Why homegrown luxury is worth the price

Time, craftsmanship and uniqueness make luxury fashion an investment, say local designers

09 July 2017 - 00:00 By Ntombenhle Shezi

When it comes to producing luxury fashion and attracting investors in luxury goods, South Africa is proving to be a market leader on the continent.
According to Deloitte's latest Global Powers of Luxury Goods report, although the global economy has seen something of a downturn, consumer demand for luxury goods and products, "which include designer apparel, handbags and accessories, fine jewellery and watches", continues to rise.
The report predicts that by 2025 several leading emerging markets, including Africa, will account for 25% of the global luxury goods market.
A stroll through the prestigious Le BHV Marais in Paris, where several local designers, including Ladumo Ngxokolo and Crystal Birch, are currently exhibiting, shows the international interest in our continent's creative output.
Luxury fashion is often equated with high price tags, but there's more to it than that. How a product is made, and ultimately its quality, are important when thinking about the idea of local luxury as an investment.FOREIGN FABRIC PROLIFERATES
South African companies take a lot of care in sourcing unique materials to use in their production processes. While most of the actual production happens locally, a lot of the sourcing happens abroad.
Luxury consultant Dorothy Amuah attributes this to a "quality problem". "We do not make much cloth or fabric and the global market is cheaper," she says, describing how sourcing from other countries can help a brand to be perceived as more credible.Staff of Cape Town accessories brand Missibaba have for years journeyed to Buenos Aires in Argentina - a country famous for the herds of cattle roaming the pampas - when looking for leather.
"The city is a wonderland of insane leather with warehouses stocked floor-to-ceiling with every texture and colour of leather," says co-founder Chloe Townsend.
That said, when its designers travel to South America, they only buy a maximum of up to five skins of a specific colour or texture. 
"When a skin is finished, it's finished. We don't see is as a limitation but it encourages creativity and [contributes to the] uniqueness of Missibaba [bags]," says Townsend.UNIQUENESS COMES AT A PREMIUM
Buying something unique and specially-made should be thought of as an investment. 
Missibaba, some of whose collections comprise only three pieces - sometimes even just one - is essentially a limited-edition business.While Joburg-based Row-G offers a made-to-measure service that allows men and women to have suits tailored to their specifications. They also cater for unusual requests, such as bullet-proof suits.
Symbolism is something else that one can consider when investing in luxury pieces.
Certain brands have characteristics that people can immediately identify and want to own or associate themselves with.
A local label that does this successfully is Ngxokolo's MaXhosa. Season after season, this designer's innovative knitwear collections are instantly recognisable thanks to his use of vibrant Xhosa-inspired prints.THE LUXURY OF TIME
Time in itself is a luxury - whether it is the time spent on travelling to find materials, or the actual hours that go into making a handmade product with intricate detailing.
Rahim Rawjee, founder of Row-G, says time was a major factor in the building of his business.
"What you see now took five years of planning. Our jackets, for example, went through hundreds of iterations before we even got down to our one jacket cut.
"And that's just one jacket - there's 92 pieces that go into one jacket. And to make them all work together, and configure them, the skeleton, everything ... minutes became hours, hours became days, days became months and months became years."At Missibaba, the importance of relationships starts right in the workshop too. Here, the team of women who run the business put their hearts and souls both into creating timeless products and pleasing the consumers who market the brand wherever they go.
Rawjee says the fashion industry is not necessarily recession proof, and nor are his customers. “My clients are in a situation where they will say, ‘Should I buy a R50 000 suit or go for a holiday?’ Sometimes they can’t have both and sometimes they can.”
He says the reason he has customers who have been loyal for 20 years is that a Row-G suit is of such quality that it lasts forever.

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