Afrobytes 2018: Branding a nation through Fashion

I never doubted the power of communication. But prior to moving to Paris, my definition of PR was merely event management, artist relations, lavish soirees and free giveaways.  There’s nothing wrong with that yet as I immersed my self more as a practitioner focused on the fashion industry, I understood the capacity of PR and what it can do to shape a narrative.

On occasion, I  find myself in a conversation where people let off snarky remarks upon learning I work in the fashion industry. Comments such as “oh, isn’t fashion shallow and only for the bourgeoisie?” or “What can fashion really do for  the world on a grand scale if its just for show?” I simply give a smile despite a built-up angst within me. Maybe it’s me not wanting to sound defensive or I am just used to all the criticisms.

To those who don’t seem to believe in the industry I am deeply passionate about and its role in today’s world, just proves why PR needs to exist now more than ever. The challenge for us is to continuously educate and use these tools to get our message across. And believe it or not, the fashion has more to say than what it lets off on the surface.

I recently attended Afrobytes, a conference on the African technology Industry held last June 07-08 in MEDEF France. Sissi Johnson, brand strategist and someone I personally look up to was the moderator for the panel “Exploring the intersection of Fashion and Technology and contributing to more representative stories of contemporary Africa”. With her were three speakers namely  Amina Belghiti, head of partnerships for Instagram France, Tania Habimana, entrepreneur and public speaker from South Africa and lastly Isabelle Faggianelli, LVMH digital transformation director.

 

 

With the African continent burgeoning, no doubt they will be the next fashion and cultural hub. Fashion weeks are taking place in cities such as Lagos and Cape Town;  The local luxury market is slowly gaining momentum and recognition from across the globe; emerging designers are making their mark within the industry and so on and so forth.

Sissi opened the conversation by stating “Fashion has the power to tell stories and brand a nation.” This statement led to an interesting and fruitful discussion on why and how fashion can become a catalyst for change. Not only do artists come together and showcase their work with pride but they too become part of a community that shapes the narrative.  And in doing so, the availability of technology and numerous platforms provide an avenue for these talented individuals to create a name for themselves and give Africa the voice they deserve. Their stories should not be dictated, white-washed or manipulated by anyone but rather let them speak their truth with their art. We already know the value of technology and the role it played in history, politics, and society now we move the conversation even further.

According to Isabelle, even heritage houses such as LVMH take part in social listening ensuring they grasp the needs and wants of their audience. This allows esteemed labels to adapt and move with culture.  Amina adds “The youth will listen more to fashion designers than they do to political figures”. And I believe this to be true to a certain extent because art speaks volumes and with no boundaries.

So if I find myself in another awkward scenario with judgemental stares and rude critics about the role of fashion, I would confidently say that no, fashion is not simply all about luxury or perfection neither is it exclusive to class, race or identity. but fashion is part of a wider dialogue that fosters innovation and creativity beyond imaginable.

And One day, I dream of doing the same for my country. I truly believe that the Philippines has a robust fashion industry deserving to be acknowledged on a global scale. For now, I’ll continue to learn the ropes of the fashion industry and the ever-evolving PR industry.

 

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