Yves St Laurent studied under Dior. Donna Karen worked for Anne Klein. Tom Ford was a design assistant to Cathy Hardwick. Starting a career as a fashion entrepreneur, or in any of the creative industries, does not follow the typical entrepreneur’s journey. In fashion, the apprenticeship model reigns supreme.
Roberta Annan started the African Fashion Fund (AFF) in part to make it possible for African designers to have access to global apprenticeships. “I believe in apprenticeship. It’s so important. If you look at all the major fashion brands in this world, they worked under somebody before they became big. I wanted to find a way to promote that,” she said. Through their fellowship program, AFF has helped placed African designers in apprenticeships in New York with designers such as Bibhu Mohapatra and EDUN of LVMH. AFF covers all of the associated costs.
Annan’s work on the fellowship program taught her that “visibility is not enough. There are still serious challenges that these businesses face.” The AFF began to complement their fellowship with access to markets. They placed brands in showrooms. Through that, they realized that once the orders were made, designers faced problems in production and manufacturing. It became clear that you needed to control the value chain from an idea to the ethical sourcing of materials to production to retail in order to make a profitable fashion brand in Africa. And of course, to produce a line, you need money. So, AFF started doing angel investments.
Last November, the AFF increased their capability to finance creative businesses in Africa. Through a partnership with the Ethical Fashion Initiative under the United Nations International Trade Center, they launched a 100M Euro fund, the Impact Fund for African Creatives. Their mandate is to invest in creative businesses continent-wide, but they will have a “strong focus on West Africa” where there has historically been less capital available. The Impact Fund for African Creatives will start by developing an accelerator to build a pipeline of viable fashion businesses. At the end of the accelerator, which will focus on all aspects of the fashion business, the designers will showcase their brands at a major international fashion week.
If you are an African designer reading this, I am sure that you are asking yourself, “How can I get into this program and inject some of this capital into my business?” Luckily, Annan shared the three things she looks for when she is evaluating a creative business for investment.