In late June 2023, the Africa Reimagined team attended the China-Africa Economic and Trade Expo (CAETE) to provide an opportunity for some of Africa’s most innovative and respected brands to test the Chinese market.
This was our third time attending the CAETE, and in our view, this year’s CAETE was the most successful yet with the largest number of buyers and professional visitors in attendance ever, a 70% increase in the number of exhibitors, and a massive 166% increase in the types of commodities on display.
Indeed, we ourselves noticed that there as a noticeable increase in the number of high-quality food, beverage, and skincare products on display. This reflects the efforts of African leaders and the Chinese government in recent years to boost and diversify Africa’s exports to China – especially agricultural-based products. And their efforts are working – the volume of agricultural trade between China and Africa has increased by 33.3 billion yuan in 2012 to 58.6 billion yuan in 2022.
But Africa is a continent capable of exporting more than oils, minerals, and food – we can do more. Enter – fashion.
The African textile and apparel sector thrived before transatlantic slavery, continued in certain countries such as Egypt, and was briefly revived in newly independent colonies before structural adjustments of the 1990s. It has the potential to experience another revival today, with Africa’s fashion brands not only reflecting Africa’s innovation and manufacturing capability but also acting as excellent ambassadors for the continent’s business sector as a whole.
Today, African luxury fashion brands are regularly taking over the catwalks of Paris, New York, Milan, and Tokyo too. They are featured in iconic Hollywood films such as Black Panther, and artists from Beyoncé to Michelle Obama wear them with pride and distinction.
So, if these brands can take over the rest of the world, then why not China? Indeed, their successes could create inroads into the Chinese market for brands in other sectors, such as beauty, homeware, and even services.
Based on the outcomes of our attendance at the CAETE, the answer is a clear yes!
This year, we worked with 12 luxury African fashion and jewellery brands from 7 different African countries – including Maxhosa, Larry Jay, Jessica Jane, Artclub and Friends, Taibo Bacar, Mafi Mafi, Kunjina, Nkanda Yatu, Millie Collines, Pepper Row, Yenae and ZAAF – to showcase their incredible clothing in our super modern, sleekly designed “Africa Reimagined” booth at the CAETE. We also created the opportunity for our fashion brands to join a fashion show and business match-making events, which led to great exposure and business interest.
Now, we won’t tell you exactly how much they made – that’s for them to know – but let’s just say we were impressed and they left China smiling – despite the fact that their products were – in some cases – ten times the price of other products on display at the CAETE. This was because the attendees were blown away by the quality and uniqueness of the fashion items on display.
This explains something that is often misunderstood about the Chinese market. It has been widely reported that since the Covid-19 pandemic, Chinese consumers have increasingly been choosing local fashion brands over foreign ones, and the Chinese market is slowing down.
However, it is important to emphasize that even if the Chinese consumer market is growing more slowly than before, the luxury consumer end is still growing rapidly. Ultimately, what Chinese consumers are craving when it comes to fashion is something unique to ensure they can stand out from their peers. Hence, Chinese fashion is currently unique in China because European and North American fashion brands have dominated China’s luxury fashion market since China opened its markets to the rest of the world.
And this is what African fashion has in abundance – a boldness and distinctiveness that sets it apart from European and North American fashion; echoing to why African fashion brands have recently achieved so much success across the globe.
This gives African fashion brands a huge advantage – especially for early movers. This combined with a detailed understanding of China’s consumer market and ecosystem, for example, its use of e-commerce, as well as utilizing China’s innovative marketing, advertising, and logistics tools, can all contribute to Africa’s fashion industry taking a slice of China’s massive US$ 287.3 Billion luxury market.
So, keep your eyes peeled for an African fashion takeover! It’s coming – and we plan to accelerate it.