By Archel Bernard
VENTURES AFRICA – Being a rising fashion designer based in Liberia is a unique struggle. In a country where people were once forced to flee with only the clothes on their backs, how does one market a need for luxury apparel? I’ve outlined five ways anyone can create a luxury brand in an African country:
1. Make your product or service that much better than the cheaper alternatives. Merriam-Webster defines the word ‘luxury’ as the state of great comfort and extravagant living. When brands cut corners, they cut costs from their bottom line, but they can also find themselves cutting the quality component that makes their product a luxury good. Avoid cutting corners simply because you believe the market will not appreciate your attentive eye. Your goods and services are connected to your name, and a good luxury brand will make clients forget about subpar competition by holding themselves to higher standards than the rest. Work the costs of having a better product into your asking price. The goal of having a luxury brand is not that everyone in the country can afford to hire you or buy your goods, but that those who can afford your work will buy it every time because of its standout quality.
2. Market to your client by including your client. European and American brands rarely use African models or research African needs to market their products, yet Africans spend a great deal on quality imported goods. See this as your advantage. Your advertising campaigns can paint a picture of luxury that includes your client. This way you can define exactly who you are appealing to, how your goods make life easier, and what makes your goods better than others. Bill Gates once said, “If I only had $2 left, I’d spend $1 on PR.” Marketing specifically to your clients is just as necessary to your brand as your product or service.
3. Keep expansion in your plans. Louis Vuitton may have begun in France, but a really quality product has to become international. As you develop your product, keep in mind that you will definitely want it to go global and represent quality options from your region. For you to be successful internationally, your goods will have to meet minimal standards in other countries, as well as have a standout factor that will make clients choose you over the competition. Act as if it’s only a matter of time before your goods go global, and take your time as a startup to create a buzz in your neighborhood as the go-to name for people who desire a quality product.
4. Pay attention to the specific needs of your client. Just because a technique is a proven money-maker in the US or Europe does not mean that it can be duplicated in a country in Africa. As a fashion designer, I know that the bare-all styles that are welcomed in the States don’t sit as well with the conservative Liberians I market to. I may even make a cool jacket out of tweed and fanti for someone overseas, but as pretty as the jacket may be, tweed is much too hot for my Sub-Saharan clients! If your good isn’t practical or useful, it’s not luxury to your client. Find ways to keep your aesthetic, but translate it to fit specific needs.
5. Get ready do all the grunt work! There is a market for luxury goods in Africa, but we haven’t even scratched the surface of understanding how to properly meet those needs. We need a lot more research on what our market wants and what would make them spend more for it, and unfortunately that’s your homework as a business owner. As much as I would love to stay in my shop all day and sketch, I have to spend the same amount of time being my own R&D team, PR team, and advertising agent. Creating a luxury line in Africa is definitely not a luxury experience, but in order to meet your client’s needs, you’ve got to roll up your sleeves and do the thorough dirty work that regular brands don’t care to do.
These are my five tips for creating a luxury brand. Do you have any others to add? Leave a comment or tweet them to me @itsarchel and let’s keep the dialogue going.