Why Men Ought To Understand Cars
COUTURE Africa|November 2018

Michael Mwai was the go-to car insider for 12 years, starting out at the East African Standard, Nation Media Group, Business Daily to True Love EA magazine. His love for cars has resulted in a most extraordinary career path, leading to travels around the world where he test drove all the cars you have ever wanted and dreamt of. He run his own design company, using that eye to suss out the attention to detail and point of view to set foot into the luxury world long before it even became a thing with a name. Discovering along the way that car design, this skill requiring up to 10 years of research, meant anticipating what the market needed even before it knew it needed it. Now he runs The Luxury Network which sounds exactly the way you think it does, working behind the scenes with a lot of brands you want to own and some you have never heard of, to live life like it is golden because to him, it is.

Carol Odero
So much talk about aspiration. But does aspiration actually inspire?

Absolutely. It also has to be put in context. With luxury, the context is, will this ever get to a point where more than 1% will be able to enjoy it? Unfortunately luxury prices keep going up. Then there is premium luxury goods which introduce you to luxury. A Mercedes A class is an entry level to the Maybach (pronounced my-back). Land Rover have Defender, then Freelander, then Range Rover.

What is luxury?

It is simple really. It is not a necessity. It is something you want. You go to a party, see a bigger house, and want it so you buy it. Money and taste do not always go together. Luxury is rare, expensive, high quality, extravagant. I can't think of any sector in the industry that has so many negative words to describe it. Decadent. Unnecessary. Indulgent. Exorbitant.

Aspiration also has a negative connotation. Why live then when we can live now?

The journey we are looking at is having something better. That with time you will achieve more in future than you have achieved now.

Who are these consumers of luxury?

There are two kinds. - The Ultra High Networth Individuals (UHNWI) with more money than he needs in this lifetime. (Investopedia define them as people with assets, excluding personal assets like their homes, worth at least $30 million.In May 2018 Business Daily identified only 10 UHNWI in Kenya.) - The high networth individuals, who I call the HENRIS High Earner Not Rich Yet. It is very important for them to look the part. They are currently rich. (Wikipedia pegs their financial assets as above $1 million.) Which to me means, what do you have left after everything else? This allows you to spend. You have a watch, you want a timepiece. You have a shoe, you want a Jimmy Choo or a Christian Louboutin. This is where luxury comes in. You have more than you need. If your wardrobe is exploding, and you have a minimum of six key events in a year and you cannot be seen in the same thing, and you need someone to help you prepare.

Does sustainable or slow fashion fall under luxury? It is fashion built to last.

It could depending on the story they tell and the craftsmanship. If it is rare and expensive, it can be. If it is not for everyone/mass market and the design adds unique elements making it pricey such as distinct accessories, a strain of bamboo going extinct and only 2% of the world's population can get to it. Silk in large quantities does automatically translate to luxury. That is about the designer making something extraordinary with it, the people involved in its creation are very highly skilled and a lot of time and effort has been put into it. Take the example of 82 year old South Africa´s Esther Mahlangu partnership with BMW M7 series. In 2016, then 80, she designed wooden trims for a special edition. She is a designer but doing something unique for the brand makes it a limited edition and therefore luxury, which makes it more expensive. (She also designed a special edition Belvedere Vodka bottle with 50% of the proceeds going towards fighting HIV & Aids in Africa.)

Does anyone vet the luxury industry or can I just wake up one day and say I have a luxe product?

It will be vetted by peers who are very protective of that space. You have to earn their respect. There is a special calibre of journalists who position products according to where they feel it fits. There is a very strong western bias toward luxury. But in Africa, there aren't enough people writing from this perspective.

Is it because they are unaware of what constitutes luxury or there are no publications?

What is the missing link with Africa? I may be wrong, but a lot of the Africans who know enough to write authoritatively are doing it for European publications. It will only change when they are brave enough to write from an African perspective for that market, and nurture African creatives who have a scalable business. They have to be able to capture a global audience for Africa such that stock is available in London, New York, China.

Maybe it is easier for them to write about what has already been identified by someone else as luxury as opposed to identifying what is luxury in Africa.

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