No Industry: The State of Fashion in Cameroon

There is no fashion industry in Cameroon.

There are designers, photographers, models etc.

There is no fashion industry in Cameroon.

This is an honest critique of the state of fashion in Cameroon. I read a lot of articles, and hear a lot of people talk about “Cameroon's fashion industry”. Maybe our definition of “industry” differs, but to me, there isn't one.

The various elements necessary to constitute an industry are present, but they exist in isolation, with little or no synergy between them. Allow me to explain.

 

1: Education

The quality of training in the fashion sector in Cameroon leaves a whole lot to be desired. It seems everyone and their cousin's sister's aunt own a fashion “institute”, but the quality leaves a lot to be desired. I've been to countless graduate shows from what I've been told are renowned fashion schools and the work showcased has been incredibly disappointing. Our young designers are still stuck in the 1950's, with the majority of their work consisting of suits and evening gowns. They don't seem to have an idea how to create outfits for everyday wear besides slapping some dutch wax prints on everything. They also seem to lack proper knowledge of how the business side of the industry works; sourcing, marketing, sales, logistics, etc. As a result, we're producing designers that are ill prepared for the reality of the modern world.

 

2: Production

I remember visiting 2 factories in Accra, Ghana in 2015. One was an initiative of the Ghanaian government and a few international organisations, the other was privately owned. Both had the capacity to produce over 200 pieces per week. As a result, Ghanaian brands are able to produce and sell on a large scale, making them more competitive. In Cameroon, no such factories exist and production is limited to a few pieces per week. We can't hope to compete internationally and grow with such small scale production. Who's to blame for this? The government AND individual investors. Both fail to recognise and take advantage of the economic opportunity that large scale production presents.

 

3: Sales Channels

How many stores in Cameroon stock local designers? It's easy to tell Cameroonians to “buy local” but where exactly would they buy from?

There's an abundance of stores stocking Chinese made fakes or cheap Turkish outfits, and a number of Cameroonian entrepreneurs buy well known brands like Zara, Topshop, H&M etc from the USA/UK/France etc to sell in their stores. How many of these stores are willing to stock Cameroonian designers? In Nigeria they have Grey Velvet, a store which ONLY stocks Nigerian and African designers. In Cameroon? Nothing.

 

4: Media

Blogs, print media, TV etc. We fail terribly at marketing brands within Cameroon.

Bloggers/media are meant to break new designers and keep the public informed, but won't cover a designer unless they are paid, or are friends with said designer. Only in Cameroon will a blogger say a designer needs more “buzz” in order to be featured on their blog. I thought bloggers were meant to publish new acts and in doing so, create the buzz. Why would a designer who already has a buzz, need a blog?

In 2015 I had my debut show. I invited a long list of bloggers and media. Free entry, VIP seating, free champagne etc.

No one replied. Seriously. Not a single one.

The one blogger/journalist who showed up, proceeded to write a super short paragraph on myself (the one who organised and funded the entire show, while writing more on a guest designer I invited to showcase). When asked why, she said it was because her and that designer are friends. Wow.

It's easy to critique the lack of growth/exposure of Cameroonian brands but the media should take a look at how it operates. Is it really a force for good with respect to Cameroon fashion?

 

5: Marketing Channels

There's a reason I don't bother showcasing at Cameroonian fashion shows; it's a waste of time, money and effort. How many store buyers are present at such shows? None. So you find yourself showcasing a collection with no sales channels to actually sell that collection.

How many bloggers/media folks, writers, editors attend these shows? Of those that do, how many objectively cover the event without bias to designers they are friends with? Do media do editorials of designers they liked at the shows? Do journalists do interviews? Exposure in Cameroon isn't based on how great of a designer you are, it's based on how friendly you are with these media personalities and/or how much you can pay. What's the point of showcasing then?

How many of our “celebrities” have working relationships with local designers? How many are dressed by local designers at events like Canal d'Or or Miss Cameroon? I know it's easy to blame this on the designers, but events like this should make it MANDATORY for nominees to be dressed by local designers. We can't have a Miss Cameroon pageant where models are dressed by a German!

The Ghanaian national football team is dressed by a local designer, as are almost all of it's other sports teams. What local designer has a deal to dress any of Cameroon's national teams? Exactly.

 

6: Designers

I'll probably need to properly address Cameroon designers in a future post but for now, I'll try to be brief. A lot of designers spend time blaming everyone else but themselves for their shortcomings. A lot of designers get into the field for fame, just to be seen and to brag about owning a brand, without really understanding or making the effort necessary for that brand to succeed. You're a designer yet only have 2 designs to date? You're still selling a collection from 2014? The quality of the work you make isn't great? You aren't constantly creating content for social media? Blame yourself.

Cameroonian designers need to understand basic principles of design. Slapping some dutch wax prints on everything (#afro, #africanfashion) doesn't make you a designer and doesn't separate you from everyone else doing the same thing. Designs aren't unique or practical, and as a result, a lot of designers don't stand out. Lack of unique designs, poor quality/fabric, ridiculous pricing, are all factors that hold Cameroonian designers back. We can't claim to have a fashion industry if the designers themselves aren't doing their part.

 

There is no fashion industry in Cameroon because there are no links between these various factors. There are individuals in fashion, working in isolation and trying to do the best they can. Most don't have the connections/money/knowledge to be able to stand out and build on their own, and they're an easy target for critique. Why aren't they growing? Why aren't they successful internationally? Etc. Without these factors being addressed, Cameroon will not be recognised internationally as a fashion powerhouse the way countries like Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Senegal are.

It's easy to blame the government, and rightly so. However, there are various actors not doing their part to create and maintain a healthy industry.

My hope is that we evolve and address these issues. Everyone involved must do their part.

Stay focused, stay humble, work smart.

 

A. A