In Conversation with Roberta Annan – African Creativity Pioneer

Roberta Annan explored the growth and development of creativity in Africa in one of the discussions at the fifth annual Condé Nast International Luxury Conference, held recently in Cape Town. As one of the speakers at the gathering, where the power and importance of the African market in the global luxury and fashion industry was considered, Roberta is a fierce proponent of the vital role that the continent can play as a creative, manufacturing and retail hub. The internationally accomplished businesswoman and entrepreneur shared thoughts and insights on her vision in an interview with Between10and5.

Having positioned yourself as an unofficial ambassador for Africa, your passion clearly lies with rebranding and reconstructing how people view Africa. How do you see this unfolding and what are your visions for the elevation of the continent?

Africa has the opportunity to redefine its narrative for the better. It involves finding the right partnerships and making the conscious effort to put her best foot forward. I envision Africa becoming a leading provider and destination for all kinds of luxury products and services and I will continue to invest and advocate for our raw talent to be invested in and showcased all over the world, actively seeking for opportunities to bring the talents and gifts of Africa forward.

With your powerful network and harnessing your access to investment, you have spearheaded funding towards accelerating Africa’s economic participation in the evolving global luxury market. What does ‘ethical fashion’ mean to you, particularly in the African context and how do you see it playing a role in economic development?

To me, Ethical Fashion means creating an enabling and conducive environment to nurture creativity and provide African creatives with access to market employment and opportunities to improve their lives. Ethical Fashion gives the producer as well as the consumer a sense of positivity towards making an impact to the economy. How this impacts economic development is that, more and better employment opportunities are created which in turn improve living standards of individuals, improving the economy as a whole.

With lack of capital being one of the stumbling blocks to progress, what are some of the other challenges you see and some solutions to that?

Opportunity has always been a major stumbling block. Africa is filled with creativity, talent and resources but without adequate and appropriate opportunities to refine these qualities, sadly our resources go to waste. That is why I have made it a part of my mission to always look out for the continent by putting out the best we have and finding organizations and individuals who share the same vision I have of improving Africa either by bringing opportunities here or taking Africa to where the opportunities are. While doing this other issues like training and mentorships programs will be held to make sure that Africa is up to standard and can compete on the global level.

Why is access to capital so hard in Africa for creatives and what role do you feel that capital can play in unlocking African creativity?

Access to capital is difficult for creatives because they do not have the connections, skills or even a representative that will enable them to really leverage their products on a competitive level. Also, there is a perception that the venture is high risk and also yields low return. I believe however that capital is needed to make the industry more attractive in order to yield the best return. Capital is needed for creatives to expand their businesses and meet the needs of the market. This will put African creatives on the International level to be able to compete with the best of the best.

Your Ethical Fashion Initiative (EFI) and African Fashion Fund (AFF) collaborated to launch the Impact Fund for Africa (IFFA). What are the ways in which this will be channelled to directly open up and promote the development of African creatives and their involvement in the global market?

The collaboration between my AFF and EFI which is the Impact Fund for African Creatives (IFFAC) will serve as an investment into Africa’s fashion industry and supporting African creatives. The focus is on eliminating the perception of the industry being high risk and yielding low return while developing and showcasing Africa’s rich culture through funding and investment.

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