Inclusion is the New Luxury
If you close your eyes and imagine a luxury business owner, you might picture a Ralph Lauren/Diane von Furstenberg-type sunning on a megayacht near Capri before jet setting on a private plane. You probably don’t envision a scrappy pioneer struggling with finances and societal paradigms in Kenya or Colombia or Queens.
Little media attention is given to the entrepreneurial luxury designer starting up in China or Africa despite a current societal climate that equates “Made in China” and “Made in Africa” with cheap. This is the new luxury order emerging around the world. It involves women, indigenous peoples and previously undervalued artisans launching luxury products that have ethical practices, cultural celebration, conscious sourcing and economic development at their core.
The global story of modern luxury entrepreneurship is as diverse as the world in which we live. It’s far more nuanced than making pricey products for the ultra-rich or highly-aspirational. Entrepreneurs in luxury can change who is included in every business market conversation because luxury sets the tone for consumerism. When a silk kimono appears on the Gucci runway, eventually a polyester version trickles down to a sales rack at H&M.
Whether it’s a tech advancement or coveted fashion, most trends start at a luxury price point and become ubiquitous through mass production at more accessible prices. That’s the system. Knowing this system, these new brands can shift the dynamics of the trends and the players.
Luxury welcomes uniqueness since brands must be distinct and find death in homogeneity. High-end brands are also motivated to be first-responders to consumer demands such as sustainability and ethical supply chains. These factors create a unique opportunity for any visionary that wants to use luxury toward social change.
What’s most exciting about startup luxury today is that none of it’s cookie-cutter. It’s a true landscape of creativity and imagination. There are brand stories covering everything from feeding economic stability in developing countries to rethinking materials.
Some of these businesses involve empowering female-driven enterprise, such as designer Miranda Konstantinidou who runs a “female-company” employing 1,300 people worldwide, 99% of which are women. Others, such as Minku by Kumni Otitoju, recycle traditional materials. In Minku’s case, the label takes the ceremonial Aso-Oke fabric of the Yoruba people, and incorporates it into leather goods and new fashion designs. Then, there are the innovators who turn waste products from fishing and hunting into sustainable materials. An example of this is London-based AITCH AITCH which uses salmon skin as leather for its luxurious handbags and accessories.
In other cases, fostering sustainable wages and artisanship go hand-in-hand. Ancestral skills are endangered in our modernized world. More youth seek learning code over the Incan art of skein dyeing, for instance. Brands that employ localized artisan skills and create a respected luxury brand through these talents help maintain techniques that preserve a peoples’ cultural heritage.
Whether the business is in a developing country or one considered robust, like the United States, its existence strives to expand markets so that the business of luxury and the demographics of decision-makers are more inclusive. These entrepreneurs are rarely being motivated by the idea of making money for wealth’s sake. In fact, most are driven by the very fire that makes entrepreneurs tick: the desire to give the world something it doesn’t have but definitely needs.
I believe in entrepreneurship and love to feature new luxury ventures that are supporting women and artisans around the world. I share my discoveries on Vanichi.com, HuffPost and other sites. Please reach out if you have a brand I should know.