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Africa Bids for Apparel Sourcing Success at 2017 MAGIC Marketplace

As well as Africa's hopes to become the new China, the first MAGIC event of the year also had a focus on the rise and rise of wearable tech, while also giving ample space to evangelists of the wonders of 3D-printed clothing and accessories.

Photo: Footwear of the future: A bespoke 3D-printed shoe.
Footwear of the future: A bespoke 3D-printed shoe.
Photo: Footwear of the future: A bespoke 3D-printed shoe.
Footwear of the future: A bespoke 3D-printed shoe.

From raw denim to fur-trimmed slippers, MAGIC – the world's largest fashion and apparel marketplace – showcased a wide range of inspirations and solutions to some of the most influential figures in the industry. This biannual event now consists of 13 shows, together covering everything from fashion and accessories to footwear, pool apparel and sourcing.

While it's always a vibrant gathering, this edition seemed particularly upbeat. Many in the industry were only too keen to explore all of the opportunities opening up in the manufacturing and technology sectors, as well as all of the latest styles, all against the backdrop of a uniquely interesting time in US history. Among the many talking points at the event were: "How soon will 3D-printed shoes go mainstream?", "When will my jacket be able to converse with a club bouncer?" and, of course, "Where's the next best bet in sourcing?" Here are a few of the answers…

With its usual focus on the global supply chain, this year's Sourcing at MAGIC welcomed a pan-African pavilion for the first time. Among the countries representing the continent's clothing trade were Cameroon, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Mauritius, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa and Uganda.

Its debut this year was no accident, according to Christopher Griffin, the President of Sourcing at MAGIC. Expanding on the reasons, he said: "We – as well as many others – see Africa as having great potential within the sourcing world. It is also widely believed that the Trump administration will not mess with the African Growth and Opportunity Act [a trade agreement enacted by the US Congress and extended in 2015]. With the Trans-Pacific Partnership off the table for the time being, it may be time to focus on Africa."

According to Griffin, one of the big players in the sector recently invested US$500 million in Ethiopia, while another has established a $3 million "dirt to shirt" facility there. He said: "For many people, Africa is the new China."

This sentiment was also evident on the showfloor, with the African presence having shot up to 62 factories this year from 38 last year – and they were all attracting attention. One such company that had a steady stream of visitors to its stand was South Africa-based Trade Call Investments Apparel, which currently supplies garments to Woolworths and the David Jones department stores.

According to Ian Stein, a Marketing Executive with the company, Trade Call has just opened a new 60,000-square-metre facility. As well as functioning as a manufacturing centre, the site also features a worker's vegetable garden.

Stein, an almost 40-year veteran of the apparel business, said the provision of such facilities ties in neatly with the company's mission statement: "A happy workforce and sustainable sourcing." As to other reasons why US companies seek out Trade Call, he said: "We are based in Cape Town, one of the most beautiful parts of the world. It's a very appealing destination and many of the Chief Executives that we work with say that they always prefer to travel to a place where they'd actually like to take a holiday."

The theme of "Africa Rising" was also among the "seasonal narratives" put forth upstairs at WWDMAGIC. Indeed, it featured highly in the 2018 spring/summer trend session hosted by Fashion Snoops, the New York-based fashion-forecasting specialist.

Commenting on this very trend, Melissa Moylan, Snoops' Women's Fashion Director, said: "Many of us are turning our eyes to the renaissance that's occurring in Africa right now. There's been an uptick in business and financial investment and we're also looking at it as a beacon of tech entrepreneurship, with Kenya and Nigeria now being referred to as the Silicon Savannah.

Photo: Africa: In the ascendant for sourcing and style.
Africa: In the ascendant for sourcing and style.
Photo: Africa: In the ascendant for sourcing and style.
Africa: In the ascendant for sourcing and style.
Photo: Colony: The on-trend US-retro look.
Colony: The on-trend US-retro look.
Photo: Colony: The on-trend US-retro look.
Colony: The on-trend US-retro look.

"In term of how that relates to fashion, embroidery and applique – as well as traditional tribal patterns and tropical prints – have now been set to modern shapes. With regard to featured materials, these include exotic skins, hemp and banana silk, as well as the Pantone colours currently favoured by other narratives, such a burnt umber and medallion yellow."

With its roots firmly in the US, the second trend expected to make it big next spring is Colony. Inspired by Amish traditions and the Makers Movement, Colony garments will boast natural materials and rustic surfaces, industrial details and raw denim, and even tailor's chalk, which supposedly bequeaths a "modernist architectural vision". The requisite accessories include rope belts, leather suspenders and chunky socks.

At pretty much the opposite end of the spectrum to rustic leathers is the Museum of Me trend. Inspired by the art curator/activist look, this is all about "expressionism, anything bold and free-style". Think illustrative hand drawings, lots of mixed media, and a slip dress worn layered over a woven top.

Soaring stratospherically above the rest of the narratives, though, is Sixth Sense – "the union of technology and the human body". Commenting on this decidedly futuristic style, Moylan said: "We're creating a parallel to virtual reality. Wearable tech continues to be relevant, but it will also become softer and more pliable as it is integrated into our wardrobes. Expect enlarged mesh, iridescent and translucent materials, as well as contrasting prints, distortions and optical illusions."

Inevitably, those innovations set to shape the future of fashion were widely discussed throughout the show. During one seminar devoted to the subject, Dianne Jefferies, President of Los Angeles-based DJL Consulting, predicted that up to 20% of apparel would be connected by 2020.

Regardless of the high cost of entry and the extensive testing process involved, Jeffries still sees changing the consumer's mindset as the biggest challenge facing wearable tech. She said: "With clothing, you want everything to be perfect when your launch. In consumer electronics, by contrast, there's always versions 6.0 and 6.5 and so on. Everyone expects to have to contend with this, but it's a huge shift in the mentality of the industry."

Among examples of products cited as being at the forefront of this movement was the Bright BMBR smart jacket by New York fashion house Rochembeau. This comes complete with an embedded digital tag – a combination of NFC chips and QR codes – that unlocks exclusive dining, art and retail experiences across New York. The idea behind it was that the brand selects the experiences and the jacket unlocks them because, as Jefferies said, "people want experiences more than just objects". Released as a limited edition of 15 in December 2016, each jacket retailed for $500.

Erick Wolf, the Chief Executive of Airwolf 3D, a California-based manufacturer of 3D printing technology, had a somewhat different take on the future. Believing there will be a fundamental shift, with exclusivity becoming relatively affordable, his firm has launched a number of 3D printing farms, all of which are dedicated to churning out custom shoes and accessories.

Although admitting he was skeptical when his first shoe client approached him, Wolf has now backed California-based Feetz, an outfit making custom shoes on 3D printers for 26,000 hours every month. In order to access the service, customers need only take three photos of their feet and select a colour and style off the company's website. Two weeks later, they receive a perfect pair – and wearing them, according to Wolf, feeling like "when you take off your bra at the end of the day".

Airwolf 3D has also been printing fashion-statement dresses and accessories, using copper, glass and jewellery as part of the extended range of materials open to 3D printers. Wolf, who originally turned to 3D printing as a way of making cars, is now evangelical about the potential applications within the clothing sector.

He said: "Imagine, when you walk into a sunglasses store, your face is scanned and, before you know it, you have a custom pair of glasses that fit perfectly. We can already download a design, print it and have it ready to wear that same evening. While shoes and glasses are the easiest applications, it'll move to shirts too. It's going to be giant."

Photo: MAGIC: The world’s largest fashion and apparel marketplace.
MAGIC: The world's largest fashion and apparel marketplace.
Photo: MAGIC: The world’s largest fashion and apparel marketplace.
MAGIC: The world's largest fashion and apparel marketplace.

The most recent edition of MAGIC took place from 21-23 February 2017 at the Las Vegas Convention Center. More than 80,000 fashion and sourcing professionals attended the event.

Anna Huddleston, Special Correspondent, Las Vegas

Content provided by Picture: HKTDC Research
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