Fashion Tech in Africa

Africa’s fashion industry could be worth over $15 billion by 2021. One reason for this could be the emergence of social media and how it’s changing the perception of Africa and the rise of Afrocentricity that is creating a demand for African fashion. Another notable introduction however into the industry is fashion technology.

Merging fashion and technology is something we could have never seen coming, but if you had told us ten years ago that there would be a place online that would be able to detect you and your friends from pictures (hint hint Facebook) we wouldn’t have believed you. So what exactly does fashion tech have in store for Africa?

A few weeks ago a friend dragged me to the mall- anyone close to me knows that malls are the bane of my existence. They are always overcrowded, there are lines everywhere and they are a reminder of how broke I am. This time I was in one of my favourite stores looking at things I obviously couldn’t afford and there I was asking the sales assistant to check if they had something in my size. Normally this process takes anything between five to twenty minutes- depending on how tidy the store room is and how energetic your assistance is at the time of day. This time however it took one minute.

There we were, my friend, the sales assistant and myself. He took out his phone, scanned the garment and said “sorry mam’ we don’t have it in that size”. My mind was blown. What was this ‘thing’? Where had it been all along? Does it know how much time I have spent looking for things when I used to work in retail? For the most part I was glad that the digital revolution had penetrated the retail industry.

Technology has always been an essential factor in the production of clothes and the different styles in fashion since humans began wearing clothes 170 000 years ago. However it’s not until the 19th century that technology had a significant influence on the fashion industry when sewing machines were invented.

The invention of the sewing machine changed the rate at which manufactures could produce clothes, allowing manufacturers to cut costs of production and deliver to a growing demand much quicker. So it’s accurate to argue that technology has always been at the epicentre of fashion. More recently however the term has been used to refer to the wider use of technology in fashion such as the use of apps, the creation of smart textiles and many others.

The contemporary form of fashion tech is an arm of technology that I find very interesting and stylish. Pun intended. It incorporates all aspects of the industry, from the designing and production of the product, to how it is transported, shelved, sold and even worn. Anyone interested in breaking into the fashion industry needs to tap into the opportunities afforded by technology in order to survive the digital revolution. Here are some of the ways you can start doing this:

Artificial Intelligence

In layman terms AI simply means computers or machines that can work or react like humans. Some of the tasks that these machines may be able to do is speech and face recognition, learning, planning and problem solving. The use of AI in fashion could provide shoppers with a more personalized shopping experience by studying the customers’ interests, behaviours and past shopping patterns. Therefore giving them exactly what they need. Saving you time and countless trips between many stores trying to compare prices, styles and garment quality.

Data Analytics

From the moment you switch your phone on you are generating data and because of this data is being produced at a faster rate more than ever before in the world. Retailers are using this to have better control over their supply chain. One notable brand that is doing so is Zara. They are using data analytics to collect sales information, analyze performance and many other parts that make them stand out from other retailers, and keep you walking through their doors.

Voice Technology

This is the ability of a device to receive and interpret spoken words. A lot of phones now come with this feature, which many have not taken a liking to but if explored could make life much easier. The whole idea is that we are becoming more and more occupied with things to do. So much that even typing has become a drag. Voice technology will allow consumers to search and select items without ever laying a finger on the phone. Not really sure if this is for me but there are many people who will appreciate this.

Internet of Things

IoT is a tech buzz word that is everywhere these days. It is the connectedness of objects to the internet, and this could be any object. This technology is one of my personal favourites because if I could find a way to connect my socks to the internet I would find them faster without destroying my closet each and every time. The use of IoT in fashion is here to improve both the shopping experience and fashion. Through this technology clothing items get to be connected to the internet and collect various sets on information that can be made accessible to you through an app. The most common wearable technology fashion are fitness accessories. This same technology can be extended to many other fashion pieces.

There are many opportunities for young people in Africa in fashion tech that have the potential to shake up the fashion industry on the continent and give a much needed boost to the creative economy. This shows that the Fourth Industrial Revolution is here to disrupt every industry and one does not need a bachelors in computer sciences to be involved. The biggest thing to remember is that there are no rules in innovation and with access to fast internet there is no stopping us.