L’Afrique, berceau du luxe de demain – Louwra Baddy
The kente cloth made and worn by the Akan tribes of Ghana and the Ivory Coast, the geometric Tuareg necklaces or the ceramics of the Nok Kingdom – today’s Nigeria – are all examples of how sophisticated the craftsmanship of African ancestral societies was. The essence of what is considered luxury today is found in these products. Indeed, Kente was the garment of the royal family, Tuareg jewelry and Nok ceramics were made for the most powerful families. These goods were symbols of power and social recognition.
Tuareg jewelry tells the story of a people
One of the specificities of Tuareg handicrafts is the manufacture of silver jewelry which has been perpetuated since ancient times.
Tuareg women have a superstitious fear of gold: they never wear it. Silver has therefore supplanted gold in Tuareg traditions. Silver jewelry is part of the heritage of each Tuareg family. They have a symbolic value, but also a very real one, because they also serve as savings and as a means of exchange.
Tin Hinan is a Berber queen who lived in the 4th century. She is considered by the noble Tuaregs of Hoggar as their original ancestor.
Despite the extensive cultural richness of African civilizations that is undeniable to many experts, the global collective imagination around the African continent is limited to a poor continent that is often the scene of civil wars and political instability.
In the World Bank’s 2018 Poverty and Shared Prosperity report, extreme poverty-an income of $1.9 per day as defined by the World Bank-is declining, but it continues to increase in sub-Saharan Africa, where it affects 41.1% of the total population (World Bank, 2018).
Africa is not only that. Out of Africa’s growing population has emerged a middle and upper middle class. These people are increasingly interested in buying luxury products, mainly accessible. Indeed, it is wrong to consider that only the rich consume luxury goods. A French study by the Colbert Committee on French consumers underlines that it is the « executives and higher intellectual professions » who consume the most luxury products. This phenomenon is explained by a volume effect. Given the power of the volume effect and the African demographic growth, the African middle class is a pure player in the development of luxury in Africa.
Nevertheless, in parallel, there is a real emergence of a sub-African rich class. « There are about 148,000 HNWIs – High-net-worth individuals – living in Africa, each with a net worth of $1 million or more. There are about 7,100 multi-millionaires living in Africa, each with a net worth of $10 million or more » (Wealth, 2018).
Thethirstforluxuryinthisregionisundeniable.Whereverpeoplearerich,luxuryis. MoreandmoreWestern luxury brands like Hugo Boss, Gucci, Prada, Jimmy Choo and Dolce & Gabbana have moved to Africa to meet this growing demand. But at the same time, in recent years, more and more local entrepreneurs have launched their own businesses in this market. This is the emergence of Made in Africa luxury.
A thirst for luxury in the sub-Saharan region. Focus on a fast-growing emerging region
Sub-Saharan Africa is the second fastest growing economy, just behind Asia-Pacific (IFOP, 2018). As a fast-growing region, Sub-Saharan Africa is poised to become a future key region for luxury consumption. The region is facing several major structural transformations that are profoundly redefining sub-Saharan Africa’s consumption. From the population boom and rapid urbanization to the emergence of the middle class and the growth of the upper class, sub-Saharan Africa is increasingly a potential region for Western luxury brands such as Louis Vuitton, Prada or Zegna (Wealth, 2018). These brands are opening stores in sub-Saharan Africa. In 2015, the sub-Saharan luxury market was worth $2.4 billion and could grow by 30% in the following 5 years. It is expected to grow by 30% in the following 5 years (IFOP, 2018).
The growth potential of the consumer market in Africa is driven by demographic transformation. Africa has a population of approximately 1.2 billion. By 2030, Africa’s population is expected to reach 1.7 billion. In addition, the African population lives in cities. The African continent is the fastest urbanizing region in the world (Signed, 2018). The African urbanization rate is expected to increase from 38% in 2010 to 47% in 2030 (UN, 2014). And unsurprisingly, the demand for luxury is mainly concentrated in cities.
Alongside these phenomena, African incomes are rising across the continent, leading to the emergence of the middle class and the growth of the upper class. The middle class is projected to triple from 375 million people to over half a billion between 2013 and 2030 (Deloitte, 2014). While 60% of the population will still be considered the lower middle class, living on $2 to $4 a day, another portion of the middle class is moving into the luxury sector. Indeed, as luxury economist Danielle Allérès explains, it is wrong to consider that only the rich consume luxury products and services. Danielle Allérès presents 3 types of luxury: accessible luxury, intermediate luxury and inaccessible luxury. And, she underlines that the middle class accesses luxury with these first two categories. They can acquire luxury at affordable prices (Allérès, 1991). Luxury represents for them a will of opening and appropriation of a new social status. This is totally in line with the CC study mentioned earlier. A French study by the Comité Colbert on French consumers emphasizes that it is the « executives and higher intellectual professions » who consume the most luxury products.
Optimism for the African luxury market also rests with the very rich. There are about 148,000 HNWIs (those with US$1 million or more). There are also about 320 people in the centi-millionaire category (those with US$100 million or more). In addition, it projects that the total individual wealth of Africans will increase by 34% between 2017 and 2027 to US$3.1 trillion (Wealth, 2018).
Africa is not a single country. It is 54 countries with diverse cultural, social and economic situations. Many African economies are in transition from an economy focused on exporting resources to consumer markets. According to IFOP, 5 sub-Saharan African countries stand out as the most attractive and ready to do business in luxury: South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Angola, and Ivory Coast (IFOP, 2018).
- The first is South Africa. This country is known as the most mature luxury market in Africa. South Africa is seen by Western luxury brands as a gateway to African consumers. In recent years, brands such as Salvatore Ferragamo, Dolce & Gabbana, Jimmy Choo have opened stores in this country. All this is made possible by an ecosystem that is favorable to the development of luxury consumption. Indeed, in South Africa, there are large shopping malls that meet the requirements of the luxury retail strategy. There are 1942 malls throughout the country ready to host luxury brands. Not counting the HNWI population, Bain predicts that there will be 420,000 households with more than $100,000 in disposable income in South Africa by 2020 (Rice, 2013). There are potential consumers not to be overlooked. In addition, in recent years, South Africa has become a luxury hub, with some brands attracting a lot of attention on the global fashion scene: KISUA, MAXHOSA BY LADUMA NGXOKOLO, RICH MNISI, and MMSOXAXWELL …
- The second is Kenya. It is located in the east of Africa. It is a strategic country to enter this sub-region. The commercial infrastructure is developing in Kenya with currently 24 large shopping malls which are the temple of luxury brands. The Kenyan capital, Nairobi, is the 6th richest city in Africa by total wealth held. The city’s total wealth was estimated at US$54 billion in 2017 (Wealth, 2018).
- The third is Nigeria. This country is the largest economic power in Africa ahead of South Africa since 2014. Nigeria is the most populous country on the continent. The economy is driven by oil and gas production. Nigeria is one of the leading producers in the world. This economic sector is driving the growth of the upper middle class (Rice, 2013). From 2007 to 2017, Nigeria’s total wealth increased by 19% (Wealth, 2018).
- Next is Angola: in recent years, this country has become a popular investment location due to its stable economic growth. Like Nigeria, Angola benefits from a strong oil and gas production sector aimed at enriching a portion of the Angolan population. Angola’s capital, Luanda, is the 7th richest city in Africa in terms of total wealth held. The city’s total wealth is estimated at US$49 billion in 2017 (Wealth, 2018). In addition, in 2014 Luanda Fashion Week was created in response to the growing fashion awareness in the country.
- And, Côte d’Ivoire: this West African country enjoys a growing economy and holds a strong position on the global stage, especially with its leading position as a cocoa producer.
- In summary, Sub-Saharan Africa offers opportunities for both Western and local luxury brands. Emerging income levels and retail infrastructure that match luxury standards are key factors in developing the luxury business in Africa. South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Angola and Ivory Coast – these 5 countries located in each corner of Africa – highlight the real capacity of the African population to consume luxury goods and products.
Technology is helping Africa overcome infrastructure challenges to attract customers and develop the relationship between brands and consumers. Online shopping is a new way to connect brands and consumers directly. As a result, an increasingly wide and varied range of products that meet their needs can be easily offered to them.
Technology is a way for luxury brands to extend the universe of brands everywhere and at any time. Through smartphones and computers, luxury brands continue to offer consumers a personalized, high-quality experience. Social media, websites and e-commerce are the new ways to attract and retain customers.
The emergence of technology in sub-Saharan regions is a new lever to reach luxury consumers. There are approximately 281 million Internet users in Africa with a penetration rate of 23%. It is low compared to the rest of the world (81% in Europe and 77% in North America), but it is improving (The World Bank, 2018).
Over the past five years, telecommunications growth on the continent has been the fastest in the world. About one-tenth of Africans have mobile internet service. This African proportion is higher than in India (Deloitte, 2018)
Online shopping is still quite rare in Africa. Those who shop online the most in Africa are Nigerians. But only 25% of them reported doing so (Signed, 2018).
In Africa, the development of online shopping faces major challenges. Indeed, the ecosystem – which is essential to exploit its opportunities – is weak. Poor Internet access, the predominance of cash payments, logistical problems, the lack of a regulatory framework and the lack of consumer confidence are all challenges that prevent the development of online commerce across the continent.
Nevertheless, some players are striving to make a difference when it comes to online shopping in Africa, such as Jumia which is the leader in e-commerce in Africa. Jumia – the “African Amazon” created in 2012 in Nigeria – has 1.2 million active users in 11 African countries (IFOP, 2018). Jumia is an online marketplace for products such as electronics, fashion and more. While the ecosystem is still not easy, Jumia is a good teacher that says shopping is going digital in Africa too.
In recent years, some African platforms specializing in luxury goods have emerged. Pololuxury.com offers luxury products from brands such as Rolex, Breguet, Cartier, Chopard, and many others in Nigeria. Onycheck.com ships some of the luxury brands made in Africa worldwide.
THE CONCEPT OF LUXURY
- The academic literature concludes that there is no consensus on the definition of “luxury”. Luxury is acomplex and subjective notion. It refers to almost everything and nothing at the same time. Luxury depends on the perception of each person. Indeed, when considering luxury, the socio-economic background of the person matters. Where one person may perceive the purchase of the latest fashionable dress handmade by a prestigious luxury house as an act of ultimate luxury, another may consider the purchase of a second-hand dress in a slum market as an act of luxury.
- Heine presents luxury as “anything that is desirable and more than necessary and ordinary” (Heine, edition 2, 2012, p. 9).Heine groups different levels of luxury (Klaus, 2011). Entry-level luxury brands are premium brands. They are not considered members of luxury brands. Mid-level luxury brands are considered members of luxury brands, but there is a gap between them and the other two categories. Secondly, high-level luxury brands are fully recognized as major luxury brands. And finally, the elite level luxury brands that are the best in what can be done in this industry.Luxury can be defined in many different ways. So, what is important to keep in mind is the fact that luxury is synonymous with exception, excellence and emotion. Consumers of luxury brands expect the unexpected. This is the main objective of luxury brands: to make people dream.In Africa, luxury is not a new phenomenon. Several anthropological and historical works present the first African civilizations as masters of craftsmanship and high technology. These societies were able to transform fabrics into ornaments and precious stones into the most impressive art objects. Ornaments, such as bracelets, armbands, necklaces, nose rings or earrings, were central to African rituals and economic transactions. The African continent abounds in precious resources: gold, copper, bronze, precious stones … Decades after decades, craftsmanship became very sophisticated in the greatest African empires.In the Nok Empire – which was founded around 1500 BC in northern present-day Nigeria – ceramics were made for the most powerful families (Martin-Leke & Ellis, 2014). This society was highly developed and influential. Archaeologists have found the ancient Nok pottery and terracotta statues at the Taruga and Jos archaeological sites. These detailed sculptures representing humans and animals – some measuring up to 2.5 meters high – are manifestos of their skill in creating the exceptional.
Nok Sculptures – Quai Branly Museum at the Louvre in Paris, Pavillon des Sessions.
The city of Djenné-Djenno – located in present-day Mali – was full of skilled blacksmiths who created iron tools and jewelry for royal families and the wealthy.
Inhabited since 250 B.C., the site of Djenné developed into a market and an important city for the trans- Saharan gold trade. In the 15th and 16th centuries, the city was a focus for the spread of Islam. Its traditional houses, of which nearly 2,000 have been preserved, are built on small toguere hills and adapted to seasonal flooding.
The city of Djenné is located in central Mali, 570 km northeast of Bamako and 130 km southwest of Mopti, at the gateway to the Inner Niger Delta, a vast 30,000 km2 floodplain locally known as Pondo. The property, classified as a World Heritage Site, includes not only the historic center of the city, but also fossil cultural landscapes (archaeological sites) and is therefore known by professionals as the “ancient cities of Djenné”. Indeed, the inscription of this property on this prestigious list was obtained not only for the exceptional value of its earthen architecture, whose style has influenced the entire sub-region, but also for the unique value of the remains of pre-Islamic civilizations present in the vicinity of the city.
In Africa, the craft of cloth was also well developed. Indeed, the great Arab historian and geographer Al-bakri describes in his book the ceremonies of the animist kings of Gao and Ghana – which are part of present-day Ghana, Mauritania and Malaysia. These ceremonies were lavish. The king of Ghana wore clothes so splendid that no other man could compare to him. He wore a gold turban, necklaces and bracelets. Only the royal family could wear such luxurious clothes and jewelry (Al-bakri, 10th century).
All these products were not only of excellent quality, but also very exclusive and constituted a coercive emotional vehicle. Thus, these products were luxury goods.
Over the centuries, these examples of African luxury were primarily made for Africans. However, this does not mean that other parts of the world ignored the ability of African craftsmanship to create such high quality products. In fact, in some archaeological studies, Fyle has proven that some merchants from regions such as Arabia, India, or China traded products from their home countries for African luxury goods on the Swahili coast of East Africa (Fyle, 1999).
A tangle of negative events has had a dramatic impact on the development of luxury on the continent. Tribal wars or social implosions led to the disappearance of peoples. And as a result, part of the know-how of these peoples – who considered oral transmission as the main means of sharing knowledge from one generation to the next and not on the written form as in the West or in the East – gradually disappeared. The triangular trade and then colonialism made African peoples extremely dependent on the West. And subsequently, post- colonial countries have not been strong enough to develop a stable luxury industry in Africa.
A thirst for luxury in the sub-Saharan region. A. Ethnic approach (western approach)
- Luxury is a European construction, as we have already said. European luxury is the standard and the reference. This approach enjoys immense consensus recognition on the world stage.
- In the 1970s, the ethnic trend developed in parallel with Western luxury. In the elite world of the luxury fashion industry, starting in the 1970s, some Japanese designers broke into the luxury fashion game. In the 1990s, they were followed by Africans (Berloquin-Chassany, 2006).
- 1970: Kenzo >To launch his mixed-race, urban brand in Paris, Kenzo Takada organized a theatrical fashion show at the Vivienne Gallery in France. He mixed Japanese and local fabrics and explored unstructured, loose, comfortable and demanding forms: using kimono techniques, he liberated the female body.
- 1973: Issey Miyake > Issey Miyake presents his first fashion show in Paris in 1973. Passionate about the relationshipbetween body, movement and clothing, he works with innovative, functional materials, sometimes associated with the world of sports. Over the years, he developed his own shape-memory fabric technology, as well as weaving techniques that he insisted on keeping secret. In 1976, he made waves when he presented in Osaka a collection entirely worn by models of color, highlighting the lack of mixing in fashion. He is best known for creating the black turtleneck sweater that Steve Jobs made his uniform.
- Lamine Badian Kouyaté: In the 90s, I made the bet to create a fashion inspired by Africa, both identity and mixed race. There was a big gap in this field at the time. The Senegalese-Malian designer, aka Xuly.Bët – a cult label of the 1990s, which dressed Madonna as well as the girls of the Forum des Halles.
- The luxury industry – in all sectors – is mainly based on a dynamic of one-way relationships from the West to the rest of the world. Indeed, not only does second-hand luxury clothing come from the West, but professional recognition also depends on the Western industry. Indeed, with respect to second- hand luxury clothing, this is a relevant indicator for understanding the hierarchy between the West and the other in luxury. Africa is the largest second-hand clothing counter. And, the second-hand market is not just about low quality clothing. The luxury second-hand market is a major market. And the products Africans consume come from the West.
- Roland Barthes presents clothing as objects of communication (Barthes, 1975). And, the Western approach is the best figure of speech when it comes to making a discourse on fashion. In other words, in order to enter the luxury fashion industry, foreign designers must work on a more Western design. This is how the first Japanese designers (Kenzo, Issey Miyake and Hanae Mori) and then African designers were acclaimed.This consideration made by Roland Barthes for clothing can be extended to other luxury products such as jewelry, bags …These newly acclaimed luxury products, coming from another world, are the ethnic side of luxury. The “ethnic” trend can be described as considering certain products – based on a cultural heritage and know-how other than those of the West – as chic enough to be luxury, without forgetting that this is not the essence of what normally looks like luxury.
Thus, the ethnic approach to producing a luxury product is both a source of inspiration for Western designers and a way to target communities they are not used to.
And, it is also a springboard for a new class of foreign designers to be legitimized in the industry.
Before the West expressed its interest in other heritages through the “ethnic” trend, it also expressed it with the “exotic” trend. Indeed, ontologically, exoticism is a subjective concept. Exoticism refers to a foreign country or culture, usually very distant or little known. Over time, this concept became increasingly problematic due to racial heritage. It was no longer politically correct to use the word, except in food sectors (Berloquin-Chassany, 2006). It is in this context that an exotic approach was transformed into an ethnic approach in the luxury industry under the impetus of certain major Western designers (Geoffroy, 2001).
So, will this opening to the rest of the world through the “ethnic” trend offer a real springboard to African designers?
African designers’ resistance to the ethnic approach
At first glance, ethnicity is a way to legitimize the work of African designers. African designers are only seen through the prism of the West. They do not exist on their own. This approach eternally places their work in a position of inferiority.
Indeed, Pascale Berloquin-Chassany has pointed out that the “Ethnic” approach is increasingly rejected by African designers (Berloquin-Chassany, 2006). Some magazines such as La Revue noire – in its Fashion section – attest in 1998 that some African designers have renounced the “Ethnic” appellation to qualify their creations. An article written by the journalist Renée Mendy on African luxury in 2002 did not present African luxury as ethnic but only as luxury.
In the magazine Beaux-Arts, “La mode dans le monde” published in 2001, for the African part written by African journalists, no reference is made to the word « Ethnic ». They consider it only as a fashion and not in a binary perspective: of the West and the rest of the world.
The use of « Ethnic » can be an additional selling point for African players in the luxury industry when selling outside the continent by riding the wave of original perception of their product and on the continent as a goal for the consumer to be an ambassador of African heritage and know-how.
While there are some advantages to using this word, the negative impacts are more significant.
Thus, while for Western luxury actors, the “ethnic” designation is a way to reappropriate African heritage. For African actors, this approach is a consequence of colonial domination. As much as the exotic approach had been decried as politically incorrect, the ethnic approach is now as well.
African creators prefer to assume their Africanness rather than use the word “ethnic” with racial connotations. In this order, they free themselves from the diktats of Western luxury. These designers restore the image of African heritage and know-how by refusing this « ethnic » approach to their work.
Nurturing African creativity through the Luxury Made in Africa approach.
African millennials and Gen Z are becoming “the creators and consumers” of African luxury (Jennings, 2018). The new generation of African designers want to showcase their local culture. With them, African luxury now proudly relies on a “Made in Africa” approach.
Vânia Leles founded the first luxury jewelry brand that uses only African gems.
The creations of Kenyan jeweler Adèle Dejak, the luxury leather goods of Aprelle Duany, an African-American living in Kenya.
South African Laduma Ngxokolo – founder and designer of the fashion brand.
This knitwear brand, for men and women, created in 2012, celebrates the traditional aesthetic of his South African tribe: Xhosa. As he states through his motto “my heritage, my inheritance”, this brand is a tribute to his culture. MAXHOSA highlights “the beauty, culture, language and aspirations of the Xhosa people” (Maxhosa.com). This whole adventure began when he decided to create a line of clothing for Eastern Cape boys (from his community) who go through, amakrwala, a manhood initiation ritual. Laduma Ngxokolo is deeply attached to his traditions and culture. Laduma Ngxokolo explained in an interview that African culture is often underestimated by Africans. MAXHOSA is a manifesto of the beauty of the Xhosa heritage. He also argued that African design is in the midst of transformation and redefinition (Ngxokolo, 2014). For him, this brand is not only a way to make his heritage known across Africa and the world, but also a lever for development for Africa. Indeed, Laduma Ngxokolo has created jobs. Although maintaining local production is a challenge due to many factors, he has accepted this challenge. For example, he purchases textiles from farmers in the Eastern Cape (Ngxokolo, 2014). Over the past few years, Laduma Ngxokolo has received many awards. The last one he received was the 2017 “Pride of Africa” at the African Fashion Week in Barcelona.
Photo : Maxhosa