Roberta Annan, a Ghanaian businesswoman, launched the African Fashion Fund in 2011 to improve access to finance and infrastructure for artisans and creatives from across the continent. She insists that sustainability cannot be limited to only the materials used in producing beautiful things; it should also drive fair wages and economic empowerment – especially for women.
Since its inception, the Fund has offered US$5,000 grants to artisans to help them scale up production and gain access to markets, emphasizing women-led brands, that include a cosmetics company and an artisanal chocolate producer.
Photo by Roberta Annan
“We must use the COVID pandemic as an opportunity to redefine sustainability – not just for Africa but for the world,” she said from her home in Accra, Ghana. “There is luxury in our natural environments, and we have the chance to build a business model around the beauty of that luxury.”
While not minimizing the impact of COVID on business, Annan and her colleagues at the Fund are determined to use it as an opportunity to accelerate a plan that was already in progress to make a deliberate push into e-commerce. A digital platform is already in place; all that is needed is a global distribution chain to get wares from the continent to buyers across the globe.
The Fund has also teamed with one of the original artisans who benefited from seed grants to bring portable, foldable looms to 130 villages in Ghana and Nigeria, which will provide an entrepreneurial opportunity to women’s cooperatives to weave and sell textiles.
“It is critical that the artisans who own the craftsmanship have an opportunity to bring the world to them, rather than it being co-opted,” she said. “We are generating demand for creative outputs from Africa, but on African terms.”
From August she will be coordinating and leading a US$100 million Impact Fund for African Creatives that provides venture capital for growth for African entrepreneurs looking to take their businesses to scale, with an emphasis on those using sustainable materials and adhering to responsible business practices.
This kind of investment in African industry brings with it the opportunity “to press the reset button,” said Annan. “We are aligning back to the soul and focusing on people and planet while also making profit.”
Another benefit is the opportunity to be at the forefront of discussions between the private sector and governments, to drive policy changes to open markets and encourage innovation.
“Foreign direct investment gets to do that, so why not us too?” said Annan. “The future lies with us, and we have the opportunity to demonstrate that you can make a profit while also having social impact.”