PARIS — The Ethical Fashion Initiative is coming to Paris next season, with events during Paris Fashion Week that it hopes will provide international visibility to African designers and attract investors.
The program, founded and managed by Simone Cipriani, is a flagship initiative of the International Trade Centre, a Geneva-based joint agency of the United Nations and World Trade Organization. What started out as a platform for connecting global lifestyle brands with artisans worldwide has expanded into an accelerator for African brands.
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Now Cipriani is ready to take the EFI to the next level, beginning with a launch event on Oct. 30 and 31 in Paris that will include exhibitions, a concert and round tables with designers Margaux Wong from Burundi and Lukhanyo Mdingi from South Africa, who was one of the joint winners of the Karl Lagerfeld Prize at this year’s LVMH Prize for Young Designers.
The event will be held at the 360 Paris Music Factory in the Goutte d’Or district of Paris, home to several designers who will be hosting workshop visits. The EFI has previously brought designers to events in Italy such as Vogue Fashion’s Night Out, Pitti Uomo and Altaroma.
“We are going to Paris because it’s a progression,” Cipriani told WWD. “Paris is very open and very close to African fashion traditionally, and Paris has also a very active diaspora with a lot of good designers and with a lot of investors who can invest in these designers.”
Cipriani wants to transform the accelerator into a blended finance facility to mobilize investment from inside the African continent, but also from Europe. “Paris is the ideal place to do that,” he reasoned.
Some of the brands in the accelerator are already in discussions with facilities in Africa for investments ranging from 500,000 euros to 1.5 million euros, Cipriani reported. These are typically impact investors or so-called “patient” investors, he added, noting the high cost of working capital financing in Sub-Saharan Africa.
For investors outside the African continent, there are potential returns that go beyond the required return for capital invested, Cipriani noted, citing the example of pluvial cotton grown in Burkina Faso, which has a lower impact on the environment.
“We have this whole value chain in Burkina Faso, where we make fabric out of organic cotton, where we make some garments, there are designers and so on. So investing in these designers is also a way to get into a decarbonized supply chain, it’s also a way to get in a form of fashion which is consistent with the problems of COP26,” he said. “It’s an investment in ESG, more than a specific brand.”
Founded in 2009, the EFI offers a bridge between brands including Vivienne Westwood, Loewe and Adidas, and some 10,000 artisans in countries including Burkina Faso, Mali, Kenya, Ethiopia, Uganda, DRC, Haiti and parts of central Asia, though its program in Afghanistan is currently on hold due to the political turmoil in the country.
For Cipriani, investing in fashion design is also a good way to build social capital in African countries, where creative businesses such as fashion, music and modeling enjoy huge followings on social networks. Above all, he wants to launch a set of events at Paris Fashion Week that will present African brands as international, rather than niche, labels.
The participating brands are Laurenceairline, a men’s ready-to-wear brand designed by Laurence Chauvin-Buthaud; Kente Gentlemen, founded by Aristide Loua; Hamaji, a Kenya-based women’s rtw brand created by Louise Sommerlatte; Katush, another Kenya-based lifestyle brand founded by Katungulu Mwendwa, and Ohiri, a jewelry brand based between France and Ivory Coast, headed by creative director Akebehi Kpolo. Midingi may also join the group.
“Africa is the youngest continent on the planet, and those young people are connected. They have their own interpretation of the world of today and have something to say,” said Cipriani. “These designers have a vision to offer for the world of today, and it’s not to be classified. It’s to be understood and cherished.”