Newsletter No 9/10 March 2023
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Fast and slow fashion collide at Zara
By Corina Pons and Virginia Furness
Marian Fernandez, 56, a former employee of Inditex, rearranges clothes at the store window display of her fashion shop Maazi in downtown A Coruna, in northern Spain. File photo: Miguel Vidal/REUTERS
A Coruna/London — In Spain’s A Coruna, two contrasting fashion business models collide, pitching the growing demands for the clothing industry to become more sustainable against the constant need to drive sales.
The rainy, windswept, city on the rugged Atlantic coast is the unlikely headquarters of Zara-owner Inditex, the world’s biggest fast-fashion retailer. It also hosts small boutiques offering high-quality, durable products that are considered an alternative to the fast and affordable fashion propelling Inditex’s annual sales of €28bn.
Inditex’s huge output of garments was a factor behind the EU’s pledge last year to reverse the “overproduction and overconsumption of clothing”. It wants all clothes sold in the bloc to be “long-lived and recyclable” by 2030.
The EU will announce its new proposals for the industry at the end of March, environment commissioner Virginijus Sinkevičius said on the sidelines of an event in Portugal last week.
The European Commission wants to ensure companies only manufacture the number of products they need. It will stop short of imposing restrictions, instead asking firms to police themselves to be called sustainable, Sinkevičius said.
“If you release tonnes and tonnes of clothes, textiles, shoes into the market, you will have to collect it,” he said.
About 5.8-million tonnes of textile products are discarded every year in the EU, equivalent to 11kg per person. A truckload of textile products is landfilled or incinerated somewhere in the world every second, according to EU figures.
Inditex had 565,027 tonnes of garments on the market in 2021, more than the 528,797 tonnes in 2018, according to its annual report. The company may disclose a further increase when its 2022 annual report is published next month.
So far, Inditex shows no sign of slowing production. But it is changing some processes, aiming to reduce its environmental impact while sticking to its strategy of regular new ranges. Central to that plan is using recycled materials and cutting water, energy and raw material usage, Inditex said.
“We believe that it is not a question of how much (is manufactured), but of how,” the company said.
Half of Inditex’s garments were produced in a more sustainable way in 2021 — by for example using organic cotton or fibres that do not pose a risk to endangered forests — compared with 9% in 2018, the company said in its annual report, without giving specific data on how these materials reduce its environmental impact.
Inditex adjusts production to match customer demand and only 2% of stock needs to be recycled or donated, it said.
The company is targeting net zero emissions by 2040, and its strategy has been approved by the Science Based Targets Initiative (SBTi), a body which scrutinises companies’ sustainability policies.
Some of A Coruna’s smaller boutiques are run by former Inditex designers or sales staff who left to set up their own operations, emulating Inditex founder Amancio Ortega who established his first Zara store in A Coruna in 1975.
Among them are Jorge Toba, 37, and Antia Montero, 31, who worked at Inditex in purchasing and design. They launched children’s clothing brand The Campamento in 2018, producing just two, made-to-order collections a year, mostly with organic fibres. They do not add new products midseason and they charge online shoppers for returns to encourage conscientious shopping.
“This is a very polluting industry, so we try to leave as little trace as possible,” Montero said at a warehouse in the heart of the city from which the business is run.
Inditex, itself, is working with more than 100 start-ups specialising in recycling fibres.
Circ, a US company focusing on textile-to-textile recycling in which Inditex invested last year, is developing new technologies to separate cotton and polyester blended in most clothes, the first step to produce clothing from used or waste textile materials, its president Peter Majeranowski said.
But Circ and its competitors are only capable of producing 1% of the textiles needed to make the 109-million tonnes of clothes a year that the global fashion industry churns out.
“It’s really a drop in the ocean,” Majeranowski said. The goal is to recycle 10% of annual production by 2030, he said.
Marian Fernandez, 56, spent 25 years at Inditex, rising to become one of the top managers of its luxury brand Uterque before setting up her own fashion shop, Maazi, in A Coruna. She posts weekly videos on social media teaching customers how to build a “responsible” wardrobe with dresses that can be used for multiple occasions and seasons.
Boutique labels in A Coruna could show the way to others.
“It’s in new and smaller companies where innovation starts,” said Achim Berg, a senior partner at global management consultants McKinsey.
The ties that bind
By Odrek Rwabwogo
Ugandan President Yoweri Museveni in Kyankwanzi district, Uganda, December 4 2021. Picture: Abubaker Lubowa/REUTERS
SA-Uganda summit can be a driver of increased intra-African trade and offer further momentum to the African Continental Free Trade Area
This week presidents Cyril Ramaphosa and Yoweri Museveni preside over the first SA-Uganda trade, investment and tourism summit. They will be joined by about 300 delegates from the respective nations’ public and private sectors to exchange views, ideas and information on facilitating and enhancing investment and business.
The summit is timely. Enhanced intra-African trade and co-operation are integral to the success of economic recovery and industrialisation strategies taking place across Africa as the continent emerges from the rubble of the global Covid-19 pandemic. Indeed, the lack of cohesion and integration among African countries has long posed an impediment to economic growth. Barriers to trade include non-harmonised sanitary and phytosanitary requirements, discriminatory technical regulations and overly complex rules of origin.
However, few partnerships hold more promise than that of Uganda and SA. Bilateral relations between are thriving. Already SA is one of the fastest-growing sources of foreign direct investment for Uganda, spanning telecommunications, breweries, finance, poultry, energy and more.
Even in the midst of the pandemic the value of SA’s exports there rose from R1.35bn in 2019 to R1.8bn in 2021. We are keen to return to — and then surpass — the R3.11bn recorded 2018. Uganda’s exports to SA include cotton, gold, fish fillets, tobacco, coffee and fresh flowers. SA’s exports to Uganda include machinery, vehicles, plastics, chemicals, electronics, petroleum, textiles, footwear, aircraft and household goods.
It is precisely these flourishing bilateral relations between two brotherly African nations that the summit seeks to harness to drive growth and prosperity for all. Like many countries post-pandemic, Uganda’s greatest and most important challenge remains the creation of jobs for our youthful population. Critical to this is industrialising our agriculture-dominated economy and developing our light manufacturing capabilities. We therefore see our manufacturing, agriculture and agro-processing, tourism, mining, information technology, health services, biotechnology, pharmaceuticals and chemicals sectors as rich with opportunity for SA.
Already both our countries have the necessary frameworks to facilitate our ambitions. We are both members of the Commonwealth — a global network of nations that share the same values, language and legal systems, rendering it 21% cheaper for members to do business with one another. Moreover, the recent establishment of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) is an important step for African countries to align standards.
Uganda has ambitious strategies to rapidly grow exports to the outside world. But that does not mean we should neglect our regional markets to do so. On the contrary, enhancing trade and investment links within Africa is a crucial first step for us all to enhance such ties with the prized markets of the developed North. But before we can do even that, we must first identify and solve our existing bottlenecks and impediments to trade.
It is for this reason that Uganda has established the Presidential Advisory Committee on Exports & Industrial Development, which is driving its trade- and exports-led economic recovery. And it is for this reason that we hope this summit will be the first of many, hosting trade, tourism and investment.
The outlook is encouraging. As we were stamping out the last of ebola the World Bank was already reporting Uganda’s return to pre-pandemic growth, noting the strong performance of our services and industrial sectors, buoyant private consumption, and an uptick in private investment.
If we are to maintain this trajectory we must look increasingly outward. But we must look closer to home too, building upon and enhancing the existing ties we already enjoy with our long-standing friends, neighbours, brothers and partners. BL
• Rwabwogo chairs Uganda’s Presidential Advisory Committee on Exports & Industrial Development.
Luxury design’s next frontier
By Sandiso Ngubane
Kenneth Ize couture. Image: Supplied
African designers are expanding the parameters of exclusivity
Writing for The Business of Fashion in 2015, editor and media entrepreneur Helen Jennings noted that, in the fashion category in particular, Africa “can’t yet compete with mature markets in terms of manufacturing and scale, [but] it can shine by elevating its vast artisanal heritage to develop a fresh approach to handmade craftsmanship for discerning customers worldwide”. It’s a plausible argument.
Sustainability is constantly touted as the next big thing in luxury as it becomes a ubiquitous topic across industries. Traditionally, luxury has centred on exclusivity through limited quantities, high-quality materials, and exquisite craftsmanship. Now, as it becomes more confident creatively, the continent is well positioned to refine this concept further as designers and producers of luxury goods across the continent operate from a position of scarcity that entrenches innovation.
In many instances, this means not only tapping into heritage, reviving artisanal traditions, and uplifting local communities by creating work for crafters but also consolidating all of this to redefine the very meaning of luxury.
The African middle class continues to grow in spite of the instability — and, in some cases, stagnation — across the economic landscape. Nigeria and South Africa, in particular, are the driving forces behind Africa’s emergence as an attractive destination for luxury brands at a time when the appetite for luxury goods — designer apparel, accessories, cars, cosmetics, fragrances, and more — remains strong globally.
The former is renowned for its robust champagne-drinking culture and ever-growing imports, while the latter has become a luxury-goods shopping destination for consumers from all over the continent.
According to professional services firm Deloitte, the continent, Asia Pacific, Latin America, and the Middle East will account for 25% of the global luxury market by 2025. Sub-Saharan Africa is second only to Asia Pacific in terms of the level of growth in consumer markets. Says Rodger George, Africa leader for consumer business at Deloitte: “Africa definitely provides a longer-term growth opportunity for luxury brands. The shifting appetites and behaviour of consumers in this segment will require luxury-goods retailers to develop a sophisticated but uniquely African approach to reach and satisfy the growing demand for luxury goods in this segment.”
Global brands are certainly taking note as they increase their footprint in the market, but local producers are not resting on their laurels either.
Artisanal watchmakers have been cropping up all over the continent, hoping to penetrate a market that has largely been dominated by traditional foreign luxury-timepiece brands. Among them is South Africa’s Xesha Creaxions, with pieces ranging from about R2 000 to R80 000. The brand prides itself on heritage and authenticity. Its Busa watch, for example, with its recognisable Bapedi and Swati symbols, tells a story of migration and shared cultures.
Cape Town-based Bettél draws inspiration from the local environment in making its handmade timepieces, with watch cases cut from discarded indigenous kiaat wood, for example.
Established in 2018 in Accra, Ghana’s Caveman is widely regarded as that country’s first watchmaker. Its products come adorned with symbols such as cave paintings instead of numbers on some timepieces and incorporate patterns from West African print fabrics on the straps of others.
Other examples are Nigeria’s Asorock Watches and Kenya’s Sued brand which, like LN Watches from KwaDukuza, KwaZulu-Natal, incorporates local beading.
In an interview with Luxury Society, renowned British fashion journalist Suzy Menkes once said: “There are two reasons why Africa and luxury should appear in the same sentence. The first is a new vision of what luxury means in the 21st century. Consumers, particularly in the Western hemisphere, are beginning to prize objects touched by human hands — and the handwork in Africa is exceptional.”
African fashion designers who hope to export their wares are aware of this. Among others, Nigeria’s Kenneth Ize and Lagos Space Programme and Côte d’Ivoire’s Kente Gentlemen are creating luxury fashion that taps into traditional crafts such as indigo dyeing and old-world hand-weaving techniques to produce contemporary fashion that elevates these crafts and offers consumers the kind of authenticity and traceability many global brands can’t claim.
Similarly, Ilé Ilà, the lifestyle furniture line by architect Tosin Oshinowo, expresses and celebrates Yoruba traditions by using local hardwood and traditional aso-oke fabric made by local artisans.
These are just a few examples of Africa’s luxury industry as it begins to emerge from the shadow of its international and better-resourced counterparts in the West — and this is in addition to consumer goods that go beyond the well-established five-star offerings in the hospitality industry, as well as the spirits, wine, and méthode cap classique from South Africa in particular.
As the industry slowly diversifies, the growth of the local luxury market, under-pinned by a growing middle class and an ever-increasing number of high-net-worth individuals, can only bode well for categories that don’t yet have the capacity to produce at scale and compete at a global level. By continuing to innovate and keeping sustainability at the core of operations, Africa’s luxury industry benefits by standing out and setting trends that can emerge only from this culturally rich landscape.
Fast Fashion Facts You Might Not Know
The European Union is Moving to Tackle Fast Fashion Industries
In April 2022, the European Commission announced plans to put an end to fast fashion by 2030 by introducing a mandatory minimum use of recycled fibres and banning companies from sending any unsold clothing and textile products to landfills. Under the new expansion of the EU’s existing eco-design rules, which set down energy efficiency standards for consumer goods such as toasters and washing machines, companies operating in the bloc will be required to include a certain amount of recycled content in their goods, or curb the use of materials that make them hard to recycle
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