Swaady Martin is founder of YSWARA, a rapidly growing African luxury brand. YSWARA creates elegant, high-end products using the continent’s natural resources, all produced by African artisans. The product range centres around exquisite teas sourced from across Africa, Swaady aims to capture a true spirit of African luxury by reviving Africa’s endangered cultural heritage and unique ancestral craftsmanship. YSWARA is sold online and in 8 countries with different direct and indirect retail points.
Swaady is an inspiring advocate for African women's economic empowerment. So committed is she to this higher cause that she only employs women and seeks to buy her raw materials from women producers.
Swaady Martin's startup story
This is the startup story of an Afropolitan entrepreneur building a global brand by creating elegant, high-end gourmet lifestyle products using the continent’s natural resources, all produced by African artisans.
Interestingly, Swaady did not come from an entrepreneurial background, but from the age of six years old, she knew she wanted to be in business, a career aspiration she wrote in her diary at the time. At that young age, she had a sense of wanting to be in charge of her own destiny and making an impact in some way. Her sense of social responsibility was instilled by her family who always taught her to make a difference in society and to fight for what is right. As a young child, she was exposed to the impact of turbulent political situations in Africa, living in Liberia and having to flee the conflict, leaving everything behind. The impact of war took the family to Senegal and eventually to Cote d’Ivoire, where she was born and where her education started, before political upheaval once again necessitated a move, this time to France, before an eventual move back to Africa. As a result, today Swaady considers herself a true Afropolitan.
"I wanted to produce a luxury brand that was truly African in origin, nature and tradition. All our products are sourced from Africa and crafted by local craftsmen and artisans, combining traditional techniques with modern designs. YSWARA supports some of Africa’s top creative talents and believe in an authentic African luxury marrying both economics and social values. We call it the LUXE UBUNTU. The Luxe Ubuntu creates economic value in a way that also creates value for the African society at large by addressing its prosperity needs and challenges."
Her early entrepreneurial path started with her studies at business school in Lausanne, Switzerland, to be followed by global fast track exposure to the business world so that she was prepared to come back to Africa, her heartland, with all the resources and know-how ready to start up in business for herself. However, her initial career started in the corporate world with global infrastructure giant, GE, initially working in Paris. During that time, Swaady’s corporate ambition was to bring GE to Africa and to manufacture GE’s world-class products on the continent, thereby making a real contribution to the socio economic landscape of Africa. She achieved this goal within 18 months, showing her determination to get things done and make a difference. She remained with GE for 12 years, all of which she regards as the happiest and most fulfilling of career times.
Whilst taking a two year sabbatical from GE to undertake her executive MBA, she began to formulate her entrepreneurial ideas and a solo move into the entrepreneurial world to create a new company and brand. She took all the practical skills she had gained throughout her working career to date, from marketing and financial planning, to production processes and distribution techniques, and used that good grounding in all aspects of business to apply in her new entrepreneurial venture when the time came. She regarded it as a fundamental learning process that would stand her in good stead in the future, and that positive attitude to continual learning is still a huge part of her life.
"We are aiming at creating a globally recognized luxury brand so there is never a moment of rest. We are and need to constantly push the limits of excellence, creativity and beauty. We are constantly benchmarking ourselves to the global brands and know we still have some work to do."
Today, Swaady is the first real African global luxury brand builder, using the continent’s rich cultural history and artisanship to create the world-class luxury tea and lifestyle brand, Yswara. She regards the philosophy of the company as being a combination of everyday passions, starting with how as an individual and a company, she can contribute to Africa getting out of the commodity trap that it finds itself in. Swaady’s frustration at the continual export of raw materials and expertise which are not transformed in Africa was one area where she felt as an entrepreneur she would be able to contribute. Secondly, coming from a family environment where culture and artistry is extremely important, she looked to find an outlet for that passion to celebrate the finest of African culture. Looking at the global marketplace, she recognised that the luxury market was a key driver of that cultural appreciation. Yswara was the culmination of these two passions combined with a key African commodity, leveraging Swaady’s long-held appreciation for, and knowledge of, tea - she comes from a family of tea connoisseurs.
Yswara today is an exquisite luxury brand that has been building its reputation and clientele over the past two years, and is making Africa and the world sit up and take notice. The Yswara brand is about to enter a new and exciting phase in its history, building its market niche as a distinctly and uniquely African but truly global gourmet brand, with exquisite African teas at its core - watch this space.