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Cultural Appropriationという火種(?)

"The Face of a Global African" - Mpho Muendane

“The Face of a Global African” – Mpho Muendane


Cultural appropriation is a topic that you want to do your best to avoid but cannot really avoid if you are doing business that deals with culture. Cultural appropriation has always been a topic that creates emotional reactions in the context of African fashion and design when non-Africans – large companies or brands, in particular – are promoting and capitalizing on them.

What is a cultural appropriation and what is cultural exchange?

Is it about who benefits from it?

Is it about players in “the West” or “developed economies” using reference, inspirations, or crafts of the cultures of “non-West” or “developing economies”?

In our attempt to promoting Africa’s diverse culture, we usually try to stay away from bluntly featuring “Africa.” We want to feature individuals BY NAME of creators or entrepreneurs. It all comes to individuals that compose the society and lifestyle of a certain modern/contemporary culture.

I once saw an article with a photo of two men, one Japanese entrepreneur and one local Kenyan person (whose occupation was unidentified), which had an interesting caption. The caption said, “Mr. XYZ and a Maasai person.” This is a subtle outcome, but I think this shows how Maasai tribes (any African tribes or cultural heritage for that matter) have somehow been commoditized in a sense as a whole. That nameless person of Maasai…

We don’t “empower Africans” or work with nameless “African artisans” in a generalized sense.
We partner with specific creators and designers that contribute to the diversity of African cultures.

And ok, that is in a sense, we are taking a different approach from what United Arrows / Ethical Fashion Initiatives do in Ethiopia or Kenya… (Yes, I pay all respect on what they do but we just take a different approach.) You can learn more about them here at the recent Monocle podcast.

Cultural appropriation(カルチュアル・アプロプリエーションー直訳すると文化の「盗用」)は、できれば避けたい議論のトピックではありつつも、文化に関係するビジネスをやる上で無視することはできません。特に、アフリカのファッションやデザインの文脈において、このトピックは常に感情的な議論を巻き起こしています。特に、大企業や非アフリカの主体が、アフリカ文化を商業的に使う場合において、問題となります。

Cultural appropriationとcultural exchange(文化交流)の違いはなにか。








On Strategy / ビジネス戦略っぽい話

She takes the ownership of her own culture and brings it to you.

She takes the ownership of her own culture and brings it to you.


What is a strategy? When I do strategic planning for my company at this stage, I am thinking of three vectors: core value, cost allocation (investment), and competitive advantage (which is the combination of the former two). Deliberately I am not focusing too much on sales target or timeline even though I realize that they are important. I am not focusing on them because I know I can do a spreadsheet when I know it makes sense.

I am focusing on core value which is the philosophy of the African renaissance: It is time for Africans to take ownership of their own culture and bring it to the global audience. That’s la raison d’etre of why we exist and that’s my commitment to Africa. Specifically, I highlight and respect the stories that Mpho and other African creators share: That’s where I invest on and the risk I take. Others may criticize that I need to take ownership as the managing director, but I don’t because I want to take a different approach from what’s been than with (particularly art/design/fashion related) businesses in the continent. Oftentimes outsiders take ownership and advantage of the Africa’s creativity and ownership.

The second vector is cost allocation. At the moment, instead of making tangible products, we are focusing on creating intangible assets. We are investing on intercultural dialogues (or generally known as market research) and creating soft contents including visuals and stories through travels and exhibition offering unique experiences to the global audience.

And these first two combined creates the third vector of competitive advantage. We are creating a new discourse and dialogues of the African renaissance, which means we are not a fad. We are not about trends and hype that come and go. We have longevity. In addition, intangible assets are hard to be copied while tangible products like prints and products can easily be copied. We want to make connections with our audience (customers) not via our products (like fashion accessories) but via our stories and brand identity.

Oh, but don’t get me wrong. AWESOME, BEAUTIFUL, and IRRESISTIBLE items are in making… We just make people wait a bit more because we know they can!!

戦略とは何か。Maki & Mphoの戦略については、コアバリュー、コスト配分(投資)、コンペティティブアドバンテージ(最初の2つの組み合わせの結果)の3つのベクトルと考えています。重要であることは認識していますが、あえて、トップラインとタイムラインを入れていません。スプレッドシートでのシミュレーションは、いつでもできることです。






More "platforms" needed in Africa...

More “platforms” needed in Africa…


You may have read “Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies” written by an American (multi-disciplinary) geography professor Jared Diamond. In the book, Diamond researches, analyzes, and attempts to reveal the factors how and why Eurasian civilizations have survived and conquered others.

The book attempts to challenge the racist-minded perspective that Europe (or whites or West) is superior to the other, and it is quite interesting and informative. However, the book doesn’t have an answer for why certain cultures have positively become more influential than the others.

Why does Paris continue to attract people from all over the world?
Why does “Made in Italy” sound promising both in quality and design?
Why do European and US brands dominate both in general brand and luxury brand markets?
(According to the Euromonitor 2014 / Interbrand reports, 96 of 100 global top luxury brands are either European and American, and these 96 have 44% market share of the total global luxury brands market in retail value.)

Do media and marketing (backed by rich cash) explain?

A brand has strong power because it is about trust. Trust reduces communication costs.

We need more African brands because Africa needs to bring in more people who can feel comfortable and confident about investing and committing in the African continent.

It is unfortunate, but we still have more work to do…










We are in Amsterdam for reasons...

We are in Amsterdam for reasons?!


Today I want to briefly talk about the African prints. There are many things we can talk about African textiles but I want to start from the African wax print, which is also known as Ankara or Dutch wax and is 100% cotton wax print with (typically) colorful and dynamic patterns.

Why is it called Dutch wax? It is because it has been brought by Dutch people. While there are always ambiguities in how cultural exchanges happen over the course of history, it is said that the origin of the wax print is Indonesian batik.

In 19th Century, Dutch traders “found” batik textiles in Indonesia and began to industrialize the textiles to make it more affordable and expand businesses. Machine-made “batik” wasn’t well-received in the Indonesian market and consequently, West Africa was chosen for the new market.

Fast forward, Dutch wax has gained popularity in West Africa (and also in the other parts of Africa), and to this day, the Dutch-based company Vlisco Group (currently owned by British private equity firm Actis. / The group also owns West Africa-based textile brands including Woodin and GTP.) is the leading company in African prints and 90% of their business consists of the export to the African market.

While Dutch wax is generally considered “local” and celebrated and loved by locals in the context of African fashion & design, there are some artists that try to bring alternative views. For example, British-born Nigerian artist Yinka Shonibare often uses Dutch wax to present his political pieces to highlight the colonial past.

One of the key pieces is called “Scramble of Africa. It is a sculptural piece with headless men wearing Dutch wax centered around the table. It is “a recreation of the Berlin conference in the 19th century…It was when Africa was being divided up. It was in Europe. They had this conference in Berlin. And the conference was called Scramble for Africa. So on the table there’s a map of Africa drawn. So it’s merely capturing a moment when all these brainless people got around the table — headless, brainless — to actually divide up the spoils amongst themselves. See if they have original entitlements to it.” Yinka on Chris Boyds Blog

Is Vlisco is a bad guy? No. We think that it is just another successful textile global company.
Is Vlisco our competitor? Yes, maybe. From the perspective of “African” textile industry, we cannot ignore Vlisco. In fact, Vlisco could be a partner.

Are we envisioning to become another Vlisco? No…
But it is probably not the coincident that we are now in Amsterdam presenting an alternative African perspective using textile art…






例えば「アフリカ分割」という作品が代表的です。ダッチワックスのスーツに身を包んだ、頭の部分がない男達が、テーブルを囲んでいる作品です。この作品は「19世紀のベルリン会議を再現したものです。つまり、アフリカの分割が話し合われた会議です。ヨーロッパのベルリンで行われた会議です。この会議の名前がアフリカ分割だったわけです。テーブルにはアフリカの地図がおかれていて、頭の部分がない人々ーつまり脳みそが欠けている人がーが、お互いの欲求のままに領土分割を行っているのです。そもそもそんな権利があるのか。。。」Yinka on Chris Boyds Blog






Newly published book on dialogues on the African perspectives.

Newly published book on dialogues on the African perspectives.


One of my undergraduate majors was American Studies. Two topics were especially interesting to me: One was about the discourse around race (especially black and white tensions) in the U.S. and the other was soft power. Soft power is a concept first presented by Prof. Joseph Nye whom I interacted directly with at UC Berkeley while doing my exchange year. Soft power is about culture and soft content and is alternative to hard power which includes military or economic forces.

So why is soft power relevant?

African countries haven’t been able to leverage the full potential of their soft power. Furthermore, African narratives have often been told by non-Africans or western media. We have seen many images of “African” children coupled with NGO addressing “issues.” We also see overpowering images of animals and natures. We have seen images of “tribal” masks and artifacts collected by anthropologists or showcased in the British Museum. Other images may feature different tribes like the Omo Valley tribe in Ethiopia or the Maasai in Kenya.

I don’t mean to say these images are not factual, but these images do not really tell the stories of urban, global, and modern Africa. These images don’t reflect the voices of young, entrepreneurial, and aspirational young Africans. These images create distance rather than familiarity.

We focus on creators because they are more vocal than the general public. We focus on contemporary culture that includes visual arts and narratives because we believe that they bring Africa and the global audience together. They are aesthetically attractive and intellectually stimulating that can inspire the well-educated global creative class. These are Africa’s soft power that can ultimately bring more people and capital to the continent.

私の学部時代の専攻の一つはアメリカ研究でした。関心の中心は、特にアメリカ合衆国の人種関連の話(特に白人、黒人の関係性)と、ソフトパワーについてでした。ソフトパワーは、日本人も好きなジョセフ・ナイ教授が提唱した考え方です。UC Berkeleyに留学中に直接話をする機会もあり、個人的な思い出もあります。念のため説明を加えると、ソフトパワーは、武力や経済力の行使ではなく、文化などのソフトコンテンツを活用して、他国に対する影響力を強化する外交手法です。






Sustainable Development Goals_E_Final sizes


Recently I came across an article on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) on the World Economic Forum website which was coincidentally written by my Master’s thesis advisor at The Fletcher School, Professor Bhaskar Chakravorti. The article was titled, “The 17th Sustainable Development Goal could help us achieve the other 16.

The 17th Sustainable Development Goal is about partnerships for the goals: Strengthening the means of implementation and revitalize the global partnership for sustainable development. Chakravorti provides an example of Unilever and how the company has successfully been operating in the developing economies by creating and managing partnerships with various stakeholders including NGOs and governments.

“Companies have traditionally been optimized around business units that carry out contractual transactions with parties on the outside. The pursuit of SDG 17 raises the bar on what companies need to get better at: managing a diverse network of partners to accomplish sustainable development.”

Partnerships are important for the businesses in the context of emerging markets because there are voids in the value chain. For Maki & Mpho, partnerships with the academia and the government are extremely important. The partnership with academia is important because there is a void in the job market particularly for talented recent graduates in the creative sector. To address the void, we directly work with design students to help them expose their work while encouraging them to be entrepreneurial. We also work with the Department of Arts and Culture in South Africa to help them promote and build a stronger creative economy. These partnerships may slow business processes for the short term, but we believe that they will ensure that our business activities have longevity and will help us achieve other SDGs that relate to education or employment.

米国フレッチャー大学院時代の修士論文の指導教授であったバスカー・チャクラボルティが、世界経済フォーラムのサイトに寄稿していた持続可能な開発目標(SDGs)に関する記事を、先日たまたま目にしました。記事は、”The 17th Sustainable Development Goal could help us achieve the other 16“、というタイトルで、つまり「17番目のSDGがの16の目標達成への鍵」といったような内容です。



途上国や新興国でのビジネスでは、バリューチェーンにおける様々なギャップ(void)に対応する必要があるので、パートナーシップは非常に重要です。Maki & Mphoのビジネスにおいては、教育機関と政府機関との連携が重要です。教育機関との連携が重要なのは、特にクリエイティブセクターにおいて、優秀な卒業生に対する国内雇用市場の受け皿の面でのギャップがあるからです。だからこそ、我々は優秀なデザイン学生と直接連携して彼らのワークを国内外に発表する機会を設けるとともに、彼ら自身が自ら独立してビジネスを立ち上げるためのオプションも提示するという目的でのプロジェクトを立ち上げています。同時に、南アフリカの文科省とも連携することで、彼らがよりクリエイティブセクターをより強化することにも貢献しています。こういったパートナーシップは、短期的にはビジネスのスピードを鈍化するかもしれませんが、長期的な視点で継続していくためには欠かせないものであり、まさにこのパートナーシップこそが他のSDGである、教育や雇用の課題に対してもインパクトがつくれるものだと考えています。


Proudly African Truly International - GT Bank Ad / Kenya

Proudly African Truly International – GT Bank Ad / Kenya


So what is “African Business”? Does it just mean doing businesses in Africa? Is it about targeting African market? Is it about businesses for the base of the pyramid (BoP)? Or is it about creating jobs in the African continent? Is “Africa business” almost equivalent to doing businesses in developing economies where there are less equipped with modern infrastructure and less option for products and services?

Some companies focus on creating jobs in Africa while other companies focus on creating or capturing a new market in Africa. While both factors are a part of our long-term focus, we currently focus on neither of them. We instead focus on creating partnership and platforms to inspire Africans to take pride in what they already have and create new businesses themselves. We are focusing on the very first step of the value chains aka. conceptualization and design and involving Africans in this step.

African business needs to have (black/local) African ownership. African business needs to be reflective of their own cultural and social network. African business needs to be promoted outside Africa. It is important because of their COLONIAL PAST which still remains to this day.

That’s why we continue our intellectual dialogue inside and outside Africa using the power of story and design.

By the way, not many local (Africans) here know that Japan was colonizing other East Asian countries in the past (while some thinks that Japan is a part of China). Japan still politically face challenges with China and Korea while economically the partnerships with these countries have been fairly successful. In the background, I believe that culture and soft contents played a certain role.








SA Art Fair


One of the most exciting creative events in South Africa, FNB Joburg Art Fair took place in Johannesburg last weekend from 9-11 September. According to their website, the fair this year exhibited “90 exhibitions within 6 categories including Contemporary and Modern Art, Special Projects, Gallery Solo Projects, Limited Editions and Art Platforms” from 12 countries across Africa, Europe, and the US.

Some people may think that art is not important while others may think that art is everything. I don’t think that art is everything, but I believe that art, especially in the context of modernizing globalized Africa, is extremely important.

So what is art?

In my own definition based on my observation, understanding, and interpretation of African arts, art is identity. Identity in the African context means that each artist is celebrating his or her individuality from the African perspective. Each of them presents (NOT representing) Africa in his/her own way.

That’s why I believe that nurturing the creators of art (and design) is essential for the global audience to understand diverse voices of Africa using this brand business as a platform.

南アフリカのクリエイティブなイベントの一つである、FNB Joburg Art Fairが、先週末9月9−11日に開催されました。ウェブサイトによると、今年のフェアはアフリカ各国、ヨーロッパ、アメリカから「コンテンポラリー・モダンアート、スペシャルプロジェクト、ギャラリー単独プロジェクト、限定エディション、アートプラットフォームの6つのカテゴリで、90の出展者が参加した」とのことです。









People anywhere in the world want convenient. People anywhere in the world love to have nice things. That’s why new products keep popping up. But on top of anything, people anywhere in the world love to eat delicious food… And I think we can admit that delicious food doesn’t always mean meals you eat at a nice restaurant. So let’s start checking out some local “fast” food chains in South Africa. I put quotation marks here because these that I will introduce are slower fast food. So we start with chicken.

Major chicken-focused fast food restaurants are KFC, Nando’s and Chicken Licken.

KFC is the same KFC brand that operates globally that is owned by Yum! Brand. As of last year, KFC had 771 stores across South Africa and the dominant chain in the category in the market. My designer Mpho says KFC’s customers were mostly whites, and there is less localization in the menu. The only localized aspect seems to be that they serve pap (maize porridge, equivalent to ugali in East Africa) with chicken. Streetwise Three Chips that comes with three pieces of chicken and chips (yes, that’s french fries) is at 39.90 Rand (about 3 USD).

Nando’s has a unique South African-Mozambican identity with its headquarters in Johannesburg but also has international footprints. As of last year, they have over 1000 stores in 30 countries and over 300 stores in South Africa. They usually have a large sit-in space so Nando’s can be categorized more as a restaurant. The company has also been known for working with local artists and designers featuring their work in their stores. Their signature dish is peri-peri chicken (marinated grilled chicken). On the day I arrived in South Africa this time, we sort of missed our dinner so decided to have Nando’s takeaway meal. We were pleasantly surprised with our order, Full Chicken with 4 Sides, that were priced 199 Rand (14 USD). Yum.

Chicken Licken is another popular chicken joint in South Africa. Unfortunately, I haven’t had a chance to try it myself, but my local source says they do great chicken wings… Their hot wings are 25.90 Rand (about 2 USD) for 6.

I’m sure these chains and other food chains will have more and more opportunities down the road… (both in South Africa and beyond). Personally, I probably wouldn’t go into a pure food business, but partnerships are always welcome!

(I used this article for the store number references (corporate sites / annual reports should be reviewed for the latest numbers). I checked their websites for the menu prices.)


チキン系だと、KFC、Nando’s、Chicken Lickenが代表的です。

KFCは言わずと知れたグローバルチェーンで、Yum!ブランドが親会社となり、南アフリカでもフランチャイズビジネスを展開しています。昨年の時点で、国内に771店舗あり、このカテゴリーでの国内のマーケットリーダーです。デザイナーによると、基本的に今までは白人層がメインの顧客だったようで、メニューもあまりローカライズされているものはありません。ただチキンとパップ(東アフリカのウガリと同等のトウモロコシの粉で作ったマッシュポテト的な主食)のセットは販売されているようです。Streetwise Three Chipsと称された3ピースチキンとポテトのセットは、39.90ランドで約300円です。


Chicken Lickenは、もう一つのローカルチェーンで、プレトリアやヨハネスブルグでもよく見かけるのですが、残念ながら私はまだ行ったことがありません。地元人の意見によると、チキンウィングがスペシャリティだそうです。Hot Wingsは6ピースで25.90ランド(約200円)です。



Made in Kenyaのブランド

ナイロビの鞄ブランドSand & Stormの工房

ナイロビの鞄ブランドSand & Stormの工房


I often hear from local Kenyans that Kenyans, especially who grew up in Kenya, don’t really prefer Made-in-Kenya brands when in comes to some design and fashion. Possible reasons for that, according to those Kenyans, include: 1) Kenyans don’t have trust in the quality of locally made products (this is partially due local companies also need to compete with other cheap options including made-in-Asia products and second-hand clothing), and 2) Urban Kenyans do want to be a part of global trend so do not necessarily support local brands.

Nonetheless, there are a number of brands that are leading a new movement of creating and promoting made-in-Kenya / made-for-Kenya brands. I met CEOs of some of those brands and visited their workshops. Let me introduce three here.

1.Vivo – Activewear brand, CEO: Wandia Gichuru

Vivo is sort of like Lulu Lemon. They develop activewear using colorful jersey fabrics and produce comfortable garments for women. I would say they have more dresses and daily wear than Lulu Lemon. They now have 8 retail locations in key malls across Nairobi in addition to their own online retail store.

The founder Wandia is a former international development expert who worked for the World Bank and other organizations in multiple countries including the UK, Mozambique, Sudan, Uganda, and the US before starting her own brand in Nairobi. She sources fabrics mostly from China as stretchy fabrics are not locally available, and houses her own workshop to produce all her garments.

She is also passionate about working with other creative entrepreneurs in the region: She sources jewelry from Kigali while also does capsule collections with young local designers like Wambui Kibue.

2.Sand & Storm – Urban Safari canvas/leather bag brand, CEO: Mark Stephenson

I first met Mark in Ethiopia at an expo/trade fair called Origin Africa which promotes and facilitates businesses around made-in-Africa fashion/lifestyle products. Mark is a Scottish entrepreneur who came to Nairobi, fell in love with the then-safari tent company, and invested his own capital to manage and build this Sand & Storm brand.

I visited his office/workshop and caught up with him in Nairobi. He’s quite ambitious about growing his brand inside Kenya, across the region, and overseas. He also sees potential in the growth of Kenya’s leather industry as there will soon be opening a leather park in the industrial area in Nairobi.

3.KikoRomeo, – High-end fashion brand, MD: Ann McCreath

KikoRomeo is one of the household names in Kenya when it comes to fashion. Founder Ann is a Scottish fashion design professional who was trained in Italy and worked in Spain. While she’s the designer, the brand is really about Kanya and Africa, and she’s been building Kenyan/African brand for the past two decades.

Ann also actively involved in supporting other African designers, and also organizes bi-annual fashion/art showcase events featuring multiple designers and photographers across the Africa continent.

Each CEO has his or her own challenge, but they both have the vision to create globally-renown, successful Kenyan brands, and they not only do that by building their own brands, but by collaborating with other local creative designers and artists. Such collaborative efforts are the key to create a larger ecosystem to build strong brands that represent Kenya and Africa.



1.アクティブウェアブランドのVIVO(CEO: Wandia Gichuru)



Wandiaはほかの起業家との連携やサポートも積極的に行っており、キガリのジュエリーデザイナーの商品を展開したり、ナイロビのデザイナーWanbui Kibueとのカプセルコレクションも展開しています。

2.都会的サファリをテーマにした革・キャンバスバッグブランドのSand & Storm(CEO: Mark Stephenson)

Sand & StormのMarkとは、はじめエチオピアで開催されたOrigin Africaという展示会イベントで知り合いました。Origin Africaは、アフリカ製のファッション・ライフスタイル商品を紹介し、新たなビジネスや貿易を促進するイベントです。Markは、スコットランド出身ですが、当時サファリキャンプ用のテントなどを製造していたこの会社を知ったことをきっかけに、自ら投資もして、Sand & Stormブランドの育成にコミットしています。


3.ケニアを代表するラグジュアリーファッションブランドのKikoRomeo(MD: Ann McCreath)




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