Fashion designer Chi Atanga is comfortable with an identity as a global African.
Based in Portugal and Cameroonian-British by background, he is currently in the U.S. looking for investment and sounding out potential markets. African-American communities are emerging consumers of music, movies and fashion from the continent, he says, and he hopes to ride the wave with a clothing brand that reflects his heritage.
For the time being, however, his Walls of Benin brand will be manufactured in Europe. His first line will be produced in Porto, Portugal, where he has access to a skilled workforce, reliable infrastructure and support from the European Union — all prerequisites for building a competitive fashion business which are still missing from most Sub-Saharan African markets.
“Personally I’m drawn to Cameroon and to West Africa,” Atanga says, “but private enterprise is difficult in Cameroon.”
On the World Bank’s 2016 ‘Doing Business’ ranking, Cameroon placed 172 out of 189 countries, scoring particularly badly on the ease of trading across borders. Expensive electricity connections and poor transport infrastructure add huge amounts of cost to manufacturing businesses in much of Sub-Saharan Africa, meaning that they often struggle to compete with businesses in other regions.
Fashion, along with other creative sectors, could be one way to overcome these barriers, as demand for unique designs and intellectual property from Africa increases.