How Wholesale Brands are Building Resilient Supply Chains in Emerging Markets
In the heart of the global fashion industry’s evolution, the African market has emerged as a captivating realm of potential, but also complexities. For many fashion wholesale brands, the continent’s growing economies and diverse consumer bases offer a promising avenue for expansion. However, to harness the opportunities that the African fashion market presents, brands must adeptly navigate a distinct set of supply chain challenges – and opportunities.
The African fashion landscape has presented itself as a tapestry of rich cultures, traditions, and consumer behaviours, including the vibrant markets of West Africa, and the cosmopolitan cities of East Africa. Supply chain dynamics vary significantly across nations due to disparities in infrastructure, logistics, and regulatory environments. Recognizing these disparities is fundamental to tailoring effective strategies.
While this potential for growth is immense, wholesale fashion brands in growing regions continue to encounter multifaceted challenges in managing their supply chains. Limited infrastructure, inadequate logistics, and inconsistent regulations all pose hurdles that can hinder the timely movement of goods. Additionally, the lack of access to affordable raw materials and skilled labour can affect both production and quality.
After more than 12 years in the industry, Roberta Annan, the founder of African Fashion Foundation and Impact Fund For African Creatives, is focusing on the supply chain and manufacturing sector of the fashion industry, especially in Ghana, a fast-growing fashion market in West Africa. “One thing I have realized is that it is very difficult for fashion designers to access raw materials,” Annan tells The Folklore Edit. “But there’s the possibility to shift that narrative where Africa can be at the forefront of sustainable manufacturing. We’re looking to build textile villages that will have sustainable manufacturing, including using very great sources of energy and our raw materials”.
A prevailing strategy for triumph in the African fashion market lies in localized sourcing and production. While globalization often advocates for centralized manufacturing, a decentralized approach can prove advantageous. Nigeria-based footwear and accessories brand Shekudo, founded by Akudo Iheakanwa, had discovered this earlier on. When previously sourcing, producing, and distributing from Nigeria, Iheakanwa found that the brand’s order fulfilment reduced drastically, and concluded that sales would plummet if it continued on that route. Now, Shekudo is pivoting to a decentralized process by including a small Portugal-based manufacturing company into the mix.
Akudo Iheakanwa, creative director of Shekudo, collaborates with local artisans
The African market’s intricate supply chain ecosystem is susceptible to disruptions, ranging from infrastructural challenges to political uncertainties.“Due to the growing nature of the brand, and that we get more orders than we can fulfil, we currently make all of the prototypes and samples in Lagos, and have partnered with the factory in Portugal to make our bulk orders,” says Iheakanwa. In this context, mitigating risk by diversifying the suppliers and manufacturers is really important, and it tempers the vulnerability brands might be exposed to when they depend on a single source for their materials or finished products.
Designer Nana Boateng Osei, co-founder of eyewear brand Bôhten, shares the same sentiments. “We have our design prototype hub in Accra, Ghana. In terms of our supply chain, we only do the design and prototyping process over there,” he says. “But we recently moved our supply chain to Italy. It was primarily in Japan before now, and we did that because of the need to diversify the use of materials.” Boateng Osei has found that engaging with multiple suppliers across different regions acts as a buffer against unexpected disruptions, ensuring a continuous flow of production.
With each of these challenges, comes a glimmer of opportunities. Embracing technology such as inventory management software and e-commerce platforms, for example, enhances supply chain visibility. Real-time tracking of materials and products optimizes decision-making and minimizes disruptions. Relying on a single supplier can be risky. Therefore, brands are expanding their supplier base, both locally and internationally, to ensure a steady flow of materials and reduce dependency on one source.
“We’re only a few years into it, and platforms like The Folklore Connect are helping emerging brands like us with real-time monitoring of inventory, production, and shipments,” says Boateng Osei. “This empowers brands to make informed decisions promptly. Additionally, it also facilitates compliance with regulations and quality control standards, which helps foster consumer trust.”
Bôhten’s eyewear prototypes are made at its dedicated hub in Ghana
Navigating the African fashion market successfully requires an appreciation of cultural subtleties and the cultivation of local partnerships. This supply chain process provides an opportunity for community building, especially with local artisans. “For me, the problem has not always been on the resources, but how to utilize these resources in building communities that are economically vibrant,” says Boateng Osei. Brands that immerse themselves in local cultural nuances and consumer preferences are better equipped to adapt their strategies effectively. “We’re positioning ourselves as an eyewear brand that caters to communities of colour that are underrepresented, and we do this through our social initiatives, among other things.”
As Africa-based fashion wholesale brands set forth into the global retail market, they embark on a journey marked by distinct challenges and boundless prospects. By weaving together strategies that include localized sourcing, risk diversification, technology integration, and cultural sensitivity, brands can forge a path toward success. The complexities of the African fashion market demand a flexible approach that harmonises certain standards of quality, along with the unique dynamics of each region. Through this synergy, these wholesale brands can not only efficiently navigate supply chain challenges, but also flourish in the African fashion industry and beyond.
The journey ahead is undoubtedly challenging, but it is also brimming with opportunities for those who dare to innovate. By equipping themselves with expert insights and actionable strategies, smaller fashion brands can not only optimize their operations but also contribute to building a resilient and sustainable industry in Africa.
“This is the exact premise of what we do at African Fashion Foundation and the Impact Fund For African Creatives,” Annan says. “We have run mentorship programs, scholarship programs, and raised funds for promising brands within the African fashion and creative industry. It is exactly what founders need to build successful brands in this emerging fashion landscape.”
Words by Elvis Kachi
Images courtesy of Shekudo, Wami Aluko/Roadbook, Bôhten