From a new digital marketplace to connect Africa's creatives with global markets, to masterclasses to help designers share and learn, and webinars to inform and inspire: the African Development Bank's flagship Fashionomics Africa initiative has taken great strides this year.
The website and mobile app were unveiled at the Global Gender Summit in Kigali in November, to help Africa's fashion designers, textile and accessories entrepreneurs grow their businesses, with a focus on women and young people.
"It is all really for connecting business to business, businesses to consumers and ensuring we are putting into place all we need to really transform the clothing and fashion industries in Africa," Dr. Jennifer Blanke, the Bank's Vice President for Agriculture, Human and Social Development, said at the launch.
With secure e-commerce and online payment systems, the aim is to connect suppliers, buyers, manufacturers and distributors to consumers and investors - to increase access and grow markets within Africa and across the globe.
"The Fashionomics Africa digital marketplace will be a game-changer for Africa's fashion entrepreneurs, to be able to reach regional and international markets and increase their revenues," said Mahlet Teklemariam, Founder of Hub of Africa, an Ethiopia-based fashion platform that promotes African brands.
In February, Fashionomics Africa hosted a masterclass in Nairobi on how to establish successful fashion brands. Organized by the Bank's Gender, Women and Civil Society Department, more than a dozen fashion industry mentors shared their experiences and expertise with the aspiring entrepreneurs, the vast majority of them women.
"The Fashionomics Africa masterclass has all the right ingredients to add flavour to your fashion business," said Linda Murithi, founder of Love Fashion Kenya, one of the designers who attended the Nairobi event.
The masterclass - which followed similar workshops held in Addis Ababa, Abidjan, Johannesburg, Kigali and Lagos - discussed business acumen, access to finance, branding, marketing and networking and reflected on the challenges and opportunities African fashion entrepreneurs encounter.
"Some designers feel alone. Fashionomics Africa has created a platform where people share the same language," said Brendan McCarthy of the Parsons School of Design, and one of the mentors at the masterclass. "They can connect, share experience and create a collaborative community."
More recently, in a rapid response to the new social and economic environment created by the COVID-19 outbreak, Fashionomics Africa has launched a series of webinars to address the opportunities and threats posed by the pandemic to Africa's fashion industry.
At the opening webinar in early June, fashion entrepreneurs, investors, industry experts and business insiders, exchanged ideas on the need for a digitally-enabled African fashion industry during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.
"African fashion is rising right now. African designers need to develop their unique business modeland have to be innovative. To do so, digital is key," Sarah Diouf, founder of made-in-Africa online brand Tongoro, said at the webinar. "It's a tool that we can truly leverage in our advantage."
Be it the feel of the fabric, the fit of the design or the vibrancy of the pattern: the fashion business has traditionally thrived on personal attention and face-to-face contact. But the need to reimagine the role of technology as a lever for growth in the industry has been thrown into sharp relief by the COVID crisis.
The containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus mean fashion entrepreneurs, like those in other industries, must look to online trading tools and or mobile money platforms to build resilience and prepare for the future. In this, the role of Fashionomics Africa is more vital than ever.