‘Craftsmanship In The Nigerian Luxury Industry’ By Funmi Onajide, Ceo/Founder Regalo African Luxury At The Luxury Lifestle Summit 2017 At Federal Palace Hotel Lagos on September 06 and 07, 2017.
Good morning Ladies and Gentlemen,
I am really quite excited to be here this morning to speak on the topic of Craftsmanship in the Nigerian Luxury Industry, as it is something of a pet topic for me. I hope that my brief remarks will provide context to our panel discussions.
Funke Osae- Brown who has so graciously invited me to speak is aware of my interest in this topic, as we have had so many long discussions. Indeed, I have often called her out for not giving enough attention to African or Nigerian craftsmanship in her publication The Luxury Reporter – a publication that I believe is rapidly becoming the definitive guide to luxury goods in Nigeria.
I would like to flatter myself into thinking that some of our discussions have played a part in her decision to hold this Summit.
The organization of this Summit is timely for a three reasons:
Firstly, Nigerians are huge consumers of luxury goods and it seems that so many people aspire to a so-called luxury lifestyle. We see reiterations of this in every sphere of life with word “luxury” pre-fixing so many goods and services, presumably as a marketing ploy. Statistics show that in spite of the condition of the Nigerian economy, Nigerians consistently feature in the top 5 big spenders in London and Dubai. Nigeria has been named as one of the biggest importers of champagne on the African continent.
One in four Africans is a Nigerian and we are known worldwide for our love for all things luxury whether it is in good taste or not. It seems that the more expensive the better.
The point is that Nigerians love FOREIGN luxury and it is about time that we readjust our thinking for our long-term benefit. This Summit provides an excellent platform to interrogate these issues.
Secondly, we have witnessed a huge surge in home grown brands and growing international interest in Nigerian music, film, fashion, literature and food. Nigerian music is played at nightclubs at home and abroad and Nigerian musicians are collaborating with international superstars. Even Nigerian dance steps have become popular worldwide. In the same way, the Nigerian film industry has taken off and many of our films have received warm reviews at international film festivals. Ditto-Nigerian literature with the likes of Chiamanda Adiche and many other writers who are taking our local narrative to a world audience. We have heard of the jollof rice war between Nigeria, Ghana and Senegal that has received so much media attention such that Jamie Oliver the celebrity cook took it upon himself to attempt to cook Nigerian jollof rice to mixed reactions.
The Nigerian art industry is enjoying a renaissance and there is a proliferation of curators, artists and exhibitions drawing significant attention to our local art. We hear of Nigerian artwork being auctioned in the prestigious auction houses in the UK for increasing sums of foreign currency. Indeed, even though the homes of some our so-called elite may be filled with shiny, generic furniture from Dubai or Italy, I observe that many concede a nod to Nigerian creative talent by displaying Nigerian art.
Even though we seem to love our foreign luxury brands, Nigerian traditional attire has been refined and has evolved to the level of haute couture and we wear it proudly anywhere in the world.
The point is that so many aspects of our culture & creativity is already re- shaping the narrative and perception of Africa on the international stage. So why not our craftsmanship? Hopefully The Luxury Lifestyle Summit will be the catalyst for many more efforts to promote Nigerian luxury and craftsmanship
Thirdly, even though the concept of a local luxury industry is often derided as insensitive or unnecessary in light of prevailing poverty levels, I submit that it is potentially a significant contributor to our economy. The promotion and enhancement of quality craftsmanship means skills and sustainable job opportunities for our youth many of whom are roaming the streets with inferior degrees. It means multiplier value through supply chain support, that translates to viable commercial ecosystems boosting developmental opportunities for the emergence of sustainable SMEs.
The point is that given the socio economic importance of the local luxury industry and Nigerian craftsmanship, this Summit provides an excellent platform for dialogue and long may such dialogue continue.
My mandate today is to shed light on craftsmanship in the Nigerian luxury market. To do so, I will summarize my journey in promoting African luxury and my “light bulb” moment in promoting Nigerian craftsmanship.
I started Regalo Africa Luxury in 2012 simply because I have always been a curator of unusual but beautiful pieces from around the world, particularly Africa. I love antique shops hand made goods and any exquisite piece that celebrates the inherent authenticity of any culture. My home is a fusion of various cultures with striking pieces from places that I have visited – from the antique shops of Venice& Florence, to the family owned craft shops in India, to the market stalls of Kenya, Mozambique & the souks of Zanzibar, to the carvers of Oshogbo & Ife to name a few. In all of these places, I have found wonderful embodiments of true creativity & beauty.
The name I have given my shop – Regalo- speaks to a fusion of culture. The concept was to curate beautifully made goods from across Africa – striking exotic leather goods, scented soya candles, object d’art, small furnishing, teas, stationary and a wide variety of African made luxury goods.
For me, luxury means, excellent craftsmanship, uniqueness and authenticity regardless of price point. Regalo stocks goods with a price range starting from N5, 000. But they are all similarly beautifully made and they are often unique on-offs.
My definition of craftsmanship is the workmanship or artistry or handiwork that lovingly produces a piece that speaks to its creator’s passion and creative expression. That is what makes them timeless and desireable to a discerning clientele who recognizes the inherent value in the product that has not been so mass produced that it has lost its allure for those who wish to express their individuality through a quality product.
Initially, 90% of Regalo stock originated predominantly from South Africa.
After a while I felt like a bit of a hypocrite – I, the proud Nigerian, with all my loud assertions of Nigeria’s prominence in Africa and our perceived cultural dominance did not have one single Nigerian- made object in my store!
So I started the journey to discover Nigerian craftsmanship and it has been a voyage of not only discovery, but also one of delight and great hopes for the future.
In 2013, I started to stock beautifully made winged armchairs in traditional aso oke made by a very talented Nigerian lady called Tosin Akinkugbe
In 2014, I started to stock hand carved furniture made with indigenous wood made under my direction, by highly skilled craftsmen with artisanship passed down generations in Oshogbo and Ife. I am amused when people come in the shop and ask if they are imported from Bali or Indonesia. Often, when potential customers are told that they are locally crafted, they immediately complain about the price – suffice to say that the price point is comparable to quite cheap, gaudy imported furniture which seem to fly off the shelves elsewhere.
In the same year, I started to collect aso oke & damask dated back to the 1950s, which have been discarded by people who had no use or interest or value for them and made them into ottomans and footstools.
In 2015, I started to stock Noji Art silk scarves and linen throw cushions that were lovingly hand painted by my sister Omolara Cookey.
Then I met Adeola Paul- Inyang, the passionate founder and promoter of Abela Candles who makes scented soya candles with packaging & fragrances that compete with any of the international brands.
I have named only a few of my growing database of local suppliers who have perfected their craft and produce the most remarkable work which comfortably sit side by side with any reputable international brand. Many such people are sitting here today.
Granted, with the current recession, many have begun to look inwards and buy locally. However, the demand for local crafted luxury goods has not reached the point where producers can enjoy economies of scale. Therefore the local luxury market still lags very far behind and the inordinate taste for all things foreign continues to prevail without much challenge or competition.
There are many reasons for this:
- Alot of local craftsmanship is substandard and presentable finished goods require a great deal of supervision and time to develop. It seems far easier for consumers or retailers to import finished goods from abroad using scarce foreign exchange.
- Even those who produce excellent quality do not have access to the powerful marketing & PR machinery that their counterparts overseas have access to through a variety of financing opportunities. There is a lot of activity on the social media but it is not enough to shape perception of local brands and to trigger multiple buying decisions.
- It seems that we still have a mental block about local craftsmanship whereas elsewhere handmade or locally sourced products often are definitions of exclusivity and attract a huge premium.
So what is the way forward for the fledgling Nigerian luxury crafts sector? How do we improve, enhance and promote our craft such that we make significant inroads in the sizeable domestic market and even internationally?
In answering this question, I will once again refer to my own journey with Regalo.
Recall that initially 90% of Regalo suppliers where South African. This is because I was drawn in by the South African Luxury Association, who is committed to promoting their local luxury craftsmanship. I was introduced to many of their members, some of who have supplied some of the most eye-catching items in the Regalo store.
For example, the Avoova brand that makes stunning pieces with aluminium and broken ostrich egg shells – you will see them at the Regalo stand. These pieces are made by an organized community of humble black African workmen and marketed through a savvy and well-funded company and the Luxury Association itself.
The pieces are not cheap because they work on the premise that the workers must be paid a fair price in consideration of the skill that they bring to their craft.
The South Africa Luxury Association holds annual Luxury Summits, which now attracts renowned international brands. Many of its members who are also Regalo suppliers manufacture for noted international designers and we buy these goods at great expense oblivious of the fact that they are manufactured right here on our continent.
There is absolutely no reason why with time and patience, we cannot develop the same here and this first Luxury Lifestyle Summit is the step in the right direction.
Yes, we lack a lot in the necessary infrastructure and an enabling operating environment. But we are a country of incredibly resilient, entrepeurnural people, and a private sector with a track record of making extraordinary strides in spite of all that seems to hold us back.
Africa is coming of age and the focus of the world is shifting in this direction in so many ways. Nigeria is at the epicenter of so much innovation and creativity.
It is left for us to take up the gauntlet and channel all our creative talents with supreme confidence and purpose.
Thank you for listening
Founder/CEO Regalo African Luxury