Flooding Europe with Africa

Did you ever hear about a fashion brand from Africa? Did you ever hear about any African enterprise succeding on an international scale? Well, it's about time.

Berlin 2007

Hannes Grassegger

It is not easy to stay up to date in Dakar, the capital of both business and fashion in western Africa. Down there young women, it is said, are consuming up to 80% of their household income only for purchasing the latest styles from their personal designer. Within months they can forget about their entire wardrobe - wrong suit, wrong cut and you're out. If you go there, please check your costume properly - and forget about grungy styles, too. European hippies are raising laughter in this vain 3.5 mio city which combines muslim, french and subsaharan influences to a vivid lifestyle mostly unperceived by any western trend scout so far.

To make these riches to resources for a proper fashion brand on an international basis was the idea of the founders of JEFJEL, formed in Dakar in July 2001. Amongst other Senegalese or westafrican designers and brands ranging from haute couture oriented Oumu Sy to Alphady Jeans (maybe the equivalent of Germany's Joop), streetwear labels like SIGIL and Ankhre, JEFJEL is beginning to enter european markets. To succeed in Europe, JEFJEL is collaborating with european partners. Matters of distribution, marketing and even some design work are done in a jointly manner.

Chief production officer Cheikh Tidiane Wane, a slender 38 year old is one of the original founders of JEFJEL. Together with his european marketing associate Paul Bauer, they explain the conceptual approach, their targets and what makes the brand unique.

The targets
Positioning JEFJEL in the medium to high price prêt-a-porter market in western Europe during the next five years is our strategic target. Beginning in Paris and Berlin, we want to place our items in Stores selling maybe APC or Bernhard Willhelm.
First of all, we want to make clean business. By clean we mean both, lucrative and sustainable. Lucrative by serving the demand of high price western countries, sustainable by using and marketing specific abilities, designs and techniques from Africa without destroying them. Our mission statement: "exploring western markets with african technology".
It is, in a strict sense a classical business opportunity. In comparison to any other region or tradition, contemporary african styles are mostly untouched. This is why we have the unique possibility of bringing them into business. No matter where, the fashion scene is always looking for something fresh. For us, delivering new ideas constantly is a daily routine, and we suppose it is even easier if we have this unique selling point "made in Africa" for e.g. our fashionable new necklace or sporting gear etc. In this sense, Africa as a label is a market niche.

The concept
Plus we are selling an idea. Especially in the western market, people are bored of continually revivaling the last decades. The revival will be followed by a new vision. We think the ongoing success of brands like american apparel or the introduction of the american "red" label (a metabrand initiated by Bono of U2 which indicates that some percent of the price goes to projects in africa) are showing, that the consumer is eager to buy something new: an incorporated idea of the brand. The idea is simple: clean capitalism, no damage, ecological etc. The buyer wants to be satisfied by consuming. What he doesn't want is the feeling that he bought some nasty child labour item.Even Stella McCartney is now promoting ethical business. We are offering chic pieces of african culture produced in a classical manner, no child labour, no China feelings. Business globalization in a good sense, so to say.

The design
Speaking about culture, one could point out that also aesthetically we have a singular approach. Our credo "product follows meaning" is derived from muslim architecture, which is based on patterns and calligraphy. Shape transports meaning. We extended this idea with westafrican symbolism to the choice of the product. So our products are social statements, all expressing our brand philosophy. The sneaker to "make the youth cross borders" is entirely designed out of the letters JEFJEL meaning "to do and to receive". The track suit with its grafitti style cut is following this idea and represents home, roots and pride at the same time. The most fashionable item is the necklace, a cut-out euro coin, showing the silhouette of Africa. So many issues are combined. It is Africa in the middle of Europe, mentioning the migration issue, it is this very offensive, bad taste gold and silver combination, the Hiphop aspect of wearing money, to show what you have, which is very african too. There is so many ideas in this item, we should write a book about it.
Our first european collection is all about the migration issue. It is migrants who are dreaming the european dream, it is migrants who are bringing to europe which lacks: youth, diversity and the will to succeed.



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