Tailors, the overlooked actors of the value chain

According to Ibifagha Cookey, a Lagos-based financial analyst, custom-made apparel from self-employed tailors generates $8.2 billion annually out of the clothing industry’s $19 billion in sales. In other words, half of the earnings in the custom-made clothing industry in Nigeria is generated by tailors.

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This finding highlights two important points :
• Tailors alone represent a central piece of the value chain : whether self-employed or working with designers, their earnings can be significant. For instance, a local designer in Benin has a workshop of 5 tailors working full time who are paid on a pro rata basis. Her minimum fees for an outfit are $30. Do the math. Despite their important contribution to the fashion industry, tailors are overlooked and considered semi-literate or semi-skilled and part of the informal economy, thus irrelevant. During discourses on building a fashion industry or industralization in Africa, tailors’ professionnal advancement (training, funding, equipment, marketing, financial literacy, etc.) is scacely taken into account.

• Custom-made apparels remain a large part of consumers’ habits and this practice is not going away anywhere any time soon. While we have previously discussed the need for ready-to-wear Africa made clothing apparel, there is also a market for custom-made. It is far from a seasonal activity given that they receive orders any time of the year and peak times being weekends and holidays. It is in our DNA to go visit tailors with piles of fabric and rough sketches of designs and let them operate their magic.

Tailor are professionals who generate revenues and contribute to the economy. Let them be seen as such and be assisted to master their craft, adequetly equip their workshops, fund raw materials and be celebrated.

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