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Design Activism

What sustainable solutions can Africa offer to the world of luxury?
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Disrupting colonial legacies

This begins with the very resources and processes that enables a luxury product to exist. Regardless of whether that is: a holiday, precious stones, fresh produce, fine art, natural resources, storytelling, what Africa has in abundance, the world of luxury wants. That has not changed since the very first colonisers set foot on the continent. Africa has always had, what others want. Now, Africa has what the world needs: An enterprising, resourceful, driven spirit that has its roots in sustainable and community practices and a growing youth population brimming with innovative solutions. This new generation is building on the lived experiences of their childhood and that of their ancestors.

The COVID-19 pandemic and recent human rights and Black Lives Matter protests have shifted peoples value systems and ease with conspicuous affluence. The pandemic paused travel and normative shopping behaviours, driving entertainment and shopping online, inadvertently speeding up the democratisation of choice and availability.[1] As news of fast fashion juggernauts failure to pay their factories and coverage of the inequalities in education spread, consumers are now using their money to show not wealth but political and idealogical allegiance.

The colonial model of extraction and ownership of Africa’s resources and exploitative production and trade practices is being challenged as the world faces a significant generational shift among its consumers. A new wave is surging forward, young people are displaying an “activist” mindset on societal issues, this will trigger a profound change in the industry’s business strategies for years to come. These digital natives are the most active consumers and producers of content on the web and contributing to the growing influence of new cultures and sub-cultures.[2]

So what does this have to do with luxury – Everything!

Knowing and unknowingly, they are globally, collectively, redesigning systems and narratives. The pandemic has provided the opportunity to re-imagine the future with a fresh set of values and perspectives. Inspired by curiosity, compassion and creativity, they share a commitment to care for the planet and each other. This is evident in all the innovations coming out of Africa, and in doing so, redefining luxury and disrupting the status quo. Examples are the rise of the circular economy, artisanal products with provenance and authentic story-telling.

Rapid advances in supply chain and end-to-end logistics technology in response to the pandemic and global lockdowns have enabling “social commerce” direct-to-consumer business models, favoured by young independent designers to reach a global market. This is a generation that have grown up with social media and are adapting it to create new pathways to reach consumers. As a result, it is the established luxury brands that need to pivot and change if they want to capture this growing and dynamic consumer’s attention.

Discussion

  • Have your shopping habits changed since the pandemic? If yes, how has it changed?
  • Have you bought a new emerging brand online that you never know of before the pandemic?

Share you answers and experience in the comments below.

References:

  1. https://www.bcg.com/publications/2020/new-era-and-new-look-for-luxury
  2. The Deeper Luxury Report, https://assets.wwf.org.uk/downloads/luxury_report.pdf
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Africa to the World: Analysing the Global Appeal for African Luxury Fashion

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