In this post I started talking about some of the important brands in the Nigerian luxury space and the need to get more information on them. A few of the responses I got seemed to imply that local Nigeria brands aren’t well placed to play in this space. Which I think is flat out wrong. Rather than break into long analysis of why we have what it takes and what we can do with this, I decided to just break it down into five main reasons to believe in Nigeria’s luxury opportunity. Here they are:
1. Nigeria Makes Some of the Finest Leather in the World
Ever heard of Moroccan leather and how popular it’s been in luxury circles for centuries? Well, that “Moroccan” leather is not from Morocco at all. Turns out, it’s our very own Sokoto that produces most of it. The distinctive red hue it has is from the natural skin of the red-brown Sokoto goat, which is tanned through elaborate traditional processes to make sure it has as few scuffs or breaks as possible. The Moroccan sobriquet came from back in the Arab trade days when merchants from Morocco would cross the Sahara and come buy it from Sokoto in large quantities, and then sell it across the Mediterranean to Italian and French artisans who at that time, never ventured into the African interior. Today, those European designers and artisans buy leather directly from Sokoto to go treat and work with for their different crafts. In fact, Nigerian leather is regarded as one of the top three in the world due to its natural softness, color, dyeing process and more.
Consider this chair made by world renowned Danish designer, Ole Wanscher, from pure Nigerian leather, in the late 1940s.
There’s at least one brand out of Nigeria doing interesting things in the space: the Lagos based leather handbag maker Zashadu, the brain child of Zainab Ashadu which is on sale at Alara, Lagos (the store in the top picture). There’s no reason why we can’t have a dozen strong brands in the space, around shoes, bags, and accessories. If we did, it’ll go a long way to boosting an industry that is currently struggling.
2. We Have the People, Skills and Creativity Already
We have very incredibly skilled dressmakers, tailors, designers who make very beautiful and intricate clothing almost everywhere you turn. Aba’s shoemakers are legendary for what they do, and are already an industry unto themselves. We have people who have an encyclopedic knowledge of fabrics, style, trends and more from Balogun market, and Dubai hustlers to online sellers like ItunuFabrics. We have what it takes. What we lack is an organized way of sorting the dross from the silver, so to speak, setting rules and enforcing standards that are sufficiently high to create trust and confidence in what you purchase. It’s what we need to start thinking of and putting our efforts into, similar to the way fashion guilds in the 16th century built French haute couture into what it is by ruthlessly upholding quality standards for every player who wants to be part of the industry. If we started doing that, with #1 above, and the kind of talent we know Nigerians have, imagine where we could go.
3. Nigerian Culture Absolutely Dominates the Continent
A huge part of the draw of a luxury industry is based on the appeal of the culture driving it. French haute couture was built on the back of centuries of French cultural influence, as is most of European fashion. Most people see Scandinavian design as a niche unto itself because their products transmit elements of their cultural aesthetic. Nigeria’s music, film, dressing, speech, bluster and style is a cornerstone of the African continent. Our artists, writers, intellectuals and academics are the staples for other countries. By creating brands that resonate, that many of these cultural ambassadors can stand behind and be identified with, by featuring our brands in films, music videos, by having our public figures wear our names, I bet you there’ll be no area of the world where we won’t at least make a dent, and more with products, as long as they are of sufficient quality.
4. Nigerians Are Getting Wealthier and More Exposed
Nigeria has seen growth in income and investments in the non-oil sector as well as the emergence of many indigenous companies in the oil sector. We’ve also seen a lot of foreigners pouring in, returnees from the Nigerian diaspora (or as we call them, ‘I just got back’s or IJGB for short), a growing if still relatively small middle class, an Internet connected generation, explosion in entrepreneurship and creative businesses, and generally a lot of demographic changes that would support a luxury market easily. And based on what we can see so far, it’s only going to get better. With the increase in wealth comes increasing demand for luxury goods and who wouldn’t love to buy names that make them proud of their culture in an increasingly diverse world?
5. Nigeria’s Labor Market Is Currently Cheap
A lot of the value chain that supports retail, apparel and luxury goods is built on the back of low cost labor and this is one area the country has some opportunity in. At this time, apparel factories are looking towards Africa to set up operations, mostly in Kenya and Ethiopia due to the relative stability of their politics and the extensiveness of cotton production and textile manufacturing in the area. With smart policies, our Northern area could support the same level of activity around cotton and textiles, in fact, it used to until a combination of neglect and China pretty much rendered it useless. If the Chinese and other European brands want to plant roots on the continent, nothing stops us from getting in on the action (except lack of brains and foresight maybe). The advantages to the country if we employ a significant number of the millions of un or underemployed Nigerians in an industry like that are countless.
Overall, with a bit of self direction, smart policies and creative action, Nigeria can set itself as the prime driver of Africa’s luxury market. We have many of the necessary factors, and can extend our position if we try. According to Business of Fashion, Africa’s domestic luxury market could be worth $36billion. If we grew that in the next decade to twice that (about a 7% annual growth rate), and we manage to control even 20% of that, it could be just as big as our footprint in movies and entertainment.
And that, my friends, would be significant both for our country’s economy, and our cultural influence or ‘soft power’. Let’s get on it.