Local beauty and fashion brands can learn from their global counterparts

The future belongs to local brands! I got a glimpse of this in Zambia where local beverage companies are winning the day in marketshare and revenue through providing products developed for local consumer tastes and being more responsive to their market dynamics. Most people think that big brand are too big to fail even though we’ve seen Goliath tumble time and again, the example of Kimbo notwithstanding; Bidco bought the Kimbo brand for a song after winning the cooking fats war.

The lesson from major international brands is that charity begins at home. They have their biggest support in their home market and when successful they then turn to other markets. In Korea for example you’d be hard pressed to find imported cars or electronics because of an intense patriotism that drives consumers to buy local, and that behavior has launched their brands into the international scene. When Korean products landed on the shores of Europe and North America they were immediately perceived as low quality as the local brands fought to protect their territory.

However, over time they’ve been able to match the standards and indeed raise the bar in the product categories that they fight in, and they have gained tremendous ground dominating the smartphone, electronic and vehicle markets and going to new heights as they occupy terrain that was once the stronghold of their Japanese neighbours. The truth is that Korean technology dates back 5,000 years and it was only a matter of time before they found great success in the new world.

What I see in local brands are the makings of great enterprise, by identifying a true need and developing products and services that address them, through innovation, responsiveness, fast decision making and sheer hard work. Last week we heard about the Enda sports shoe that is made in Kenya and hopes to get into the running shoe market projecting a fraction of a percentage point in the US market. At their price-point it seems that they are focused on the international sports enthusiast market rather than the local market and are leveraging on the great media exposure that our champion runners get.

Suzy Beauty, a local makeup brand, was borne out of a lack for variety in the market and the founder, Suzy Wokabi, jumped at the opportunity to feed a starving market. The success of the brand is unprecedented, crowned by the sale of controlling equity to Flame Tree Group, who are also betting on local brands. It is critical to maintain the nimble predisposition that brought the brand to prominence including the ability to make decisions over the breakfast table rather than wait for the next board meeting. Big brands generally suffer from suffocating decision making processes and smart entrepreneurs who recognize this are running in to fill the gaps.

Marini Naturals has also come in to get a piece of the pie through following the trend of women choosing to keep natural hair. As the multitudes ‘go natural’ the void in the market for safe products left behind by multinationals has created perfect opportunities for entrepreneurs like Michelle Ntalami and Niyati Patel. To borrow a leaf from the global beauty care products, it would be necessary to run big budget advertising campaigns not only to build awareness but also to convince the majority to stay natural and grow the market for their products. PR is also necessary to dispel the notion that locally produced products are lower quality than imported products.

Embody Accessories, a local women’s fashion brand has developed from a hobby into a nationally recognized brand adorned by celebrities and other women of note. The success of the brand is based on the founders own experience or living the market and honing the ability to create ladies accessories that are instant hits. Evlyn is constantly on the move, along with her fellow entrepreneurs, designing new lines in order to stay ahead of the unscrupulous hustlers who copy rather than create.

The market continues to grow buoyed by the rise of the selfie generation, social media stars and the socialite movement, characterized by people getting up in the morning and grooming themselves in perfect makeup, elaborate gowns and sparkling jewelry, then spending the rest of the day taking photos and video of themselves. On a serious note though, high fashion is on the rise as the market demands higher standards, better products and spends more money to acquire coveted brands and services.

Local brands can take the cue from global brands and ensure that they are constantly listening to the market and being responsive, using the feedback to improve their products and communicate accordingly. In the retail world, good work does not speak for itself and advertising and promotions is a prerequisite for success. Finally remember that a great brand culture does not develop spontaneously and has to be nurtured constantly by the founders. As Ochieng’ Rapuro said of the top 40 under 40 women, ‘achieving this accolade is only the beginning and we are watching you because we are confident that you will succeed grandly’.


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