered on the cities of Kinshasa and Brazzaville in the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Republic of Congo respectively. An adherent of La Sape is known as a sapeur. The movement embodies the elegance in style and manners of colonial predecessor dandies.
As Congolese people, we have created a subculture that has been features and respected by not only other African countries, but globally by the likes of African American singers Solange and Jidenna but also, the Chinese community who were heavily involved in Congolese music through Papa Wemba. So if our industry already has a name, already has an impact and is influencing people all across the globe, how are we not or rather how have we not developed a sustainable industry that can create thousands of jobs across both nations and fuel the passion of many artists in that industry?
The main reason is that fashion is not taken seriously, and like any other art, is dismissed over the likes of studies in business, medicine, education and engineering. However, there comes a time when thinking must change and new entrepreneurial ways must be accepted in order to see change.
Why develop Congo’s fashion industry?
The industry is set to double in value in the next 10 years to generate up to $5trillion annually. This presents a huge opportunity for business in Africa, as the combined value of apparel and footwear in sub-Saharan Africa was estimated at $31 billion in 2016.
The fashion industry holds amazing potential to motivate and bring change to some of the most vulnerable people, especially women and children, while advancing the structural transformation needed in the industry and in the country.
The role of creative industries in Congo Kinshasa and Brazzaville.
With 13 million young African joining the labour force on a yearly basis, the development of skill based industry, where people can learn on the job and gain qualifications in a labour intensive sector is imperative to for the stability of our nations. Fashion uses our culture and creativity as a selling point, which can be leveraged both within and outside of the continent.
What can we do to change this?
Investment, training and the industrialization of the industry. There are many more roles outside of being a seamstress in fashion, from textile designer to fashion forecaster, the roles are endless. Let’s broaden the minds of the people in the industry.
Africa currently accounts for just 1.9% of global manufacturing. That figure does not just relate to fashion. With having raw materials available, Congo should focus on moving to the top of the value chain and produce garments targeted at the home and international audience.
Strategic support and investment in local manufacturers should allow the Congolese fashion industry to steadily grow and become an entity of its own