Launched in 2018, the digital showroom Industrie Africa a much-needed space to celebrate and showcase the diverse and exceptional talent that circulates the African fashion scene. Now launching a new platform called the Connect, Industrie Africa takes the conversation to the next level by creating a global space that allows for an accurate and deserved recognition for artists that tend to go unnoticed by the wider fashion community. We talk to the platform's founder Nisha Kanabar about the current climate of the fashion industry and how projects such as the Connect Platform have created a voice for the many talents that have gone unheard.
We have spoken to you before on two occasions about your other platform Industrie Africa, knowing that some time has passed already, could you tell us what the reception like when you first launched this ‘digital encyclopedia?’
Since our initial launch as a digital showroom in 2018, we’re pleased to have cultivated a global following. The response was overwhelmingly strong across the board – from the media to buyers, shoppers and enthusiasts – and what it did is green light a huge opportunity for the local industry as well as a veritable demand for greater, more authentic representation.
We became a catalyst of a significant movement in African fashion, and as a result of the trust and engagement we harnessed, wanted to create an experience that provided more longevity to our community.
You have just launched another project called Connect or IA Connect. What can you tell us about that?
There are vast informational and education barriers that the international and local fashion community experience when it comes to our industry – and, to be honest, it’s just another excuse to be widely excluded from impactful commercial opportunities and initiatives. IA Connect is born out of a need to address these gaps that challenge our growth as an industry – both regionally and globally.
Having Industrie Africa, why did you feel the need to create this new platform?
As a platform, we are dedicated to fostering the entire ecosystem – from offering a seamless shopping experience for the world, to tackling consumer misconceptions of African luxury, and ultimately being a source of access, education and exposure to the market from the inside out. Interweaving consumer and industry ideals into one seamless destination unlocks a sense of consciousness in one’s approach to discovery and speaks to the new consumer that aligns their values with their luxury relationships.
“Diversity is such a buzzword today but, in 2021, why do we still have to treat it like a concept that is an exception rather than a norm?”
The fashion industry is often criticised for its lack of diversity as well as inclusivity however with platforms such as Industrie Africa and the new Connect platform creating diverse displays, this is gradually changing. What is your hope for the future of fashion?
Diversity is such a buzzword today but, in 2021, why do we still have to treat it like a concept that is an exception rather than a norm? Fashion is inherently global – just look at the lifecycle of a product or the nature and locale of today’s customer. I hope for this to reflect onto mainstream consumer values and our overall fashion vernacular as an industry, including an equal commercial opportunity for brands outside of the traditional fashion system.
As an agent of change, we have a distinct commitment to ensuring African designers and other emerging African voices are being elevated beyond regional markets while implicitly addressing challenges such as limited infrastructure, production capacity, and foundational education.
The new Connect platform demonstrates the innovation that the fashion industry very much needed when it comes to artist exposure. How do you plan on expanding this feature?
Powering our industry with the tools for self-reliance is a big goal for us. Connect enables conversations to be had across our fashion ecosystem: industry insiders will have the opportunity to navigate the African fashion landscape in a way that’s intuitive and professionalized, while locally we’ll be able to turn to the platform as an authoritative resource catering to both stakeholders and the next generation of talent. The next step is increasing access to opportunities for fashion education in the region, including guidance and mentorship, vocational training, and masterclasses.
Who are some designers featured in the platform whom you would like to shed light on right now?
We seek to showcase the full breadth – from popular mainstays to emerging labels. I’m excited to especially share some of the lesser-known brands, those who play less in the international space but have just as much talent; brands like Eswatini-based luxury accessories label Khokho Collection, Morocco’s ultra-conceptual Maison ARTC, Nigerian innovators such as Pepper Row or Lagos Space Programme, South African-Rwandan print-heavy menswear label Masa Mara or new-generation Ghanaian brand Atto Tetteh.
Historically, fashion media outlets have continuously shunned and marginalised Black and African designers. When did you first begin to realise the detrimental effects of this industry flaw and why did you decide to work on this?
The best way to change something is from within, and this was exactly my approach through my decade long career in publishing. I began cultivating a knack for storytelling and a love for independent brands in lesser known markets. It was my work in India and the Middle East that helped me develop a nuanced understanding of the lack of space and infrastructure for marginalised voices to shine in a global environment. I was determined to play an active role in bringing down those barriers for my home continent – which at the time was subject to an even greater deal of ignorance than you see today.
“Notions of luxury today are different to what they used to be, so let’s make a conscious effort to avoid monotonously benchmarking against European heritage or All-American ideals.”
The Connect platform has already gathered such amazing reception. How did it feel knowing people responded so well to the new feature?
Incredible! It’s truly a testament to the strength and value of our community and its growing global impact.
I think it’s important to note that Black and African designers have a lot more artistic range than they’re given credit for within the industry, as the artists are usually put into stereotyped boxes that often adhere to westernised perceptions of what African designers can deliver. In what ways do you feel this concept can be changed?
It’s the responsibility of institutions and platforms to play their part in educating the consumer, and increasing exposure to the diversity of what these brands have to offer. It’s time to stop feeding or pandering to these cliches of 'Africanness' or 'Blackness' under the guise of consumer expectations. Notions of luxury today are different to what they used to be, so let’s make a conscious effort to avoid monotonously benchmarking against European heritage or All-American ideals.
During the lockdowns, our world shifted into digital. How did your platform adjust to this new reality?
We have always operated digitally – and when we launched our new shoppable platform last July, it was in the middle of the pandemic, so we’ve kind of yet to see what 'normal' looks like. Our business is global and natively digital, with our team spread across five countries. We strive to walk the walk over talking the talk and pride ourselves on forward-thinking principles that reflect our mission, our community, our product, and even in the way we work.
You’ve already launched some incredible projects over the past few months but what can we expect from you in the future?
What we really strive for is long term change in the unspoken rules of engagement when it comes to Africa’s fashion industry through facilitating conversation, collaboration and cross-pollination – watch this space!