Despite formidable competition from top international brands, African fashion designers and retailers are using the limited means at their disposal to grow their brands beyond the continent’s shores.
In its new Third Quarter 2015 issue, ‘Strategic Marketing Africa’ magazine, the publication of the African Marketing Confederation, notes that the continent’s fast-growing middle-class has encouraged major global fashion brands to steadily pursue a stronger presence in African markets – among them Hugo Boss, Mango and Zegna. These brands have the benefit of heritage, financial muscle, proven supply chain expertise and forceful marketing and public relations machines to drive awareness and push sales.
But Africa’s fashion industry is fighting back and taking the battle to the home territories of their international competitors. And although the continent’s designers and boutique fashion houses lack marketing and financial power, they have one significant advantage.
In the age of social media, giant personal brands and digital influencers, individual designers and small labels can wield their digital and social media prowess to pursue non-traditional and often market-disrupting avenues as they seek to build their brands across the globe. Indeed, says Strategic Marketing Africa’, several fashion designers of African origin have already gained notable international followings via marketing strategies that are underpinned by social media, digital outreach and strong community engagement.
These include London-based fashion label Eki Orleans, founded by the charismatic Hazel Eki Aggrey-Orleans who was raised in Nigeria; Ethiopian designer Fikirte Addis of the Yefiker label; and Cameroonian Anna Ngann Yonn, who is behind the popular Kreyann brand.
Aggrey-Orleans says social media is key to the label’s marketing strategy. “The great thing about social media is that you can instantly communicate with your followers with the click of a button. But you do have to understand what they want, because as quickly as you can gain followers, you can also lose them,” she says. “We try to use the different platforms to target different followers. Instagram is the most fun because we feel we can be most playful with our communication there. This is the one platform where we completely let loose and invite the world into our Eki Orleans existence.”
She continues: “Once you get people interested and they like the brand, they in return talk about it through reposting, re-tweeting etc. They have their own followers and we get exposed to them.”
Fikirte Addis of Yefiker concurs with the social media-intensive approach and says the brand markets itself on Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook. “There is always room for improvement and we are focusing on exploiting and upgrading our usage of digital media,” she says. “We have customers that place orders through Facebook and our online shopping [portal] is in the process of being launched”
Addis highlights that, as a traditional Ethiopian designer, “not only do we want to sell these 100% Ethiopian products, we also aspire to share our cultural knowledge and pertinent topics with the world. Thus, we plan to extend our social media coverage to the likes of Tumbler as well.”
The Cameroonian designer Anna Ngann Yann, mastermind behind the Kreyann brand, says social networks allow Kreyann to reach a wider audience beyond Africa in order to showcase its products. “But most important is the ability for us to collect feedback from both existing and potential customers,” she tells Strategic Marketing Africa.
She adds that word of mouth remains critical in the marketing mix. “There is nothing as powerful as happy customers advocating for your brand ... Indeed, following our strong community involvement in mentorship and development initiatives offered to young designers in Cameroon, the brand enjoys a high level of awareness and is now listed in the directories and guidebooks of Cameroon.”
More information on how Africa’s fashion brands are marketing themselves to the world can be found in the Third Quarter 2015 issue of ‘Strategic Marketing Africa’, the publication of the African Marketing Confederation (AMC). The magazine is published on a quarterly basis and distributed to members of marketing associations in Ghana, Kenya, Morocco, Nigeria, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.