Harvard Business School – Africa Business Conference Review: FASHION, RETAIL AND LUXURY GOODS

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This year’s Harvard Business School – Africa Business Conference, focused on “Re-defining Africa: The Emergence of a New African Story“.  The Conference aimed at showcasing those who continue to shape and influence the African story through business and enterprise, and to create an environment for like-minded people to meet, exchange ideas and spur one another on to action.

It was interesting, watching these powerful women, Eva Muraya (CEO of Color Creations Group Ltd), Dr. Ngozi Okonjo- Iweala (Finance Minister of Nigeria), Adiat Folasade Disu (President of Adiree and Director of African Fashion Week), Teressa Clark of africa.com share their stories and ideas for growth. Here are a few thoughts that I co-share with Dominic Mhiripiri of globalconversation.com

 

 ON FASHION AND LUXURY BRANDS

African Fashion has arguably been the new ground that is tilled continually in recent times. In 2012, African Fashion made major strides, with Arise Fashion Week showcasing young vibrant designers, MTN Lagos Fashion and Design Week which attracted a diverse international audience, Johannesburg Fashion Week saw international and local brands represented on the runway, strutting their collections. These events saw a lot of media hype and local government support. Coupled with this is the increasing use of African textiles and other craft and fashion elements by western designers, such as Louis Vuitton’s use of the Kenyan Shuke in its Spring/Summer 2012 collection.

ON ENTREPRENEURSHIP AND DEVELOPMENT

Eva Muraya ended her presentation, challenging us Africans, “to have the audacity to dream and think differently and believe in our capability”. In the bid to think differently and dream big, I recognize the ingenuity of local brands and enterprises that aren’t afraid to stand-out and thus drawing attention to the continent. These brands/personalities continue to inspire and spur us on to action.

Heel the World 
A social enterprise and footwear brand that empowers Ghanaian start-up companies. This company was founded in February 14, 2011 and since then, has played a major role in helping  many young people start and run their own companies.
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Indego Africa 
Indego Africa is a social enterprise that partners with for-profit cooperatives of more than 400 women artisans in Rwanda and exports, markets, and sells their jewelry, accessories, and home decor (a) on its online store, (b) to more than 80 retail stores across the U.S. and Europe, and (c) at major brands like J.Crew and Nicole Miller through cutting-edge design collaborations.

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Adiat Folasade Disu
President of Adiree a PR Firm and the woman behind African Fashion Week (New York, London, Paris) and other emerging fashion capitals. She relentlessly draws attention to the continent in all speaking engagements and interviews. With African Fashion Week, she has created a platform for African Designers to easily expose their collections to global buyers and investors.
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Bella Naija
An inspiring and informative entertainment portal that stays true to its African roots and constantly features African entrepreneurs, fashion icons, business gurus, and people who contribute to development in Africa. It captures Africa at its best, and beckons to the world to follow.

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ON CHALLENGES

There are still a couple of challenges which undermine the effectiveness of fashion as a tool for development; the proliferation of miniature fashion weeks every once in two months (or even more often) in cities like Accra, Lagos, Nairobi etc take away the seriousness of creating revenue from fashion weeks. These miniature fashion events tend to be poorly organized and more focused on the entertainment aspects of fashion weeks. Most African designers are not abreast with modern technology and social media tools to market and promote their brands. The atmosphere of mediocrity and poor client-service continually defeats the purpose of developing brands into international standards.  There are however, lots of embedded opportunities in online retail, brand management and advertising, modeling and talent discovery etc.

ON THE WAY FORWARD 

Women, Followed by Youth, are Africa’s Greatest Untapped Resource

Forget the mountains of raw copper ore around subterranean Lusaka, or spurts of natural gas geysering up from the floors of Ghana’s Cape Three Points Basin. Africa’s greatest resource is women, and it is, largely, an untapped resource. From the subsistence farmers in the hamlets of rural Benin (a bouncing baby strapped on her back) who will symbolize a coming agricultural revolution, to the cosmopolitan MBA-type who will sit in the driving seat of an international corporation.  The African woman, long overlooked, is the pass code to Africa’s much-hyped potential. Youth, too, are a magic demographic: the rest of the world’s eyes turn green when looking at Africa’s demographics: Africa has the youngest population. These two vital group of people are most likely inclined or drawn to the fashion industry and a force for economic development in general. To invest in women and youth ultimately does wonders for the continent that so desperately wants to shed its image of dependency on other economies.

 

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