Last week, I received an invitation to attend the first ever Creative Industry Retreat held in Accra by the African Fashion Foundation founded by Roberta Annan. The event sought to bring together various industry players and stakeholders across the continent and the diaspora to connect and discuss ways of collaborating and pushing the ‘Africa’ agenda forward.

The 3-Day retreat hosted by Debonair Afrik started with an Arrival Dinner at OLMA Colonial Suites in Osu and saw some key players within the fashion industry in attendance. Amidst food, drinks and networking, we also had the opportunity to welcome some creatives from other African countries and the Diaspora such as Nigeria, Ethiopia, Cote D’Ivoire, Senegal, Tanzania, UK amongst others.

The retreat officially kick started with a series of talks moderated by Arieta Mujay Barg. The various topics discussed were; The Creative Economy in Africa, African Sustainability vs the Rest of the world; Inter Trade Africa- Fostering collaboration amongst the creative industry; The African Diaspora: How do we forge real links?; The Future of African Creativity and African Luxury.

Present in Accra for the retreat were Adama Paris of Adama Paristudio, Elie Kuame of Maison Elie Kuame, Emmy Kasbit, Nisha Kanabar of Industrie Africa, Adebayo Oke-Lawal of Orange Culture, Mahlet Teklemariam of Adis Ababa Fashion Week amongst others.

So here are my few takeaways from the deep conversations that took place:

  1. Collaborate Collaborate Collaborate–  This was reiterated too many times by many of the attendees who agreed that we all need each other. We need to work together, support each other, collaborate with each other, tap into the resources of one another. We can’t do it all alone. Collaboration shouldn’t only be among designers but with other creatives so we can foster togetherness and collectively work to take up space globally.
  2. Education – This was another point that was emphasized in the discussion. We need to educate ourselves in order to develop and compete globally. We need to acquire the necessary skills and tools to compete globally. Education also meant that, we needed a shift in our mindset when it comes to the creative industry. This called for a holistic approach to changing how our educational system has been set up which is mostly geared towards teaching students how to sew and ignoring the business aspect of it. Participants reached a consensus that there was a need for institutions to offer more than just graduating designers who cannot stand the test of time.
  3. Tell our own story – We have to create our own platforms to tell our own story. Africa is blessed with so many beautiful stories as a result of our diverse cultural heritage. Telling our own story gives us the power to control our narrative. Some of the speakers cited challenges working with people from the diaspora and non-Africans who they thought tried to impose their own perceptions in campaigns and projects they worked on for Africa. They highlighted the need to create and share our own stories.
  4. Be ready to serve– To excel in the creative industry, one needs to be ready to serve. Maliko, a footwear designer shared his story of the many internship roles he got into before launching his brand which he says prepared him to be better at what he does today. Similarly, Kenneth Ize also shared similar story on the advantages that came with interning with LVMH. These stories, goes to say that we don’t need to be in a hurry to launch our brand just because we’ve graduated from school. We need to understudy and learn from others before we branch out to start our business.
  5. Passion alone is not enough to run a business: We’ve seen that many creative people started off their brand because of their passion. We’ve heard it too many times. “Fashion is my passion”…lol. Fashion is a business and its only the toughest brands who have more than just their creative skills can stand the test of time. African creatives need to invest in the trade and put in structures that will make them agile in this globally competitive industry.
  6. We need to adopt digital as fast as we can – Today, almost everything we do is digitalized. Businesses are beginning to realize the value of using technology to stay relevant in a rapidly evolving market. African creatives need to adapt and the earlier we adapt digital the better for us.
  7. Think Legacy, Have a Succession Plan for your business: This point touched me so hard because it’s been evident that many of our  creatives are not planning for the future. Most of them are building businesses around them such that, when they are no more, the business dies with them. We need to start thinking about the future and leaving a legacy. The likes of Chanel, Karl Lagerfeld, Alexander McQueen and many globally recognized brands have built legacy brands which are still running and being studied even after the death of the founders.
  8. Forge Real Relationships: Relationships are important. As a PR Expert, I know how important this is. Many creatives get stuck behind building their businesses and forget that it is the connections they have that can get them ahead. Establish relationships with people within your industry so you don’t only reach out when you need them.
  9. We need to show up for ourselves: We must not wait or depend on governments to support us in growing the creative industry. In as much as we need those help in which ever forms it may come, we must get ahead and show up for ourselves.
  10.  African Fashion is Originally luxury: This particular topic was a heated discussion. While some believe African Fashion and Creativity is luxury by virtue of the personal story, connection and purpose attached to each piece that is made(mostly due to its handmade nature) others are of the believe that luxury can only bestowed on an African brand when it fits into the global narrative of luxury. Well… I’ll leave this discussion for another day. But what do you think?

Unfortunately, I was unable to attend some of the other events due to other commitments. They included the Pop Up event hosted by Adama Paris and the launch of the Sustainability Project “RECYCLE, REWORK, REUSE” held at the Lotte Accra;  and the launch of the Loom Project by Kenneth Ize held at the Mhoseenu.

Check out some photos of guests from the different events.

Some Guests at the Arrival Dinner

Some Panelists and Guests at Day 1 Talks

Some Panelists and Guests at Day 3 Talks

At the end of the Day 3 Talks, Roberta Annan, the founder of African Fashion Foundation announced that this is going to be an annual event to be held in Accra. To find out more about the retreat and watch full videos of the discussions, visit their social media pages @africanfashionfoundation.

Photo Credit: Brave Studios & Vine Imagery