Africa: CHOGM – Designers Discuss Sustainable Fashion in Face of Second-Hand Clothes

From gender equality to youth empowerment, from job creation to climate action, from innovation to education, the $2.4trillion global fashion industry is still seen by many as entertainment.

Despite the capacity to transform the lives of millions of people, some economies have not had it easy with the industry, especially the global south.

At the Commonwealth Business Forum that kicked came to an end on Thursday, June 23, designers outlined major barriers they face to partake in a sustainable, empowering and inclusive fashion industry.

These include; waste from mass production in advanced countries, second-hand clothes dumped in low-income economies, and deficient local demand.

Precious Moloi-Motsepe, Founder and Executive Chairperson of African Fashion International, said the world has come to an era where the traditional model of fashion is being disrupted and challenged.

She said this disruption creates space and unique opportunity for African fashion and people once effectively responded to. In recent years, designers from emerging markets have joined the fashion ecosystem.

“Online shopping and technological and supply chains transformation means that one can be viable in the sector without having access to huge economies of scale and globalized supply chains.”

However, Matsope highlighted that the current system is immensely wasteful, for instance, clothes that end up in landfills and oceans but also in a sense that “there is a waste of opportunity for innovation.”

Raw materials for garments are sourced in Africa, manufactured in the northern hemisphere, and when the final product is discarded, it is sent back to Africa as goodwill and due to the quality of garments made from first fashion, the clothing is returned to Africa as waste, she cited.

“We can reshape the system and we have a wealth of local knowledge and tradition to draw from.”

“It’s important that we all become responsible for our own waste. It is not enough to simply say that you are sending your discarded clothing to another country and we should figure out how to re-use it, remodel, and rework it into something sustainable,”

She said policymakers, brands, and consumers have a role to play in finding solutions to the waste issue.

Rwanda’s context

Teta Isiba, founder of Inzuki Designs, said the fact that Rwanda’s fashion industry is young and steadily rising is an advantage in many ways in terms of sustainability adoption.