Improvements in Consumer Behavior, Business Practices, and Raw Material Sourcing
The practice of circular fashion is gaining popularity in Africa. Circular fashion is a system in which clothing circulates as long as its maximum value is retained. The items are then returned to the biosphere (recycled or composted) naturally as organic material when their usefulness as garments has passed.
The world-changing, yet simple, goal of the circular economy is that the practice completely removes waste from the fashion equation throughout the entire lifecycle of a clothing item. For example, in a circular economy, clothes are made from recycled materials, and are also made to be recyclable so that the materials can be used again in the future. From raw material producer to manufacturer to consumer, each actor accepts their role and, in removing waste from each step of the process, an eco-friendly alternative arises.
Besides circular fashion, many African consumers and brandsare embracing the idea of upcycling. This process sees clothing manufacturers producing garments from materials that would otherwise be considered waste. Repurposed second-hand items are broken down into their basic parts and used to create new garments.
While jute, ramie, and flax are considered alternative fibers for western clothing manufacturers, their innovative African counterparts take the concept even further. Local clothing producers are using banana tree bark to make textiles while footwear manufacturers are leveraging pineapple waste
as rawmaterial for their shoes.
To combat waste, some of today’s African clothing manufacturers operate on a made-to-order model. This comes in stark contrast to the obscene amount of waste produced in the ‘fast fashion’ industry of conventional fashion. The model that conventional fashion companies follow requires the mass production and delivery of billions of clothing items. When the season ends, the unsold department store stock ends up in landfills and incinerators.
The multi-billion-dollar clothing corporations that perpetuate the vicious cycle of waste often outsource their production to factories in Asia and the Middle East. Many of these production facilities don’t undergo routine textile testing
that ensures quality standards are met. With African clothing brands promoting a viable zero waste model, unethical practices become less prevalent in the textile industry.
Women Taking a Leadership Role
One of the exciting characteristics the sustainable fashion movement is taking in Africa is the prevalence of female entrepreneurship in the sector. A true driver of social integration, the African textile sector provides an organic way for women to assert their independence and lead a trend to be adopted in other industries.
Women in the African fashion industry are not simply opening up shop and hoping for the best. Entrepreneurs like SindisoKhumalo
with a master’s degree in textile futures, are launching brands with the intent and capability to compete internationally against established global market players.
What the Future Holds