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…
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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。
My business partner, Mpho, is a dual South African-US citizen. She was born in the US during the apartheid as her parents were exiled from South Africa until the end of the regime. Mpho and her family then returned to SA where Mpho did her Bachelor’s and Master’s in fashion and textile design technology.
Mpho and I rarely talk about our lives before we met because both of us know that we share our future and we went through the challenges of our own. That’s good enough. However, I should probably have known that she had different last names in her South African ID and American ID (due turmoil during the apartheid), which created months of waits before a contract to be signed…
But the contract was finally “signed, sealed, and delivered” yesterday. We still cannot fully disclose the detail yet, but this will create an amazing structure to work with the government, school, and the private sector, and it will be a step forward for us to energize the creative economy in South Africa and beyond…
Are we celebrating? Not quite yet, but will get there!
Kudos to my most talented designer, Mpho Muendane. She will be a new role model of “black African women” (I have to emphasize this in this context) leading the creative industry.
As a part of my high school assignments, I read the book called Illusions: The Adventure of a Reluctant Messiah by Robert Bach, the author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull. While I had to go to Wikipedia to refresh my memory about its plot, I remember one key message that we discussed in the classroom: Life is all about making choices. As much as the statement seems to be an obvious one, I still think that we sometimes forget it, or take it for granted.
More complicated the world gets with multiple layers of globalization, information technologies, connectivity, climate changes, terrorism, and so on, individual choices, as well as business decisions and policymaking (particularly within a democratic society), become more complicated ones. In the context of the international development, the choices around creating a more sustainable society or ecosystem always create tensions between more developed and less developed economies.
Such tensions are almost unavoidable if you’re committed to having your life/career focus in Africa even though you’re not directly involved in the field of international development. And more interaction I have with people in the African continent, more uncomfortable I feel when Japanese people (or other people outside the continent) make blunt statements like, “I didn’t like it when Maasai people were too commercial,” or “Africa should figure out the way to remain as is (e.g. less industrialized/developed).”
I feel uncomfortable not because people express such opinions are necessarily wrong or ignorant. I feel uncomfortable because I also do always hear people like Kenyans saying, “we will/want to become like Japan/US (aka developed economies)” or “It will take another 100 years for us to become like Japan.”
So how can we avoid these tensions without screaming some soundbites and keywords like sustainable development or fair trade? I believe that there are at least three key elements: 1) Education, 2) The economy of quality, and 3) Value chain re-engineering.
Education is about unlearning and relearning. It is about empathizing others instead of sympathizing them. Unlearning part is probably more important yet difficult. When we encounter something new, we always filter it based on our past experiences and make a reference to them. One exercise to overcome might be to question existing filters and values by thinking of a completely opposite situation. What if the poorest we think is the richest in a real sense? What if the ugliest we think is the most beautiful? What if the slowest is the fastest?
The economy of quality is something that we should be discussing more as much as the economy of scale is discussed. The majority of businesses still operate under the principle of making things cheaper and faster. Probably economies of quality can be assessed when we think of a small unit of economies coupled with the sharing economies. How can we create small units of self-sustaining economies that are neither competing with each other nor being silo still allowing the free movement of people and goods?
Value chain reengineering includes any types of innovations around value chains and new business models that challenge existing ones. Shorter the value chain it becomes better the values are communicated. Better e-commerce experience (or general digital experience), logistics, and beautiful design play key roles in this element.
And these are all truly relevant to the strategic choices of what we do and where we do as Maki & Mpho. Our brand is all about education – questioning the existing values and paradigm and presenting something new using designs that tell stories. We are now less focused making physical products which can create short-term economic return because we believe that ultimately Africa’s intellectual property including its long-held philosophical/cultural wisdom and limitless creativity – these elements of quality – are the moneymaker. And we challenge existing ways of doing things including trade shows and fashion shows while seeking an alternative model of born global market creation.
The challenge is that I also need to keep challenging myself from being inclined to follow existing business practices and thinking I’m really stupid…
At the business conference during TICAD VI, I heard one of the speakers mention that Japan’s investment in Africa means Japan’s next phase of the globalization. Whatever he actually meant by that, that statement itself to me was an interesting one.
So the question is: Can “Africa” globalize Japan?
I put the quotation marks on Africa because it doesn’t refer to the geographic area, specific region/countries, or people. “Africa” in this context is more of a political and economic keyword, a certain mindset or a perspective that can potentially lead to more specific discussions. And “Africa” IS about global and diversity.
To be honest, I personally don’t necessarily want to become a bridging agent between Africa and Japan. I rather want to become a bridging agent between African and the rest of the world. And we do it by creating a globally competitive brand. And we do it by working with other Africans and people from other nationalities creating a diverse team.
And by doing so, by NOT being a Japanese representative, but rather one of the global players, I believe that I may be able to help Japan become more globally minded.
(By the way, the reason why I continue to write every blog post both in Engish and Japan is also because of this belief even though I sometimes feel like giving up as this takes almost twice time and effort!)