Swaady Martin, Founder & CEO Swaady Group, Yswara and Akrafo
Africa is going through rapid physical, social and economic changes. How important is it to preserve and promote your history and heritage while forging ahead, and in what ways are you achieving while promoting African Luxe?
YSWARA (www.yswara.com) and AKRAFO are brands of the SWAADY Group. The SWAADY Group was launched in December 2012 as a way of reversing the African commodity trap by creating a socially-responsible group of brands processing locally African raw commodities into high-value consumer products distributed globally (www.swaady.com). Africa is the world’s top producer of sought-after commodities which are largely not transformed on the continent. The focus of all brands/companies of the SWAADY group is agro-beneficiation. Our Vision is for our brands to be the global reference in consumer products of exception & excellence, ethically “Made in Africa”.
We proudly promote African manufacturing: 88% of our suppliers are spread across Africa. Key products are “Made in Africa” & other products are manufactured where it is most cost-effective. Today, 60%-100% of the value-add of our products is from Africa with a goal to achieve 90-100% within the next 5 years.
Our ingredients are grown on the African soil, transformed and packaged to the highest International standards at our factory located in the Cradle of Humankind UNESCO World Heritage site outside of Johannesburg. The location of our factory was thoughtfully selected. In keeping with our philosophy of maintaining our deep connection to Africa, its people and its heritage, we have located our factory in a beautiful setting overlooking the Cradle of humankind, with expansive views over the Magaliesberg. This location symbolizes our commitment to Africa and the development and progress of its people. This is the cradle of our brand, representing our love for our roots. It is a symbol of both our own humanity and that of our fellow Africans.
Our factory will also be used as an educational site where young learners can see what goes into the processing, preparing and logistics of developing passionately “Made in Africa” premium brands and kindling in them a love for agriculture and agro-processing. We are developing indigenous healing gardens around the factory, including a vegetable & fruit garden. It is part of a project to educate our youth about the importance of being caretakers of the soil, and gaining knowledge about the healing properties of much of our plant-life.
Our brands have a compelling and highly aspirational story, a unique aesthetic, consistent high quality, superior choice and contemporary “cool” factor. We developed highly marketable brands with innovative proprietary products .and a strong association with African perennial humanist values as well as African contemporary art
The unique alchemy of our brands is the blend of an authentic African essence, a wholesome caring spirit, a soulful contemporary aesthetic and an international selective distribution. The brands embody a caring sophisticated contemporary and urban authentic African “cool” (relevant).
Can you tell us some of your projects and their impact, and what we should expect from you in the near future?
We believe our brands have a compelling story and are well placed to develop into a viable franchise business which will attract entrepreneurs. There are not many high-end places to hang-out in most African capitals. The market is largely under-served and we believe that elegant YSWARA tearooms and retail stores concept would be successful throughout Africa.
Our outlets are not simply retail stores but rather small centres for conversation and meeting of minds in the new metropolitan (African) experience. An uplifting experience and a place for communities to meet and socialise around excellence and African pride/renaissance etc. i.e. it is not just a shop. It is a temple for African excellence.
Globally, we are also bringing something completely new: authentic African luxury. Most African concepts are “ethnic”, “crafty” or “safari-like”. We are bringing a completely different experience of the urban, contemporary and sophisticated Africa proud of its roots and origins without being in the clichés and stereotypes of the “tribal” Africa…but also a “zen” experience.
Our direct retail growth strategy is based on 5-10% ownership and 90-95% franchise to allow us to grow at a rate that would be otherwise unachievable given the market constraints (mostly related to the challenges of operating in Africa). Africa is generally a (very) difficult environment to operate in, where local networks & market knowledge is key as well as access to capital, access to prime retail location, development of local talents and on-site/dedicated/vested presence of the leadership team/management is essential. For these reasons and for lifestyle considerations, we believe that franchising is the best model to accelerate our growth. Franchise operations typically outperform company-run locations by 10-30%.
Lastly, as an African entrepreneur, I am passionate about contributing to the development of more African entrepreneurs, especially women. The franchising business is a great opportunity to support African women entrepreneurs, setting them for success with a proven model and strong on-going business and training support. We would be building capacity and networks across the continent, breaking intra-Africa trade barriers (perceived and logistic), mentoring women in business through product and skills that are sympathetic to womanhood, elevating their social position and expanding the discourse.
Women and their economic empowerment is at the forefront of your vision and ethos, can you elaborate more on your current projects?
We are trailblazing a different type of factory: Our factory is zen, beautiful inside, surrounded by healing nature. As much care is put into making sure our employees are surrounded by calming beauty as it is put into making our beautiful products. We deliberately decided not to be located in an industrial zone and invested into the interior of our factory. In a country with such a traumatic past where inequalities are vivid, we wanted to provide all our employees with a daily oasis where they are happy to come to everyday and rejuvenate while making a living. We have preferential hiring and procurement policies towards women, elderly, unemployed and immigrants. We hope to add, in the future, disabled employees to our team and have already benchmarked tea-packaging factories fully staffed with disabled employees. This is a longer-term plan once our production operations would have been running for a couple of years.