COWEFA (Commonwealth Fashion and Art Forum) is a body within the Commonwealth of Nations, which is a political association made up of 53 member states, nearly all of them former territories of the British Empire.  In the era since independence the Commonwealth, headed by the British monarch, Queen Elizabeth II, has served as an umbrella to bring together these countries with a shared history, to explore intergovernmental issues which may arise between them, and to improve their general well-being by providing a forum for the exchange of ideas, opinions and resources in the form of conferences, summits, festivals and sporting events.  A key feature of the Commonwealth is the fact that every member nation has a voice, regardless of the size of its population or economic. This allows for the opinions of every single country to be heard and recognised.

COWEFA is structured to help improve the Commonwealth fashion industry. Though this sounds a simple aim, the organisation faces a complex task, in taking into consideration each and every culture of the member nations of the Commonwealth, and ensuring that there is a proper blend between them so as to provide a unifying and positive feel. Members of the Commonwealth include Nigeria, Australia, Zambia, India, Guyana and Canada, and 31 of them are classified as “small states”, with a population of 1.5 million or less.  Commonwealth fashion considered as a whole is obviously a vast area, requiring a collaborative effort to make it a success. As a result, COWEFA has sought to put together a model which, if properly executed, will culminate in a massive success for the propagation of fashion in these states of the Commonwealth.

Fashion in the Commonwealth is evidently a very diverse entity, cutting across fashion from all corners of the world. The ultimate goal of the Forum is not only to promote fashion goods produced exclusively by members of the Commonwealth, but to ensure that these goods are of the highest quality — quality enough to cater to the needs of her members and if possible to propagate them to other foreign markets.

Networking is a key component of any business, which is why COWEFA aims to develop a strong network, with a view to integration between fashion designers, possible investors and even individual governments.  Resources are important, and COWEFA aims to ensure that these resources are equitably shared to encourage an even growth within the fashion industry.

Another subtle yet important plan of COWEFA is to achieve a domino effect in the Commonwealth nations through our programmes. What this means is that through fashion, we intend to create a heightened awareness of regional identity, trade promotion, educational integration, cultural interchange, empowerment of youth and women, social development and so on.  In this, it can be said that COWEFA stands for a much larger cause, using the world of fashion as a means to further these goals.

Being an accredited organisation within the Commonwealth has helped us to develop core relationships with governments of member states, a very important instrument in the actualization of our goals. These relationships are helping us to confront the real issues we encounter and  to decide how best to handle them.

Being a fashion designer in the Commonwealth today is no holiday: there are real challenges to be faced and overcome. Among the key challenges are inadequate funding, the absence of a steady network for the advertisement of merchandise, lack of interest by governments, lack of important amenities such as electricity, and lack of proper fashion education to improve fashion skills. Some of these challenges can be region-specific, some are more general. Hence, COWEFA, in its bid to improve Commonwealth fashion, has made it a central mission to find ways to tackle these problems, and to ensure that Commonwealth fashion awareness is not only a dream but a real success.