Since Pact's explosion in the 90s, the luxury industry has undergone substantial disruptions impacting on strategic branding in this industry. Owners of luxury need to re-appraise the new consciousness surrounding luxury and redefine their approach to luxury branding.
During the last G7 meeting, a Fashion Pact was adopted - a coalition of 32 luxury, fashion, sports and lifestyle brands along with suppliers and retailers. The Pact aims to protect the environment at large, including climate, biodiversity and oceans. The Pact gained momentum with key players like Adidas, Burberry, Chanel, Galeries Lafayette, H&M, Inditex, Nike, Puma and Stella McCartney joining.
The Pact commits to phase out single-use plastics, promote sustainability and circularity by supporting the use of recycled textiles; it addresses social inclusion, fair wages/conditions throughout the supply chain and focuses on empowering small-hold producers and women in low-income countries, including Africa. After years of complacency, the luxury industry is facing a perfect storm of political consciousness, consumer activism and social media penetration that is putting intense pressure on brands to show they are stepping up efforts to operate more inclusively than they ever have before – and the consumers are exercising influence in their purchasing patterns.
Only 44 per cent of Gen Z report always buying clothes designed for their gender, and the estimated buying power of LGBTQ+ adults in the US has reached $1 trillion. For its “Free to Be” campaign, Zalando tapped model Rain Dove to wear both its menswear and womenswear. Dove identifies as neither male nor female and has become a vocal representative of gender nonconformity in fashion. Zalando’s brand repositioning is part of the industry’s broader push to be more diverse and inclusive.
Another issue that traditional luxury groups have faced recently is Cultural Sensitivities and Appropriation, or in the case of Givenchy and Versace, the wrong Appropriation. Recent backlashes in China following the releases of products, denying Hong Kong and Taiwan’s inclusion in China, are a strong message to the traditional luxury groups from Chinese clients: They are clearly stating that representing 33% of global luxury goods spending in the world, they will not accept ambiguous foreign narrative anymore. Some groups have understood the message and hired a “Chief Culture Officer”, and some have reacted badly like Dolce&Gabbana, last year, with detrimental consequences to their brand image.
Chinese shoppers have become more rational, and they are not blindly following the crowd or imitating others. They want products with both local culture and [local] consumer mentality. This is a growing global trend.
Another trend to take note of:
A movement from fashion and accessory designers to integrate local
minority artisans and handicrafts, as a way to promote and continue the tradition and craft. Shoppers in the Middle East have also developed a taste for both modest fashion and homegrown labels that reflect their culture.
The role of the personal stylist has evolved, requiring stylists to anticipate customer needs and watch for recurring patterns in product fit and performance. Companies like MatchesFashion.com are equipping stylists with data analytics tools to match inventory to relevant clientele better. Customer centricity in brands has become pertinent. One-to-one relationships and feedback loops remain the
Interestingly enough, 2 of the top 5 luxury markets in the world encountered huge demonstrations at almost the same time, despite the very different motivation though. Unlike in Hong Kong, the Paris yellow vests targeted luxury shops and all ostentatious symbols of luxury in the world capital of luxury (France Luxury industry amounted 42 billion $ last year); it is all about the cultural distortion between the traditional luxury industry’s initial “raison d’être” and its perceived current lack of social integration in society for many people. How does Africa tie into this dilemma: With around 40% of the African population living under the poverty line, and South Africa being the country with the most inequality in the world, building a socially conscious luxury brand is a priority.
Growing urbanization: in 2030, 6 of the 41 mega-cities on the planet will be African, with 4 in the sub-Saharan zone. In addition, the continent’s demographic profile is changing with a sharp rise in the youthful population which is embracing technological advances which will result in an expanding middle class with an appetite for luxury goods accompanied by a growing desire for status and the ability to acquire status through the purchase of luxury goods.
These are substantial triggers for the sustainable growth of the luxury market in Africa! As the second-fastest developing economy only behind the Asia Pacific, Africa has seen an increase in the wealth of its population, nourishing an interest in finer things of life: There are already 148 000
Ultra-High Net Worth Individuals (the famous HNWI’s) with investable assets of at least US $ 1 million. The luxury sector generated approximately US $6.0 billion in revenue in 2018. This figure includes luxury cars, luxury clothing & accessories, luxury watches, private jets, yachts and luxury hotels and lodges.
The largest luxury markets by revenue were: South Africa, Kenya, Nigeria, Morocco and Egypt, keeping in mind that the luxury sector revenue is boosted by a large luxury hotel sector in these countries. In addition, Africa’s UHNWI (ultra-high net worth individuals with investable assets of at least US $30 million) may expand by 59 percent by 2024, the most of all regions globally.
Digital Dissemination also underpins our belief in African Luxury. Mobile in Africa already reach more than 1 billion people, and this offers opportunities in various consumer industries, which include finance, apparel goods, beverage, beauty and personal care. Mobile phone use has dramatically increased in sub-Saharan Africa in recent years, and luxury shoppers in this market are making more purchases via their smartphones even though international brands have not yet developed compelling content geared towards emerging markets.
So on which pillars shall this “new luxury” be built and why is it believed that African creatives are the most qualified to become The New Luxury Icons?
Although craftsmanship, time and rarity commonly pop up when talking about luxury, the word itself has a different meaning from one country or culture to another. There is really nothing like an umbrella African luxury definition that covers the socio-cultural, historical, economic and social contexts of all the continent’s 55 countries and the meaning of luxury varies.
What is certain is that it’s not about price, but about the strength and depth of the story that a brand seeks to tell through its craft, be it a new take on indigenous textiles, a reinterpretation of artisanal techniques, or a genuine understanding of their identity and influences.
Many of the challenges that the big international luxury brands face – environmental and human impact of production, the throw-away culture of consumerism, the constant desperation for newness and the wrong cultural appropriations – are things that African designers can traverse, navigate around and conquer. Storied brands and products and unique experiences will set luxury apart from the rest: No story, no Luxury - and be drastic on your storytelling. Don’t let it be diluted among the numerous platforms (media, influencers, social networks, etc.) available.
Laduma Ngxokolo, the talented designer behind award-winning South African knitwear brand MaXhosa by Laduma and his fitted jumpers and colourful knitted capes recall certain Gucci collections under Alessandro Michele. His brand is entirely made and manufactured in South Africa, with only the buttons on his jumpers imported.
For those who go to Paris, push a blue double door of 3 Place du Palais Bourbon, enter a courtyard filled with flowers, where Atelier Renard has been hidden away since the 1930s. Enjoy a feeling of time travel as you enter this magical place where leather creations take shape at the hands of their expert saddlers. No valet parking, no “flagship store” or showroom, no VIP salon, the workshop is the shop, the experience and it is a fantastic experience to be in the middle of these soft leather shelves, talking to the artisan who is going to create your bag.
The ultimate luxury there and the story that is being told: Nothing is impossible - it just takes time. The luxury market leaders of the future will not necessarily be the more prominent brands — they’ll be the ones that have the cultural sensitivity to understand what consumers want at any moment – and able to brand it as such.
It sounds simple, but it’s not. It requires real-time insights and the ability to influence and innovate based on those insights. It also requires brands to look far beyond their product. Brands must go
beyond craftsmanship. They need to centre themselves around the customer, provide them with value, and redefine themselves as providers of luxury experiences (not just products). We are only at the beginning of the disruption!
The luxury brands will have to reinvent quickly in order to attract the Z Generation, which will soon represent half of their customers.