Between LUX­URY AND IN­EQUAL­ITY

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Af­flu­ent Africans have tra­di­tion­ally had to travel to Europe and lat­terly Dubai (where it is eas­ier to get visas for the mul­ti­ple ac­com­pa­ny­ing nan­nies) to buy lux­ury goods, but re­cent com­mer­cial vi­brancy has seen con­ti­nen­tal wealth grow to such an ex­tent that the pur­vey­ors of the fine and the fab­u­lous are now com­ing to us.

Whether your heart de­sires classy con­cept stores (such as Joburg’s Lu­mi­nance and Cape Town’s Mer­chants on Long) or high-end re­tail lo­ca­tions (such as the Morocco Mall in Casablanca and the Achi­mota Re­tail Cen­tre in Ac­cra), we’ve got it all.

Our con­ti­nent’s share of mil­lion­aires is still a frac­tion of the rest of the world, but the num­bers have quadru­pled in the past decade. The Knight Frank 2015 Wealth Re­port states that Africans in the cat­e­gory of ul­tra high-net-worth in­di­vid­u­als – who re­quire a net wealth of $30 mil­lion (R475 mil­lion) – are pro­jected to grow 60% by 2020. Is it any won­der that the nice peo­ple at Porsche and Rolls-Royce re­leased their lat­est mar­ques in Johannesburg and Luanda, in step with Frankfurt and Lon­don?

The African eco­nomic miracle may have slowed some­what since the 2014 col­lapse of com­mod­ity prices, but you would hardly know it to look at the lux­ury brand-laden shop­ping trol­leys and dust­bins of the con­ti­nent’s elite. Wealthy Nige­ri­ans be­moaned the 50% drop in the price of crude oil, but it didn’t stop 2015 be­ing the year that they drank their way into the top 20 Cham­pagne-con­sum­ing coun­tries – it is the sec­ond­fastest-grow­ing Cham­pagne mar­ket in the world – and be­came the 10th-largest in­ter­na­tional im­porter of Hen­nessy co­gnac.

The An­golan up­per crust grum­bles about the kwanza’s 50% de­pre­ci­a­tion against the dol­lar and about banks re­strict­ing for­eign cur­rency with­drawals, but finds con­sid­er­able con­so­la­tion in the open­ing of Prada and Gucci shops in Luanda’s brand-new $50 mil­lion Sky Gallery shop­ping mall. It was the least the com­pany could do, see­ing as Forbes Africa re­cently quoted Gucci mar­ket­ing di­rec­tor Filipo Pinto-Coelho as say­ing that vis­it­ing An­golan shop­pers had made up 58% of the 2014 lux­ury la­bel’s mar­ket share in Por­tu­gal alone.

The pres­ence of in­ter­na­tional pre­mium-prod­uct stores on African soil un­doubt­edly stim­u­lates the lo­cal economies of lead­ing cities through jobs, taxes and prop­erty de­vel­op­ment, but it would be a mis­take to imag­ine that ev­ery­one is swig­ging on sin­gle malts while spray­ing on be­spoke scents. As a re­gion, sub-Sa­ha­ran African in­come in­equal­ity is sec­ond only to that of Latin Amer­ica. In the past decade, real per capita in­comes have grown steadily, but the gains are un­evenly dis­trib­uted. In essence, the rich have be­come a lot richer, while the poor have only moved up a lit­tle.

Wealth gaps are bad news. Wealth gaps within sight of the Ap­ple iS­tore and the Rolex out­let are even worse news. Ac­cord­ing to pi­o­neer­ing psy­cho­log­i­cal re­search con­ducted by Richard Easter­lin in the 1970s, in­creased aware­ness of in­equal­ity, re­in­forced by goods that are vis­i­ble but unattain­able, re­sults in de­mor­al­i­sa­tion, a low­er­ing of over­all hap­pi­ness and pro­duc­tiv­ity at an in­di­vid­ual and na­tional level.

Un­hap­pily, the UN World Hap­pi­ness Re­port 2016 flags ris­ing lev­els of in­equal­ity. For 2012 to 2015, out of 10 world re­gions, sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa ranked last.

The In­ter­na­tional Mon­e­tary Fund (IMF) Oc­to­ber 2015 re­gional eco­nomic out­look for sub-Sa­ha­ran Africa refers to ev­i­dence at a global level that in­equal­ity of in­come and gen­der ham­per growth be­cause it re­duces ac­cess to ed­u­ca­tion and health, which low­ers peo­ple’s pro­duc­tiv­ity and mo­bil­ity. The IMF ar­gues it can lead to so­ciopo­lit­i­cal in­sta­bil­ity and poor gov­er­nance, which dis­cour­ages in­vest­ment, em­ploy­ment and growth.

Most of the rich aren’t stupid. Self-in­ter­est is push­ing a sig­nif­i­cant por­tion of them away from old school he­do­nism. Bill Gates’ The Giv­ing Pledge be­gan an ex­plo­ration of phil­an­thropic lux­ury, and meet­ings such as the Geneva 2013 Sus­tain­able Lux­ury Fo­rum in­di­cate that sus­tain­abil­ity is a rep­u­ta­tional im­per­a­tive for pre­mium brands.

The African elite fit into a broader global con­text, and in­creas­ing num­bers of cre­ative, en­tre­pre­neur­ial in­di­vid­u­als are defin­ing a lux­ury lan­guage that breaks down in­equal­ity and re­brands Africa by push­ing the bar­ri­ers of ex­cel­lence for African­made prod­ucts. One such in­di­vid­ual is Reni Fo­lawiyo, founder of the Lagos Alara con­cept store. De­signed by world-ac­claimed Ghana­ian-Bri­tish ar­chi­tect David Ad­jaye, Fo­lawiyo’s shop is an achingly stylish, ut­terly idio­syn­cratic se­lec­tion of the best in fash­ion and in­te­rior de­sign from Africa and the world. A chaise longue dis­cov­ered at Mi­lan’s Salone In­ter­nazionale del Mo­bile is given equiv­a­lent sta­tus to a chair with a Gothic arched back de­signed by Art­lan­tique, a com­pany that re­cy­cles the brightly painted wood of Sene­galese fish­ing boats. African fash­ion brands such as Maki Oh, Tif­fany Am­ber, Lanre da Silva Ajayi, Lisa Fo­lawiyo, Ré Bahia and Tse­maye Bini­tie take pride of place next to in­ter­na­tional work by Alexan­der McQueen, Stella McCart­ney, Valentino and Dries Van Noten. Fo­lawiyo’s am­bi­tions for Alara go be­yond fill­ing a gap in Lagos’ lux­ury land­scape. She wants to “ad­dress a deeper is­sue – the fact that so lit­tle of what’s made in Africa is con­sid­ered lux­u­ri­ous in the first place. Alara was con­ceived to show the world who we are to­day ... That we cre­ate and en­joy ob­jects of ex­cep­tional qual­ity and beauty ... To sup­port and en­cour­age those who wish to ex­change, ed­u­cate, el­e­vate and beau­tify.” She ob­serves that “lux­ury and el­e­gant ex­pe­ri­ences are not shal­low when we re­spect and re­ward the prin­ci­ple that a prod­uct of beauty is cre­ated by a per­son of beauty”.

How to re­spect and re­ward the pro­duc­ers of beauty is cen­tral to CEO of Yswara fine African tea brand Swaady Martin-Leke’s no­tion of “luxe ubuntu”. The re­cent win­ner of the Brand Africa award is pre­par­ing to open a flag­ship store at the Cos­mopoli­tan Build­ing in Mabo­neng, Joburg, at the end of this month and has re­cently con­cluded a deal with Selfridges in the UK.

She ex­plains: “Luxe ubuntu de­scribes the con­cept of an in­clu­sive lux­ury busi­ness model, in which all the mem­bers of the sup­ply chain who con­trib­ute to the pro­duc­tion of a lux­ury prod­uct are ben­e­fi­cia­ries of the eco­nomic value gen­er­ated ... We are com­mit­ted to rev­ers­ing the com­mod­ity trap by keep­ing the value-add in Africa.

“We con­tin­u­ously strive to up­lift African farm­ers and ar­ti­sans, es­pe­cially women, by giv­ing them routes to new mar­kets and by ex­pand­ing their pro­duc­tion ca­pa­bil­ity and mean­ing­ful in­come.”

She be­lieves that such mean­ing­ful in­come will come from de­vel­op­ing a taste for high-qual­ity African-made prod­ucts glob­ally.

Lux­ury is lovely. What is needed, for all our sakes, is a more even dis­tri­bu­tion of love­li­ness. We all win if Africa’s eco­nomic mo­men­tum can re­in­force a sense that beauty and the wide­spread ap­pre­ci­a­tion of beau­ti­ful things are key com­po­nents of a func­tional (and hap­pier) so­ci­ety.

Sus­tain­able suc­cess re­quires us to re­de­fine and revel in African lux­ury.

The num­ber of African mil­lion­aires con­tin­ues to grow and the con­ti­nent’s lux­ury mar­ket is boom­ing – as sharply as its wealth gap.

Anna Trapido

looks at the rise and rise of the new African lux­ury brands, net­works and clubs

Lux­ury is lovely. What is needed, for all our sakes, is a more even dis­tri­bu­tion of love­lines

PHOTO: YSWARA TEA

YSWARA TEA Lux­ury hot drinks (left) crafted with a phi­los­o­phy of ‘luxe ubuntu’. Owner Swaady Mart­inLeke

PHO­TOS: DAVID AD­JAYE

LAGOS ALARA CON­CEPT STORE The top-end store in Lagos is de­signed by star­chi­tect David Ad­jaye. Reni Fo­lawiyo (below) is the CEO and founder

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