Skip to content Skip to footer

By The Creative Economy, Ghana | Serati, South Africa

In today’s very volatile markets saddled with every changing consumer preference, businesses have had to endlessly innovate to keep their existing customers satisfied and exciting enough to attract new ones. Though the situation cuts across industries, it is much dire for brands in the creative industry where producing the same excellent products and service offering renders you obsolete and out of business.

To keep up with this demand and stay relevant and in business, brands have had to collaborate with other brands in same or different industries to gain access to new markets and customers that they may not have been able to access on their own. Enhanced innovation and creativity fostering innovation and creativity by bringing together different perspectives, ideas, and expertise. Improved efficiency and productivity by sharing resources, knowledge, and skills. Reduced risk and cost associated with entering new markets or launching new products or services.

Collaboration has been successful for various brands such as Adidas and Parley for the Oceans. In 2015, they collaborated to create athletic footwear from recycled plastic ocean waste. This collaboration is not only environmentally conscious, but it also enabled Adidas to reach a new market of environmentally-conscious consumers interested in sustainable products. We’ve also seen successful collaborations between brands such as Apple and Nike, Uber and Spotify, and numerous apparel and footwear brands partnering with athletes across Europe and Asia. However, there is a significant lack of collaboration within Africa’s fashion and creative industry.

This is not because stakeholders in the African fashion industry are opposed to the idea and benefits of collaboration but governments and policymakers on the continent do not have satisfactory responses to legitimate fears of fashion and textile designers regarding dealing with cultural differences, trust and communication, power dynamics, legal and regulatory issues when embarking on local or regional collaborations.

According to a WIPO 2015 report on “The African Fashion Design Industry: Capturing Value Through Intellectual Property,” Africa’s fashion industry is riddled with fierce international competition arising from the end of quotas and smuggling of counterfeit textile goods [which] has impeded the development of local industries, and has thrived in an environment characterised by a severe lack of awareness of IP rights and their associated benefits.

Why a Strong IP System is Important for African Fashion

How a Strong IP System is Important for collaboration in African Fashion

The fashion industry thrives on creativity and innovation. African fashion, in particular, is built on a foundation of cultural heritage, unique designs, and locally sourced materials. However, without a strong IP system, African designers risk losing control of their designs, and the industry as a whole, risks losing its identity and authenticity.

A strong IP system enables African designers to protect their designs and prevent them from being copied by others. This protection gives designers the confidence to invest time and resources into their work, knowing that they will be rewarded for their efforts. It also enables designers to license or sell their designs, generating income and encouraging further innovation.

Furthermore, a strong IP system can facilitate collaboration between designers, enabling them to share their ideas and work together to create unique and innovative designs. Through collaboration, designers can learn from each other, exchange ideas and expertise, and create designs that are truly unique to the African fashion industry.

It is vital for fashion enterprises to obtain sound legal advice at an early stage in order to appropriately protect their creativity through IP rights, and be able to realise their commercial potential. Fashion SMEs need to develop an IP strategy and incorporate it into their overall business strategy. Governments can create an enabling policy environment that is conducive to the operation of an effective IP system and the commercial success of SMEs, both of which are very much underpinned by the state of infrastructure and institutions within a particular jurisdiction. An effective system of IP protection and enforcement, together with institutions mandated to enhance commercial potential and allow the transfer of knowledge to take place, can create an enabling environment for innovation and creativity to flourish in the African fashion design industry and beyond.

Challenges to Fostering African Creativity and Collaboration in Fashion

Despite the potential benefits of a strong IP system for the African fashion industry, there are several challenges that need to be addressed to ensure a conducive environment for innovation and collaboration. These challenges include:

  • Lack of Awareness and Education: Many African designers are not aware of the importance of IP protection or how to go about obtaining it. This lack of awareness and education can prevent designers from protecting their designs and collaborating effectively.
  • Limited Resources: Many African designers lack the resources necessary to obtain IP protection. The costs associated with obtaining patents, trademarks, and copyrights can be prohibitively expensive for many designers, particularly those who are just starting out.
  • Counterfeiting and Piracy: Counterfeiting and piracy remain a significant challenge for the African fashion industry. The lack of effective IP protection makes it easier for counterfeiters and pirates to copy designs and sell them at a fraction of the cost of the original, which undermines the efforts of African designers and the industry as a whole.
  • Inefficient IP Systems: Even when African designers are aware of the importance of IP protection and have the resources to obtain it, they may face challenges in navigating the IP system. Inefficient IP systems that are slow and bureaucratic can deter designers from seeking protection, as the process can be time-consuming and frustrating.
  • There exists an African Regional Intellectual Property Organization (ARIPO) established in 1977 following the adoption of the Lusaka Agreement but how many industry players know of them? The Africa Free-trade agreement is still a mystery perplexing to navigate to even identify if there exists any form of IP protection for businesses.

While there are challenges to fostering creativity and collaboration in the African fashion industry, such as a lack of awareness and education, limited resources, counterfeiting and piracy, and inefficient IP systems, these challenges can be addressed through education, increased resources, stronger enforcement, and streamlined IP systems.

By creating a conducive environment for innovation and collaboration through a strong IP system, the African fashion industry can continue to thrive and showcase the rich and diverse cultural heritage of the continent to the world such as have been done by the likes of South African designer Laduma Ngxokolo, founder of the knitwear brand Maxhosa Africa, who was awarded the Design Indaba’s Most Beautiful Object in South Africa Award in 2020 for his unique and innovative designs inspired by Xhosa beadwork.

Similarly, the Kenyan designer Patricia Mbela, founder of the fashion brand Afrodite, has taken steps to protect her designs through trademarks and copyright registration. Mbela’s designs, which are inspired by African art and culture, have been showcased at international fashion events such as London Fashion Week and the Africa Fashion Week London.

Another example is the Nigerian designer Lisa Folawiyo, founder of the fashion brand Lisa Folawiyo Studio. Folawiyo’s designs, which blend traditional African textiles with contemporary fashion, have gained international recognition and have been featured in prestigious publications such as Vogue and The New York Times. Folawiyo has also taken steps to protect her designs through trademarks and copyright registration.

There is no doubt a strong IP system is crucial for fostering creativity and collaboration in Africa’s fashion industry. IP protection enables African designers to protect their designs and prevent them from being copied by others, giving them the confidence to invest time and resources into their work. It also facilitates collaboration between designers, encouraging the exchange of ideas and expertise to create unique and innovative designs.

Read Also:

Leave a comment

Warning: PHP Startup: Unable to load dynamic library '' (tried: /opt/alt/php82/usr/lib/php/extensions/no-debug-non-zts-20220829/ (/opt/alt/php82/usr/lib/php/extensions/no-debug-non-zts-20220829/ undefined symbol: _zval_ptr_dtor), /opt/alt/php82/usr/lib/php/extensions/no-debug-non-zts-20220829/ (/opt/alt/php82/usr/lib/php/extensions/no-debug-non-zts-20220829/ cannot open shared object file: No such file or directory)) in Unknown on line 0