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Tuesday, May 28, 2024

West African fashion designers are leaders in sustainable clothing

Sustainable fashion means clothes being produced and consumed in socially responsible ways. A study shows that fashion designers in West Africa (known as the dumping ground of textile waste) produce sustainable clothing.

Every few weeks global fast fashion brands mass produce their latest clothing, pumping out garments to be sold around the world. There is growing criticism that it’s socially irresponsible to produce such large volumes of clothes so often. It leads to surplus and waste that takes a toll on the environment. And by requiring new styles so often it also stifles designers’ creativity in an industry that thrives on it.
West African fashion designers produce customised prèt-a-porter – a limited-edition ready-to-wear model that creates the latest fashions in measured volumes. This is a model for sustainable fashion that allows more space for creativity and innovation and also uses environmentally friendly laundry measures to ensure the long lifespan of clothes.

Fashion from Africa has attained global recognition thanks to the creativity of today’s designers. However, very little is known about how the production strategy they use contributes to sustainable fashion. Designers in Africa are likely to face economic, social, and political challenges that limit production and efficiency in the industry. Many West African designers turned these challenges on their head: while the market limits the possibilities of scaling up production, it in effect endorses innovative sustainable fashion practices.

The designers are also guided by the socio-cultural milieu of the fashion consumption in the cities where they live. Designers tap into this culture and grow it. They tend make designs that are not easily replicated (uniqueness), and the creativity to project the personality of each client in the clothes (individuality). West African designers offer a much wider variety of creative designs compared to the homogenised designs of fast fashion brands. Most release collections only twice a year – summer and winter – instead of every two weeks like western fast fashion brands. By producing collections less often, west African designers can invest time in creating innovative designs.

Making unique designs often requires a little tweaking of popular styles – like offering different sleeve styles and necklines, or using appliques and accessories. Most designers emphasised the need to project personality through their pieces. Some do this by catering to a particular target market – like corporate women, businessmen and religious leaders.

By considering the consumer’s socio-cultural needs in the production process, designers produce more personalised pieces. These create an emotional bond between the clothes and the wearers. Clothes become difficult to part with and are kept for longer, extending the shelf life of west African fashion.

They instruct their customers to maintain the clothes through aeration and hand washing. This reduces the frequency of washing, protecting the environment from high emissions of carbon dioxide and pollution from dyes. The longevity and exclusivity of the clothes offers a great alternative to the imported second-hand clothing that often ends up in landfills.

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