My business partner, Mpho Muendane, is coming to Japan for the first time this week. The primary objective of her visit is to work with a textile manufacturer in Hyogo, but we will also be doing some events featuring her artistic vision and the design work.
If any of the blog readers are interested, please swing by at our event on December 8th. We are creating a pop-up gallery and have a designer’s talk event followed by a reception.
I have been talking a lot about the mission, concept, and vision of the company. But how about actual daily operation, you might ask?
As we are currently at the stage of strategizing, pre-launch marketing (including B2B sales), prototyping, producing, and financing not a lot of B2C sales and logistics activities are happening yet. And my role at this stage (or at any stage) of the business is to communicate well.
Communication is SO SO SO SO SO important both externally and internally.
And I can’t say that I am perfect at it. Communication is always a challenge. I constantly need to practice, improve, learn, and re-strategize. Languages add additional layors of challenge when you want to get your message across globally.
I failed the relationship with my previous business partner partially due communication issues. We were not really listening to and respecting each other so we couldn’t build trust.
I experienced a number of times when you walked out the pitch feeling the message was clearly not delivered after being exposed to clueless eyes and off-point questions.
It might not be intuitive, but communication actually needs a lot of preparation. You need research. You need a lot of brainstorming and writing. You need trial and error.
To deliver a message to any external parties, say, my business partner, clients, customers, manufacturers, or financiers, I always have to research and understand the situation the other party is in and put its hat on me. Then I strategize to get my message delivered followed by drafting or simulation. Many times this works, but other times this doesn’t. Massive fail. Big time. Sometimes I underdo or overdo the process resulting either in mistakes or inefficiency.
Yet, I still think that communication is a very important driver for the success of our business. This is because we are trying to present new perspectives and ideas (Read: The African perspectives) to the audience (the global audience). I am trying to create different kinds of relationships with manufacturers or other value chain partners: Instead of working with them as vendors, we want to collaborate by getting their ideas and insights which they take for granted. I want to challenge the status quo at every level by figuring out how companies, businesses, economies, and societies can work better by not simply accepting how they operate right now.
Every day is hustling! You never fully expect what responses you get!
Trying to get into my designer’s head… Impossible! (Wait, what? Cuba?)
From Amsterdam to “New Amsterdam” and from England to New England, here we are, we’ve crossed the Atlantic Ocean to come to the East Coast US, and I am right now briefly in Boston to follow-up discussions with my business partner Mpho who’s finishing up new design for our upcoming textile products (while literally singing out loud) and to make new business connections in Boston/NYC while coordinating with South Africa/Kenya via Whatsapp/Emails and getting some documentations done for upcoming meetings my potential sponsors and investors in Japan.
しBoston is a really important city for Maki & Mpho for many reasons. Boston is where I first met Mpho, we discussed our initial business concept, launched our first collection, and got featured in the major newspaper, The Boston Globe. I still remember vividly how we sat down at the coffee shop at the Harvard Coop in Cambridge. While there have been some interruptions and pivoting in the course of the development of our business, the core value and commitment remain the same.
I still remember vividly how we sat down at the coffee shop at the Harvard Coop in Cambridge, and naturally came up with the core belief and value of the brand: Our core belief is that your individuality is your culture; therefore, we value and celebrate individuality.
Celebrating individuality is not about being individualistic or self-centered. It is rather opposite. It is about nurturing empathy, respecting others, and working together toward the common goal to make a better society while co-existing with the natural environment.
Maybe the environment where we can celebrate individuality in that sense is what we would call a truly diverse society. And this is the kind of diversity that we want to communicate through the means of the contemporary African design and storytelling. Why do most people always want to paint Africa with a single color? Why do we still have so much tension around differences in racial, ethnic, and religious backgrounds?
We believe that design and art not just heal such tensions, but can also create economic values by suggesting different relationships and creating trust.
We all know that capitalism is not about money but about trust!!! (No, we don’t trust Trump!)
We put people first… (and we’re not just saying this)
One of the reasons that I strive to build my own business is to (try to) “do the right thing.” Obviously, there is no single way to do the right thing, but, at least, I have certain perspectives to do things better to pay my fair share to contribute to this world.
I always have so many questions about how things work in ways they work: How large organizations work in a certain way even though some or many people who work there think that they are not necessarily doing the right things. While I am not chasing any idealistic situations, I also want to challenge doing things in a certain way.
This underlining thought applies to all kinds of decisions I make in building a company. And lately, I have been thinking a lot about “job creation.” I have to put parenthesis on “job creation” because I have been really thinking about the very meaning of it. There are at least two perspectives that make it harder for me to think of the activity of job creation. One is about creating decent work and another is about dealing with the dynamics around work (and the meaning of the work) in the global context.
The 8th Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) is about decent work and economic growth. According to the ILO’s definition (excerpts from the video), “decent work means dignity, equality, fair income, and safe working conditions. Decent work puts peopleat the center of development. It gives women, men, and youth a voice in what they do.”
“Decent work puts people at the center.” This, to me, is the biggest paradox. “Creating job” in a traditional sense, in my opinion, actually puts companies and businessesat the center (even though so many companies in the world “say” they value their employees). Except for the cases of few startups and the founding teams, I haven’t really heard of cases of companies that hire people first and build businesses around their talents.
Regarding the second point about dealing with the dynamics around work in the global context, my biggest concern is around some sort of double standards. The “global minds” (like McKinsey, the MIT Lab, the World Economic Forum, you name it) are talking about the emergence of A.I. and how such technologies can change the types of jobs to be created. There are a number of research reports and articles coming out talking about how the Millenials have different values and attitudes toward work/life (where they value more personal happiness over economic gains) or how technologies are creating more self-employers, freelancers, or nomad workers. On the other hand, when it comes to the economic development of the emerging or developing economies, job creation simply become the mechanisms of entering faceless people to the “labor forces” and “growing population” often mean “economic growth” because they are the labor forces.
There is another paradox related to that. As China’s labor costs go up, companies have been moving their factories to Southeast Asian countries like Vietnam. And of course, the trend for the past few years is to apparel companies like H&M are starting to look for East Africa like Ethiopia and Kenya to leverage “low-cost labor.” The question here is whether we continue to support these trends of mass production (at the low cost) and mass consumption. The latest report on Africa’s economies published by the McKinsey Global Institute (MGI) suggests that Africa needs more large companies and that there are zero African companies listed in the Fortune 500, but are we continue to support the companies like the Walmart (yes, the biggest company in the world by its revenue amount) whose key successful strategy is the EDLP (Everyday Low Price) or oil/energy companies that we see on the Fortune 500 top 10 list? Are we making progress to the sustainability?
So okay, I really cannot get my head around these paradoxical aspects. But what’s important for me right now is to look at what I’ve got and to test my hypothesis around “job creation.” I’m not the CEO of a large company (yet) anyways so I can take a risk to fail.
I may be optimistic but I believe that as Millenials actually become the decision makers of the era (there are still bunch of decision makers of the previous generation), more and more people start to value relationships (amongst people), happiness, health, wellness, creativity, arts, and culture more than accumulating wealth and economic gains.
And I might not be the only one who is thinking about these kinds of change that may happen. The recent article on the conversation between President Obama and Joi Ito of the MIT Lab mentioned about such topic.
There are actually very high-level jobs, things like lawyers or auditors, that might disappear. Whereas a lot of the service businesses, the arts, and occupations that computers aren’t well suited for won’t be replaced. I don’t know what you think about universal basic income [(concept where all citizens receive at least a living wage, provided by the government as a form of social security)], but as we start to see people getting displaced there’s also this idea that we can look at other models—like academia or the arts, where people have a purpose that isn’t tied directly to money. I think one of the problems is that there’s this general notion of, how can you be smart if you don’t have any money? In academia, I see a lot of smart people without money. – Joi Ito
So how is all this relevant to Maki & Mpho. Our fundamental philosophy is to celebrate individuality. We put people first. We put creative people first. We put Africa’s creative people first and let them create. We use design as a tool to tell their creative stories because that’s the way we can create and communicate values. We believe that Africa’s biggest asset is people not because they can potentially become low-cost labor to work in garment factories or off-shore call centers. We believe that their creativity and design skills can help people around the world to live more meaning and satisfying life.
Does any of this make sense to people? Let me elaborate… but probably this shall be continued another time…
パラドクスは、これだけに留まりません。中国の賃金上昇で、企業がベトナムなどの東南アジアに工場を移転しています。そして、ここ数年の動きとしては、H&Mなどのアパレル企業などが、エチオピアやケニアなどの東アフリカに生産拠点を作り、「安い労働力」をレバレッジしようとしています。ここでの疑問は、我々は、引き続きこの大量生産（低コスト）、大量消費のトレンドをサポートし続けるのかということです。McKinsey Global Institute (MGI)が発行した最新のアフリカレポートでは、アフリカにはもっと大企業が不可欠であることと、現時点で、フォーチュン500のランキングには、アフリカ企業が1社もないことを指摘しています。しかし、我々は、世界最大の企業であるウォールマートとその戦略であるEDLP（毎日低価格）であったり、トップ10リストに君臨するような石油・エネルギー関係の企業を、サポートし続けるのでしょうか。持続可能な社会に向けて、正しい道を歩んでいるのか。
弁護士や監査役など、ハイ（スキル）レベルの仕事すら、（AIの発展によって）なくなる可能性があります。一方で、サービス業、アート、それからコンピューターが得意でないような仕事は、存在しつづける。ユニバーサルベーシックインカム（政府が最低レベルの収入を全国民に保証する制度）に同意されるかわかりませんが、人々が職を失うということを考える上で、学問やアートの世界のようなモデルを分析するというようなモデルも出てきています。つまり、こういった人々はPurpose（目的やビジョン）を持っていて、それが必ずしもお金に結びついているわけではない。お金がないのにどうして頭がいいといえるのかといった一般的な概念があることも問題です。学問の世界では、お金持ちではないが、優秀な人が沢山います。 – Joi Ito