Africa hopes to have a thriving apparel manufacturing industry. The continent is poised to take on more production in the midst of global trade wars and rising wages in China. As the world is increasing barriers to trade, Africa is breaking them down. Once the Africa Continental Free Trade Area becomes operational, Africa will be the world's largest free trade area. More than 50 African nations will constitute a single market for goods and services. Right now, the manufacturing sector is only a small proportion of economic output for many African countries. Once the value chain is functioning properly, it has the potential to create hundreds of thousands, and even millions, of jobs in Africa.
While real progress is being made to loosen intra-African trade barriers, cross-country logistics remain an impediment. Shipping something from a country in West Africa to a country in East Africa, for instance, can be more expensive than importing a product from India or China. Outdated perceptions and stereotypes about manufacturing on the continent by international fashion industry counterparts continue to limit opportunities. Africa is equated with cheap manufacturing. Not all efforts to bring scale to upscale manufacturing on the continent have worked. Some labels, however, are seeing an opportunity that goes beyond mass production. They are working with local artisans, offering community groups a consistent, sustainable income, while showcasing local expertise.