Women-led businesses are steadily and rapidly growing in Africa. Capturing their potential and supporting their development contributes directly to sustainable development, particularly by creating more decent work opportunities (SDG 8). To this end, SITA has created an online course for budding East African fashion designers to build their capacity, knowledge and confidence running a successful fashion business. As well as training, the Mitreeki Fashion Incubator Programme also establishes strong social support networks between the (mostly women) entrepreneurs, for future collaboration and knowledge sharing.
The 2020 edition of the course has recently drawn to a close. Over the course of the last six months, 41 creative leaders had online classes, small group tutorials and one-to-one mentoring to establish their knowledge of good practices around production, pricing, brand identity, how to design a cohesive collection, marketing, media engagements, distribution models, financial management, business administration, sustainability – as well as interactive and participatory activities to show why these things matter.
The Mitreeki Fashion Incubator Programme runs alongside the participants’ working lives, so that they can implement what they learn in classes and tutorials in real-time as much as possible, for the benefit of their next collection: “I am thankful to SITA for the full support and motivation to come up with a new collection”, said Ms. Betselot Zewge, Founder of budding fashion enterprise, Zemenay. On Monday 08 February 2021, the most recent cohort of designers each presented their lookbook to a panel of high-profile industry experts and potential buyers, by way of a final assessment. The panel provided useful, actionable feedback from the perspective of a buyer in a viva-style virtual meeting. To access this level of feedback from buyers is rare and game-changing for the budding designers.
The recent graduates were categorised according to their target market – contemporary designers, and high street or ‘streetwear’ designers – and faced a panel of industry experts that best represented their target market.
Getting real-world relevant critiques and actionable feedback from real buyers is a unique opportunity for women at all stages of their professional and business development. Moreover, the exposure had the potential to translate into a sale or being talent spotted.
Overall, brand identity, pricing, presentation and playing to one’s strengths all emerged as major themes in the panelists’ feedback: Ms. Nisha Kanabar confirmed that “a good focus on brand aesthetic, pattern and cuts can differentiate a unique brand from the rest of the market”, while Ms. Akiko Waters emphasised that “structured line sheets, lookbook and an excellent website are some tips for successful fashion entrepreneurs.” Responding to one fashionpreneur with a passion for interacting with her customer, Ms. Annette Pringle-Kölsch explained that “high interaction with customers can be great, if this is something you love and are good at then it could be the key to running your business towards success”.
These concepts have been major themes for the fashionpreneurs over the course of their Mitreeki training. The online graduation ceremony following later in the month will enable the graduates to certify these learning outcomes for their resume. There will also be an end-of-course feedback session, where the designers come together and reflect on where they started vs. where they are now. They will use this session to share their final lookbooks with fellow students and commit to remaining connected to a network of Mitreeki alumni.