Our fashion industry is ready for big growth expectations

By: CAROL ODERO

The just concluded Global Entrepreneurship Summit brought a few fashionable lessons to town. Lessons that could easily be missed. What it highlighted most is how very serious the government is about fashion. It starts with the revival of the textile industry.

At a glance this seems an unimaginative move. After all, what does it have to do with the price of thread?

The collapse of the Rivatex, which had been revived at Sh680 million has consistently been blamed on mitumba. It is a little more complicated.

Somewhere inside the melting pot of Kenyan culture, delays at the port, erratic power supply affecting manufacturing and a very young industry, lies the body parts of our fashion industry.

Fashion is near impossible to copyright or patent. Ultimately a skirt is a skirt. Besides, trends move way too fast to be ensnared in legalities.

But, if a designer creates a fabric, they can patent this. Designers cannot be creative if they do not understand fabric. So what could be better than making one?

It is an opportunity to see this as the part where intellectual property meeting technology. It is very forward thinking and so very fashion. Education systems and facilities will need reviewing. Polytechnics, colleges and universities will need to generate talent.

The government will have to consider policies, incentives and business practises.

Kenya could be entering a whole new phase of trendsetting.

APPEALS TO WOMEN AND YOUTH

The fashion industry appeals largely to women and youth. The 2015 budget allows access to over Sh1.65 billion. Add to that the $1 billion President Obama tabled. Half is dedicated to women and youth. Currently, Equity Bank is offering a Sh100 million loan to designers.

Here is the thing. It is not creativity that draws money. It will be business acumen. In order for designers to access financial and legal rewards, there is need for structure, plans, strategy and organisation. The kinds of qualities that make a business attractive to investors.

In anticipation of all this growth, there is a proposed National Design Bill which proposes the creation of the Kenya Institute of Design.

It will be headed by a designer with about five years experience as well as educators, one each from a university or college and a select few.

This institute will have the power to regulate the industry through a standard exam for designers that will in turn lead to the award of a practicing license. Without registration and licensing, the business is illegal. Office bearers will stay in office for two years with a renewable term. KIDE will among other things disburse funds, review education, act as liaison with other associations, local and international, and set up a tribunal to resolve disputes.

Frankly, KIDE is more than welcome. It will make the industry accountable. The government now has a vested interest in the success of a clothing line. A most fascinating position for designers who have long felt unacknowledged.

There is an expectation fashion will create wealth and employment, pay taxes and grow Kenya’s bottom line. For this to happen designers must understand the boring parts of business.

Ultimately, designers are the heart of the fashion industry. Photographers, bloggers, journalists, stylists, media et al are moths to this flame, merely spreading the gospel of style. Fundamentally, it begins in the design studio.

Globally this industry is worth $1.5 trillion annually and growing. Kenya cannot afford to be a footnote. It is time for our industry to ask not what the country can do for it, but what it can do with, and for the country.