Thursday, March 3, 2011

South African fashion’s big ambitions let her down

My wardrobe is stocked with predominantly South African labels- Craig Port, Silver Spoon, X&O, Vertigo, Darkie- and on a Durban trip a couple of years ago I was amazed by the interest that the Durbanites had in my clothes. “Where did you get this?” they would ask. I am relating this story because I find that there’s a notion that people don’t want to support South African fashion. 

This idea probably has a little merit to it, but my own experiences (including what I mention above) tell me that it is something we tend to blow out of proportion a bit. By now I am sure you are familiar with the story of Pulchritude, the initiative to make South African fashion accessible, by blogger Milisuthando Bongela. She took to the markets of Johannesburg late last year with a number of proudly South African labels and through what I’ve personally witnessed the initiative is a resounding success. For me it clearly demonstrates that maybe, just maybe, the idea of South Africans not supporting local fashion is somewhat discredited.

Last night as I sat at a conference convened by African Fashion International and a number of other partners to discuss a way forward for fashion that goes beyond fashion week to look at the commercial aspect of the industry I became a little frustrated by the perpetual reference to this idea. A number of issues were raised- the quality of South African fashion being one of them. Yes, this is a debate to be had but I was disappointed by how it was contextualized in a global fashion domination sense. To put my point across quite simply I think we are breeding a baby that we are forcing to stomach meat even before it grows any teeth.

I agree that, yes, we need to have a global outlook. We do need to get designers to set high standards for their product to compete with the likes of Gucci or Marc Jacobs. But again, the baby has no teeth, why must she eat meat? We are far too concerned with trying to find ways to penetrate a global market that is dominated by decades old brands without addressing the needs of our own market. Small a market as South Africa is, I find no sense in saying let’s go conquer Europe when we aren’t even at a point where Miss Jones sitting in Port Elizabeth or Bloem does not have the opportunity to buy the South African product without having to drive to Johannesburg or Cape Town or call a designer to place an order. 

The convenience of shopping plays a huge role, in my opinion, in what ends up in our closets. Secondly, inflated prices of South African fashion do us no favours. Designers ought to have an understanding of the market within which they operate. They need to stop neglecting the ordinary chunk of South Africans who don’t own Gucci suits simply because they don’t have the disposable income that affords them that luxury. Why is this South African not being viewed as a potential customer? Why is fashion not being made accessible to this customer? How do we go about doing so?

I truly believe we are getting ahead of ourselves. The industry needs to cash in. We have not fully exploited the South African market. Coveting the international stage is a hang up that we need to get over. It’s a long term ideal that cannot be realized without addressing the short-term.

Actis wins top African award again

Actis, a leading private equity investor in the emerging markets, has been named African Private Equity Firm of the Year for the fourth year in a row by Private Equity International (PEI) magazine.

The award is given to the best private equity firm operating in the region as voted for by investors, advisors, investee companies and other stakeholders.

In 2010, Actis’s pan-African payments processing platform EMPH invested in Egyptian company MSCC; and Actis made an US$151 million investment in the Vlisco Group, a producer of designer wax fashion fabrics for the West African market.

Actis’s current Africa private equity portfolio spans a variety of sectors and geographies, including Business Services through Seven Energy of Nigeria, Consumer via Mouka (Nigeria) and Vlisco Group (West Africa).

Its other investments are in the financial services sector in Alexander Forbes, Banque Commerciale du Rwanda (Rwanda), CIB (Egypt), DFCU (Uganda), Diamond Bank (Nigeria) and MSCC (Egypt).

In the Industrials, the portfolio includes Actom (South Africa), Peters Papers (South Africa), Poulina (Tunisia), Savcio (South Africa) and Sinai Marble (Egypt).

Speaking in Johannesburg, Peter Schmid, Actis’s Head of Africa, said: “To receive this award for the fourth consecutive year is an immense honour for the whole Africa team. Africa plays a crucial role in Actis’s emerging market story, and the fact that our work has been publicly recognised by investors, advisors and portfolio company management teams is deeply humbling.”

“Actis’s pan-emerging market footprint and sector model, together with the extensive experience of our local teams on the ground, create a unique and very powerful value proposition,” he added.

Actis enjoyed a year of intense activity during 2010, and Africa continues to be a core part of its success story with close to US$1.5 billion invested in 18 African countries. Actis has 25 investment professionals working in Africa, with offices in Cairo, Johannesburg, Lagos and Nairobi.

Actis also invests across African Real Estate – current investments include, Accra Mall (Ghana), Capital Properties (Tanzania), Ikeja City Mall (Nigeria), IOREC (Mauritius), Nairobi Business Park (Kenya) and One Airport Square (Ghana); and Infrastructure – current investments include, Azito (Côte d’Ivoire), Songas (Tanzania), Tsavo (Kenya) and Umeme (Uganda).

Actis has also been awarded Latin American Private Equity Firm of the Year 2010 by PEI, reflecting the three deals it executed in Brazil last year.

Saturday, February 12, 2011