#NYFWA: What Will It Take For Africa To Be The Premier Luxury Destination?

New York Fashion Week [Africa] is over, but its spirit lingers on even as designers, stylists and curators move forward with a renewed sense of pride. New York Fashion Week [Africa], is a one-day activation under the Africa Fashion Week brand as part of the Mercedes-Benz New York Fashion Week lineup, and is hosted by Adirée Communication and PR firm. This year’s event brought together guests, celebrities, friends and the press, all of whom experienced a taste of Africa. The event commenced with the Luxury Africa Conference, a platform that facilitated the interaction between foreign brands and the African continent’s indigenous brands, press and influencers as they met to discuss the current state of Africa as a luxury market. Bigger things await the African fashion scene, but the one question on everyone’s mind was: What will it take for Africa to be the premier destination for luxury?

According to Bloomberg, Africa’s luxury retail sales rise about 5.6 percent a year, and is projected to bring in an estimated US$5.2 billion in revenue by 2019. As the continent climbs up the ladder of wealth, cross-cultural competency is necessary to inform the sort of collaborations that will drive the continent towards achieving the goal of aligning itself as a leader in curating luxury brands.

A panel, hosted by Adiat Disu, the founder of Adirée was developed to provide some answers to this question. It consisted of directors of fashion and lifestyle brands including Liberia-born Creative Director and Celebrity Designer Korto Momolu from Project Runway season 5; Maryanne Mathias of Osei-Duro, a Los-Angeles and Ghana based lifestyle brand; and the CEO & Founder Fanta Kamara of luxury lifestyle brand Marazetti. Each reflected on their experiences and highlighted the effect their brands have had in the global luxury market.

Liberian designer Korto Momolu, remembered as a cast member in the 5th season of Bravo TV’s hit show, Project Runway, is growing a global brand with a focus on fashion forward women’s wear and accessories that celebrate the essence of her rich heritage through the use of traditional, luxury fabrics, skins,  and mixed prints. As it relates to her brand, Momolu redefines luxury by promoting diverse beauty. “When we think of luxury, we think of money and riches, but we have to think of money and riches in a different way. What are riches? What makes my designs rich is how it makes women with curves feel. As designers, I believe we fail women when we make them feel insecure or undesirable. Yes, I am African, my designs aren’t necessarily of an African aesthetic or consist of indigenous textiles, but I apply my understanding and cultural experience to my designs.”

The Osei-Duro brand attracts higher-end buyers who are willing to pay the price for uniquely cultural fashion that seamlessly creates an appeal across all cultures and ethnicities. And yet, prices remain affordable to a mass market. Designer Maryanne Mathias explained how Osei-Duro marries western tastes for silk and rayon fabrics to traditional dye techniques from Ghana to create their renowned prints and designs. Since these pieces are culturally rich, buyers in the United States perceive their brand as being luxurious, even desiring the brand to raise prices in order to fit in with higher-end brands. “My partner and I talk about this all the time, said Mathias. “If we raise our prices, we cut out a whole market segment that’s supporting us right now.”

CEO & founder of the Marazetti brand, Kamara said she sees potential for indigenous luxury, not only in the African market[s], but also for African products internationally. Kamara said the experience that comes with receiving an African product heightens the luxury factor. “Whether they’re fabrics or natural materials, seeing someone go to the river and bring them out delivers that experience.”

The African experience is luxurious. How it is perceived by others largely depends on how the continent chooses to define luxury and how accessible the market is to creators and consumers.

Video and feature image: Courtesy Adirée