A thing of beauty is joy for ever for most of us, but for Nigerian middle class it is a job forever.?Laces are extras that attach beauty to fabrics.?It decorates, titivates and provides ornamental glimpse to clothes.It makes the clothes shine and stand out. For Nigerian middleclass its serves more purpose.
The lace business is flourishing in Nigeria in a fast pace .Once reserved only for the rich people, laces can now seen on the dresses of motor cycle taxi passengers and nightclub goers which are the part of Africa?s growing middle-class.
The reason for this boom is nothing but the growth of consumer market in Africa. The middle income market which is ready to spend money is growing in Nigeria.
The African Development Bank estimates that the continent has around 300 million people with incomes in excess of their basic needs, up more than 60% from a decade ago.
Acknowledging these facts the lace industry is booming with new possibilities and potential.”We’re trying to rebrand lace,” says Folake Folarin-Coker, a Nigerian fashion designer who helped stage a lace-themed fashion show here last month.
In Africa, a large part of the consumer market is earning their living through informal economy. Consider the case of Mrs.Adeola She is an established lace vendor in Nigeria.For years she has brought her lace into Nigeria through underground channels that the government largely ignores. Her store is next to an open-air market abuzz with vendors hawking blue jeans and soap-opera DVDs from shops, makeshift stalls and rickety wood tables.
Around 90 % of Africa?s city dwellers lift their income by their association with informal economy.
In Africa the lace trade began in 1960s. It was brought to Nigeria form Austria.?Nigerian?s keen interest in dressing up for occasion catches the attention of an Austrian trade commissioner and thus the business started.
The countries now conduct an estimated ?26 million ($37 million) a year in lace trade, according to the Austrian Embassy in Nigeria.
People like Mrs .Adeola started as a trial and found successful.
Initially she used to purchase lace in bulk from small family owned business setups in Austria. Though she started in a street side makeshift tent,now she owns two shops in Nigeria.
As with many other booming industries around the world, the Chinese cheap market invades in Nigeria too.?Relatively inexpensive Chinese fabrics have come to dominate the markets in Nigeria and elsewhere in West Africa.
Lace exports from China to Nigeria reached $115 million in 2006 from less than $100,000 in 2000, according to the General Administration of Customs of China.
The figure subsequently dipped but rebounded to $63 million last year and is expected to rise this year. China exported over $200 million in lace last year to Nigeria and its smaller neighbors Benin and Togo, with most of the product ending up in Nigeria, lace sellers say.
Chinese lace sells at about $45 for 15 yards, while Austrian lace costs between $250 and $1,000 per fifteen yards, though the Chinese fabric isn’t as good, Nigerian traders say.
Though Asian rivals are actively entered in to the market, the traditional traders are hopeful of their relatively expensive laces.Austrian manufacturer?s say they are working hard to ensure that their slice of the Nigerian market isn’t eroded by less-expensive goods from China, ?South Korea?and Thailand.
To make the consumer aware of the quality of their lace, Austrian Manufacturer?s association and Austrian Embassy had sponsored a fashion show last month. They are also planning to hold an exhibition this month on the history of lace trading in Nigeria.
Local vendors like Mrs.Adeolaare also fighting hard with the Asian rivals by trying to establish a niche in the high end Austrian products.
“Lace can never go out of fashion in Nigeria,” says Mrs.Adeola and it is this hope that pushes her and the other successful lace vendors to go on with their business.