Now in its seventh year, Origin Africa, the continent-wide sourcing trade event showcasing the fiber, textile, apparel and associated industries of Africa, has launched the Project Upscale competition.

Designed to encourage micro and small creative industries to expand their businesses, Project Upscale is open to paid-up exhibitors at this year’s Origin Africa, which will be held in Antananarivo, Madagascar, in November. The creative industries include those active in the fashion and home decor sector, such as clothing, accessories, jewelry and footwear.

As an Origin Africa initiative, Project Upscale aims to help fulfill the mission of the African Cotton and Textile Industries Federation. Headquartered in Kenya, ACTIF is a regional umbrella organization for trade associations in the cotton, fiber, textile and apparel sectors from across sub-Saharan Africa.

ACTIF executive director Belinda Edmonds said, “Showcasing the cotton, textile, apparel and associated industries in Africa is core to ACTIF’s mandate to promote trade in and with the continent. Origin Africa is our platform to deliver on this mandate.”

Project Upscale is both a creative exercise and a business-building stimulus.

“Growth in these industries is dependent on investment across all our sectors,” Edmonds added. “Significant skill and creativity is vested in micro [frequently informal] and small creative enterprises, many of which focus on made-to-measure or bespoke items.”

But fluency in business is an equally important skill to acquire. The competition, which closes on Oct. 15, requires contestants to submit a business history, plan and vision, and will be expected to attend a seminar entitled “Building a Ready-to-Wear [Business] for International Markets” during Origin Africa hosted by the fashion strategist behind the U.S.-based Global Purchasing Companies, Mercedes Gonzales.

“There are several fashion weeks and competitions where judging is based exclusively on creative talent,” Edmonds said. “We wanted to expand on that and reward clearly talented creative who also have the desire, drive and potential ability to grow their businesses from bespoke and made-to-measure into larger ready-to-wear brands.”

She confirmed that Gonzales would be a judge, alongside Matthijs Crietee, secretary-general of the International Apparel Federation, a third yet-to-named judge is expected to be an African designer.

There are three main criteria for judging. Business history, plan and vision takes into account how funding was raised, how initiative was demonstrated and what efforts were undertaken to expand the business. Contestants will also be judged on presentation and communication during the interview with judges. Finally, the judges will review the competing collections according to creativity, range, product quality and understanding of trends and innovation.

“We would like to ensure that our winner has the desire, ability and drive to scale up their brand to a commercially viable business,” Edmonds said.

The judges will pick one winner, as well as two runners-up, who will be announced on Nov. 5, the last day of Origin Africa. The winner will receive a cash prize of $2,500, together with an advertorial feature in the Origin Africa magazine, and one-on-one sessions with mentors such as Gonzales. The winner will also be able to showcase his or her designs for a year, gratis, on the online store African Designers Mall at Africandesignersmall.com.

E-commerce is growing in Africa, with 53 percent of the continent’s inhabitants shopping online, with that number expected to grow.

Africa increasingly presents an attractive sourcing alternative to China and Vietnam. In 2015, the value of apparel exports from Africa rose 9.5 percent to $11.1 billion. Although this number represents 2.4 percent of global exports, it is the highest share of the market for the continent since 2011.

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