Africa’s women entrepreneurs and luxury brand builders are turning their attention to the growing global appetite for luxury products that also have a strong back-story. They are making a real impact, through their businesses, their innovation, their products, services and craftsmanship, and their passion for what they do. These women are putting Africa on the global map with their exquisitely made and proudly Afroluxe products that are winning legions of new fans.
Over the past decade, China with its growing new consumer class has represented an exciting and vast new marketing opportunity for luxury products. Leading global luxury brands have certainly capitalized on the opportunity, but make no mistake, they are already looking for the next China - and Africa is firmly on their radar! According to a new report by leading global strategy and management consulting firm, A.T.Kearney, sub-Saharan Africa will be the fastest growing, biggest luxury retail story by 2040. This is good news for the continent's home grown Afroluxe women entrepreneurs, producers and retailers who are already captivating the world with their unique and innovative products and designs.
From Swaady Martin, the Queen of Afroluxe, who is tempting the finest tastebuds of the world with her luxury African teas and accessories; Candice Johnson, founder of Miss Knitwear, an entrepreneur building a luxury garment company using the finest mohair; Tammy Frazer, the South African inspiration behind the luxury perfume brand of the same name; Aissa Dione, the pioneer of luxury fabric weaving in Senegal producing fabric designs beloved by Europe’s leading couturiers; Olivia Byanyima and Shanley Knox, the inspiration behind luxury Ugandan homewear brand Olivia Knox, which celebrates the rare Ankole cow horn; and Deola Sagoe in Nigeria, Africa’s queen of haute couture and the founder of her similarly named global luxury fashion brand, to name but a few. Meet some of our personal favourite AfroLuxe exponents here and read their stories:
Swaady Martin, founder of Yswara, South Africa
Yswara epitomises the notion of AfroLuxe and true Afropolitan, Swaady Martin, is the inspiration behind this luxury African tea and lifestyle brand. Yswara is a real celebration of the continent, with its essence created from the ingredients and narratives that are so unique to Africa. It is this essence that makes the Yswara brand so unique. Today, Yswara harnesses ancient knowledge in collecting the world’s largest selection of fine African teas. The brand’s single estate, orthodox teas are grown in the verdant fields of the finest African tea estates, whether it be the rolling hills of Rwanda’s Rukeri Estate or the misty peaks of Malawi’s Shire Highlands. Each of these rare leaves is handpicked and sun-dried, processed on their individual farms using only natural methods. Once sourced, Yswara’s tea blends are artistically composed. Each blend is a creation from founder Swaady and every detail of YSWARA is woven together to create an exceptional experience.The teas are not only grown on African soil, but they are also harvested and packaged in Africa to the highest global luxury standards, and become part of a uniquely African tea experience. Swaady has a passion for luxury brand-building and a unique global vision for Yswara. Read more.
Reni Folawiyo, founder of Alara, Nigeria
Reni Folawiyo is the founder and CEO of the luxury concept store Alara, located in the heart of Victoria Island in Lagos, Nigeria. The store opened its distinctly designed doors in February 2015. Alara, or the “wondrous performer” in Yoruba offers a luxury lifestyle experience unlike anywhere in the world, stocking both Western brands and pan-African design. Reni felt that the country needed something iconic that would change the city, change the way Nigerians saw themselves, and also change the way the world sees them. Reni worked with the internationally recognized Ghanaian-British architect David Adjaye to design the Alara building - Adjaye designed the National Museum of African American History and Culture on the Mall in Washington, D.C. The store has an architectural promenade that houses fashion, furniture, textiles, sculpture and art from inspirational designers and artists. It culminates with a glazed rooftop space – that visually connects back to the city. At the rear of the nine metre high building, is a restaurant opening onto a garden that offers shaded respite from the frenetic energy of Lagos. Reni says “Alara was conceived to show the world who we are today, to share how we live and to show Africans that we have a lot to be proud of, that we create and enjoy objects of exceptional quality and beauty, to celebrate those who have done it, and to support and encourage those who wish to exchange, educate, elevate and beautify.” Read more.
Aissa Dione, founder of Aissa Dione Tissus, Senegal
Aïssa Dione, a renowned Senegalese painter and textile designer, founded the company that bears her name, Aissa Dione Tissus back in 1992. Her mission: to revive Senegal's traditional and unique fabric weaving craftsmanship and build a production chain that is truly '100% Made in Senegal'. Her approach is to combine unique design, know-how and artisan craftsmanship to transform African grown cotton into a valuable product. She has succeeded in this, building a high-end fabric brand underpinned by centuries old cotton processing and weaving skills. Today, Aissa has more than 100 employees whose traditional handwoven fabrics are delivered to the absolute top-end interior design brands across Africa, Europe and the United States. Aissa's designs and fabrics grace major design salons and brands such as Hermés, Fendi, Christian Liaigre and Peter Marino. Read more.
Deola Sagoe, founder of Deola, Nigeria
Deola Sagoe is the leading lady of African haute couture fashion based in Ondo State in Nigeria, and her brand Deola, is renowned across the world. Deola has been at the cutting edge of high fashion since 1989 and became the first black woman to present a collection at AltaRoma, Rome’s celebrated fashion week, back in 2004. Her globally appealing style has earned her an enviable clientèle that ranges from Africa's first ladies, to society girls like Lydia Hearst, top model Alek Wek, and famous personalities such as Oprah Winfrey and Will Smith. Deola was appointed Nigeria's representative to the United Nations World Food Program 'Catwalk the World: Fashion for Food' with the goal of raising money towards halving the number of hungry people in the world, particularly children, by 2015. Deola Sagoe is the epitome of an African woman entrepreneur who, through hard work and a great sense of style, trends and originality, manages to build a haute couture fashion empire that has global cachet. She is a trailblazer for other aspirant woman fashion house builders of the future from Africa. Read more.
Jenna Clifford, founder of luxury jewellery brand, Jenna Clifford Designs, South Africa
Jenna Clifford is a world-renowned jewellery designer, known for her unique designs and superlative craftsmanship. Established in 1992, her company has steadily grown its clientele and profile to institute itself as a powerful force in the jewellery industry. Her bold and dramatic designs are sought after by some of the most recognised business icons and celebrities from around the world. Today, Jenna Clifford Designs employs around 70 people, including some of the finest jewellery artisans and craftsmen in South Africa. Jenna has been a consistent advocate of women’s rights and equality and is highly active in promoting women in business. In recognition of her advocacy, Jenna received the honour of torchbearer to the United Nations Millennium Development Goals 3 project, highlighting the importance of gender equality and women empowerment. Her most recent social impact project is the Jenna Clifford Rhino Project through which she has partnered with stoprhinopoaching.com to help save South Africa’s rhino. Jenna's story is one that is a continuous source of inspiration on many levels. Firstly, that as an African woman entrepreneur, you can build a powerful and highly desirable global brand, and secondly, you can also make a difference in society through your commitment to giving back. Read more.
Hanneli Rupert, founder of Okapi, South Africa
Hanneli Rupert’s handbag line, Okapi, definitely fits the bill of highly desirable, African luxury, must-have accessories. It is an all-African brand, successfully merging the finest luxury with traditional artisanal skills and uniquely African materials. Each element of the bags, from her trademark female springbok horns, to the supremely soft calf leather and highly sought after ostrich skins, are sourced from sustainable farms in Southern Africa, as are the labels, the lining and the packaging. Hanneli is one of a new breed of African designers that believes in the power of merging social entrepreneurship with luxury. Her range of Okapi handbags is both artisanal and luxurious, inspired by this unique and mysterious African animal that to many, resembles a unicorn. The brand encompasses elements of Art Nouveau, African mysticism and organic elements taking inspiration from nature and ritual, resulting in unique handbags that are both tribal and exotic. A signature Springbok horn talisman is found on all the bags. The emphasis is on world-class leather craftsmanship combined with a distinctive African luxury feel. Hanneli’s manufacturing philosophy focuses on producing the highest quality of end-product, leveraging on the millennia’s worth of natural history and craftsmanship that exists on the continent. She is also highly committed to nurturing local skills development and creating employment opportunities for African craftspeople. Through investigating the local African luxury market via her Okapi handbag range, she decided to open an entirely African concept store on the continent, Merchants on Long in Cape Town, South Africa, which stocks all the top African designer brands, including Okapi. Read more.
Adele Dejak, founder of luxury fashion accessory brand, Adele Dejak, Kenya
The Adèle Dejak brand creates handmade fashion accessories for the modern, sophisticated and multi-dimensional woman. Inspired by African shapes, textures and traditional techniques, the cutting-edge pieces sit perfectly between artefact and high fashion statement designs. The Adèle Dejak collections express an acute appreciation for African-made fabrics, including Kuba cloth and kitenge (wax print); a dedication to using recycled materials including rice and cement sacks, brass, aluminium and glass; and a commitment to exceptional quality – using only the best materials and employing some of the most talented artisans in the East African region. Adèle Dejak unites style and substance and invites you to unapologetically own your style! Adèle Dejak cut her teeth in the world of typographic design in England and Italy before moving to Nairobi, Kenya in 2005 and turning her attention to accessories design. Adèle found herself intrigued by the natural beauty of horn and begun to experiment with techniques of creating unique shapes and fashioned pieces. Her flair was noticed and spurred on by an admirer of one of her creations who encouraged Adèle to set up shop creating unique shapes to wear. Dejak’s Nigerian roots began to merge perfectly with European influences and she set out on her never-ending quest for that essential artefact that allows you to express your own style. There is still a lot to come from Adèle Dejak who has started a revolutionary art form deeply rooted in African tradition. Read more.
Renchia Droganis, founder of Africology, South Africa
Africology is the leading natural, eco-friendly and holistic spa and skincare company in South Africa, with its success spanning across international borders such as the USA, Europe and Britain. Therapeutic in its approach, Africology only uses all natural ingredients that are bio-identical to your biology; effectively enhancing the integrity of your skin whilst simultaneously preventing premature aging. Africology had humble beginnings, a beginning that was forged when experience met vision and initiative was taken. Founder and CEO, Renchia Droganis is an experienced metaphysical and reiki counsellor who has worked with many victims of Africa’s past using her experience as a massage therapist and aroma-therapist to heal their pain through therapy and self-empowerment exercises. Renchia had a vision to create something that would help people without harming, something that was kind and holistic to the earth, something that was free from deceit, and this 'something' was Africology. In 2000, Renchia started Africology. Since the early days operating from a small kitchen in Johannesburg, Africology has grown to feature in some of the best hotels and spas in the world. The company’s success has grown well beyond South Africa’s borders and the brand is now available across the globe, offering a luxurious, natural and eco-friendly product range, fragranced with only pure essential oils and manufactured to the highest standard. All products are 100% natural, uplifting the mind and body in a positively therapeutic way. All products are bio-degradable which benefit your body and mind, as well as the environment. Read more.
Bushera Bashir, founder of Trebene, South Africa
Every woman entrepreneur in Africa has a unique story to tell and usually an inspirational story of how their own personal entrepreneurial journey started. The back-story for Bushera Bashir, the founder of ethical fashion label Trebene, takes us on a unique journey from the birthplace of Cashmere wool, Kashmir, from where Trebene’s beautiful luxury cashmere scarves are handwoven, through to Cape Town in South Africa where they are designed, printed and retailed. TREBENE is an ethical fashion label, designing, printing and handweaving luxury Cashmere scarves. The label combines the rich heritage of this luxurious textile with modern and contemporary designs. The 100% Cashmere range consists of scarves which are carefully handcrafted over a delicate ten-step process which has been perfected over the generations. It takes about 30 days to handcraft just one 100% Cashmere scarf! At the heart of the business model lie the Kashmiri women weavers; the Trebene label invests up to 20% of its profits into the education of their children. Read more.
Olivia Byanyima and Shanley Knox, founders of Olivia Knox, Uganda
The world’s discerning consumers have become so much more conscious about the provenance and sustainability of the products they buy, particularly in the luxury market globally. By creating new luxury markets for products crafted from East Africa’s unique Ankole horn, Olivia Byanyima and Shanley Knox through their company, Olivia Knox, are improving the economic value of this culturally significant breed, providing incentive for Ugandan ranchers to continue their ancient practice of raising the Ankole. Olivia Knox is a manufacturing collective that is focused on promoting the use of Ankole cow horn in the creation of beautiful products for the luxury markets in Europe and US. The company works with design partners in three distinct business segments - Eyewear, Accessories and Home Goods. Read more.
Agata Karolina, founder of House of Godzawa, South Africa
There is something very evocative about the world of perfumery, taking its inspiration from nature and creating a scent that makes the wearer experience a particular sense of wellbeing and confidence. South Africa now has another wonderful perfumier to celebrate, Agata Karolina, founder of House of Gozdawa in Cape Town, who is creating something really special and unique to Africa. House of Gozdawa is a small batch perfumery company founded in Cape Town in 2015, dedicated to creating high quality epicene scents, following a strict production process utilising only natural essential oils and carriers. Each scent is developed personally by Agata. All the products are produced in small batches, bottled by hand and each vintage is specified. Each scent is created with deep love, commitment and intrigue to the story, the natural essences, and the history each wearer writes for herself. Read more.
Fatima Babakura, founder of Timabee, Nigeria
Timabee is a new proudly African, luxury accessory brand on a mission to make luxury accessible and affordable, whilst at the same time celebrating the best craftsmanship combined with the finest leathers. The company’s founder, Fatima Babakura in Nigeria, is passionate about the timeless process of creating the most beautiful accessories, harnessing her country’s tradition of fine craftsman-made products, but in a new contemporary way. Timabee believes luxury goes beyond the price tag of an item. It is about the creativity, time, and resources that go into making it. Fatima is committed to designing very unique pieces with the best leathers and hard wares out there! The promise to Timabee customers is that they will never have to break the bank to own luxury. Fatima started her company because she wants to put an African name at the forefront of luxury accessories in the world one day. The impeccable craftsmanship and attention to detail that goes into each bag is undeniably appealing to anyone with an eye for luxury and quality. Fatima encourages African women to embrace African luxury brands the way they have embraced foreign brands. Read more.
Lorraine Efune, founder of Lorraine Efune Jewellery, South Africa
With her magical blend of style, Lorraine Efune has tempted discerning clients into the unique jewellery experience that is her trademark. This renowned South African jewellery company provides strikingly designed jewellery to clients. Lorraine travels far and wide in search of cutting edge fashion and inspiration for her exquisite designs. With a passion for art, architecture and all things beautiful, Lorraine has focused her design style on the glamorous and romantic jewellery of bygone eras. The result is a unique, eclectic style that incorporates the classic appeal of those eras with modern technology! Her distinctive designs draw clients from around the globe and the discrete service sees sultans, princes and many famous faces return year after year to add to their collections. Read more.
Candice Johnson, founder of Miss Knitwear, South Africa
In a world which is increasingly turning its attention to all things hand-crafted, and companies using ethically sourced materials that support local craftsmanship, Candice Johnson is one entrepreneur turning her passion for luxury, handcrafted knitwear, into a thriving business, aptly named Miss Knitwear. Miss Knitwear is a Cape Town based designer and producer of luxury knitwear, using natural yarns and materials which are locally and ethically sourced. Through her celebration and support of traditional South African talents and skills, Candice sought to create something locally that is special and unique in a market that is flooded with big brands offering synthetic Chinese imports. With an unwaveringly held belief in treading lightly on the earth, she only uses the finest of natural South African yarns such as pure kid mohair. Along with her knowledge, experience and passion in knitwear design and the talents of her knitters, she created Miss Knitwear in 2013 to offer a range of pure kid mohair knitted products to both local and foreign seekers of high quality craftsmanship. A collection of products to make them feel luxurious and nurtured. Read more.
Femi Olayebi, founder of My World of Bags and the Femi Handbags brand, Nigeria
In the competitive world of global accessory and handbag design, one Nigerian designer is making the world sit up and take notice, with her unique take on beautiful, bespoke, handcrafted pieces that celebrate the art of craftsmanship combined with a uniquely African touch. Femi Olayebi is talent personified and her great eye for design, together with a deep appreciation for African culture and textiles, has allowed her to create handbags and accessories that have a great story to tell and a wonderful visual appeal. Her personal entrepreneurial journey has taken her from a career path in translation to becoming a real creative force in the field of bespoke, luxury handbag and accessory design in Africa. My World of Bags is a design and manufacturing company which produces a beautiful range of handcrafted products - a bespoke, leather handbag and accessories line (FEMI HANDBAGS) and a more corporate line (myworldofbags) with products ranging from conference bags and folders to laptop bags and sleeves, tablet cases, and promotional gifts that are tailored to specific client needs. All the company’s pieces are handcrafted at a mini facility in Ibadan, Nigeria, by a small team of craftsmen and women. Read more.
Tammy Frazer, founder of luxury perfume brand, Frazer Parfum, South Africa
Frazer Parfum is the inspiration of South African perfumier and entrepreneur, Tammy Frazer. Her company creates organic and natural perfume products, handcrafted while collaborating with local artists. Founded in 2008, each perfume is composed at a particular time in Tammy’s life inspired by expeditions traveling to the source of the raw materials. Tammy works only with the finest quality raw materials, whilst at the same time, celebrating art and design while spearheading African luxury. Tammy is the granddaughter of Graham Wulff, inventor of Oil of Olay. Following in his footsteps, she has single-handedly launched her personally handmade perfumes in eclectic retail environments in Europe, North America, UK, Ukraine, Oceania, Nigeria and South Africa. Discovering the arts, Tammy’s exploration of scent portraiture, “Skin Portraits”, was catalogued as the first-ever scent “novella” at the Smithsonian Museum of African Art. Read more.
Zainab Ashadu, founder of Zashadu Bags, Nigeria
Nigerian entrepreneur, Zainab Ashadu, has had a love affair with handbags since she was a small child. Her early inspiration came from her mother’s sense of style and her appreciation for beautiful accessories. One of her earliest memories is falling in love with a beautiful Art Deco-style clutch bag that belonged to her mother. It was this life-long love of handbags, together with her own vast personal collection of vintage bags built up during her time working and living in London for 12 years, that inspired Zainab Ashadu to start her own company, Zashadu Bags. Today, her company specializes in creating beautiful, sustainable luxury leather handbags, trendy backpacks and pouches, all handcrafted using locally sourced materials including leather, exotic skins and rough cut semi-precious stones. She operates out of a Lagos-based workshop, working with her team of highly gifted local artisans, who hand craft the products from her distinctive designs. Zashadu sells its luxury handbags locally and internationally on its website, with the brand’s iconic box clutch bag and the unique The Justice Python Collection, both described in the marketplace as a “collector’s dream”. Zashadu Bags have been picked up by London-based retailer, Wolf & Badger, and her range of must-have African luxury handbags and trendy backpacks products launched in Paris late 2015. This is one African handbag designer destined for big things globally in 2016. Read more.
Eva Sonaike, founder of interior design and lifestyle brand, Eva Sonaike, Nigeria/UK
There is a growing global interest in African design, textiles and products, and talented Nigerian interior designer and lifestyle brand creator, Eva Sonaike, is taking the world by storm on the back of this trend. Her aim is to position the 'African' aesthetic in the global textiles and interior industry as part of her bigger brand-building picture. Her entrepreneurial journey from fashion journalist to luxury interior and lifestyle brand creator makes for fascinating reading, and her ambitions for the future even more so. Eva Sonaike is a London-based interiors and lifestyle brand creating luxurious textiles, home-décor and accessories with a distinctive and vibrant West-African aesthetic. Inspired by the cultural mélange of West-African textile tradition and European craftsmanship, a passion for interior design and an exuberant love of colour, as the company’s Creative Director, Eva’s aim is to add a new and distinctive aesthetic to the luxury interiors market. Expertly printed in Germany and manufactured in the UK, the luxury range (of textiles and products) boasts a breadth of exclusive designs that bring a touch of African luxury to any setting. Read more.
Tracey Chiappini-Young, founder of luxury hand-embroidered Taunina, South Africa/UK
Celebrated for its iconic hand-embroidered teddy bears, Taunina is a luxury house synonymous with timeless artistry and social upliftment. The company provides full-time employment to women from disadvantaged communities in Africa through its flagship atelier in Cape Town. Each creation is one of a kind, designed and embellished by a single artist over five to seven days. The rare beauty of a Taunina collection piece lies in the opportunity it affords a woman in need to provide for her family and be recognized as an artist. Taunina bears carry the initials of the women who make them, symbolic of their sense of dignity and pride. Each bear travels in a handcrafted hatbox with his or her very own bespoke passport. A Taunina creation is a work of art, an heirloom to be passed from one generation to the next. It is a gift that changes lives. The name Taunina is an anagram of the African word ‘tau’, meaning ‘lion’, and ‘NINA’, an acronym for ‘No Income, No Assets’. Taunina gives women who were once without income and assets the power to become lions of their own destinies. Read more.
Lilian Mohamed, founder of Londre Tan, South Africa
South African entrepreneur, Lilian Muhammed, is looking to put her LONDRÉ TAN brand in the spotlight with her luxury fashion accessories, all proudly produced in her home country. LONDRÉ TAN is the epitome of African luxury fashion accessories, producing beautifully handcrafted leather bags, purses and precious stone jewellery in its studio in Johannesburg, South Africa.The LONDRÉ TAN brand takes its influence from the modern woman who embodies style, craft and luxury. The brand was created with the aim of producing great quality, locally made fashion accessories with exceptional craftsmanship, and a modern look and feel. The company’s superior craftsmanship is evident in its wide range of luxury products, and is the driving force behind the brand is quality and style. Read more.
Gail van Jaarsveldt, founder of The Ndau Collection, Zimbabwe
The Ndau Collection is a collective of designers in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe, brought together by a love of African culture, history and design, and specialising in the creation of unique jewellery, accessories and one of a kind collectibles, all made by highly skilled artisans. The Ndau Collection was formed in 1998 by current owner Gail van Jaarsveldt and Gill Athestone, as a result of their passion for African beadwork. Gill subsequently moved back to Harare and Gail was joined by her daughter Christie Halsted as co-owner of the company. Together they have grown the Ndau Collection and pieces from the collection have found their way to all corners of the globe and gained international recognition. Each of The Ndau Collection’s sterling silver beads and fittings are made using the centuries old African lost-wax casting technique and handmade from beginning to end. This results in a beautifully soft, curvaceous finish to the metal work that gives it the feel of the history it represents. These cast pieces are combined with an extensive collection of antique African trade beads, precious and semi-precious stones, natural materials, exotic leathers and treasures found on the team’s travels, to create one-of-a-kind jewellery, accessories and collectibles. Every piece takes several weeks to create and is hand worked throughout. All are unique, bespoke creations or part of a limited edition run of specially selected castings. The Ndau Collection believes strongly in promoting local talent and work with local carvers, wire workers, mosaic and fine pencil artists. These artists are supported, mentored and promoted through The Ndau Collection under The Ruoko Project. Read more.
At Lionesses of Africa, we encourage everyone visiting our website and social media platforms to nominate those Afroluxe women entrepreneurs from around the continent that inspire them, and we will happily profile them throughout the month. Click here to make your nomination. Our month-long Focus on women Afroluxe entrepreneurs is all about showcasing the best and most inspirational women working and building businesses in this prestigious global luxury market segment, so be part of the process and make a difference to a woman Afroluxe entrepreneur that inspires you.