The fashion industry in Zambia is significantly different to that in the UK as it is characterised principally by made-to-measure as opposed to ready-to-wear clothing. This means there are many small companies selling fabric or tailoring clothing yet few well known Zambian brands. A lack of intellectual property law enforcement means that there are also many fake designer items sold in both markets and shops. This culture of imitation stunts the development of creative design talent.
The designers and owners at Xstina Creations all stated that when they went to study fashion in South Africa and the USA. Their families and friends told them they were stupid as you can’t make a living from designing clothes. The Zambian fashion industry can therefore be considered to be in its infancy with very few locals having the formal training or market knowledge to start a successful fashion brand. The success that Kamanga wear has had so far shows that there is a gap in the market for a Zambian brand, yet convincing people that success is possible is difficult.
It is however a small company with big dreams. They intend to create a fashion magazine distributed within Zambia and collaborate with other local designers on collections. There is therefore potential for one business to become instrumental in building a new and competitive industry, which will inspire future generations to aspire to becoming designers. As so many locals still have the skills in dress-making this would harness their skills in a way which is profitable and stimulates the economy and job creation.
There are also options for fashion businesses to go international much more quickly, which combined with trends towards the popularity of unique and ethical pieces in the western marketplace presents a huge opportunity. Gaining coverage through social media and blogs means brand awareness can be created in diverse target audiences.
What barriers and long-term difficulties do you think your business will face in the future that were beyond your influence?
Xstina Creation’s long-term aim is to expand production to start exporting and selling online. Being committed to creating an ethical, local fashion brand is however an extremely hard task as upscaling production in a way which avoids the Chinese produced fast-fashion culture is very expensive, particularly when the end goal is to compete in the global marketplace.
In terms of marketing and raising the brand awareness which will support this expansion, the future vision for Kamanga Wear is to become a lifestyle brand. This would be achieved through creation of a fashion magazine. Whilst they are experts in the fashion, they have no experience in creating a magazine and limited connections to other companies which would feature within the publication. It will therefore be a big challenge to set up, gain readership and reach the level where other brands pay to be featured. However, if this goal is realised the magazine would not only be a marketing tool for Kamanga Wear but also a profitable business venture. In order to overcome these barriers they need to gain a much larger social media following and start the magazine as an online blog before going into print.
The biggest issue the business will face continued difficulties in accessing the finance they need to expand. There is a large amount of capital required to upscale production and create brand recognition. They are also looking to take on a lot of work as they have no experience to date in producing a magazine or selling online. Achieving their goals is therefore something which they should take a slow approach to building up a customer base and following gradually. Whilst we set up new financial management systems and a marketing plan, these goals are very long-term and many of the difficulties they will encounter and beyond the influence of what we could achieve during our 9 week placement.
By Amanda Richards, Challenges Worldwide ICS volunteer in Zambia