Happy Holidays! I hope you are gearing up for a fabulous and fantastic Christmas. Eat lots, laugh lots, be thankful lots and rest lots. 2013 has been a long and eventful year!
For the team at My Asho/My Asho Market, this has been a year full of ups, downs, a-ha and boo-hoo moments. Quitting a steady, well paid job to run My Asho full time has definitely turned my world upside down whilst also shaking it left and right. I have learned many a lesson - you guys are hard to please. Dayum!
So as we look to the new year, we recognise that the road will only get bumpier. We face a David and Goliath battle against big retail in Spring/Summer 2014, who will be out in full force with their "ethnic trends" and "tribal themed prints"
Just this week on My Asho we posted the above image of a necklace from global retail brand Zara. It's actually a very pretty necklace that I myself purchased in August this year at Zara in Heathrow Airport for less than £20 (duty free bargain baby - whoop!). What subsequently struck me about the necklace were the comments I got everytime I wore it - "ooh, what a lovely piece? Is that one of the pieces you sell on My Asho?" or "oh, I love that - it's Maasai inspired, no?" and my abashed response - "erm, no. It's Zara. Got it at heathrow for 16 bucks". Suffice to say, I can't wear it with pride anymore. I'll stick to my Christie Brown Bib necklace, thank you very much.
I love Zara. And according to a recent survey we carried out on our Site (click here to complete survey), so do a lot of you guys. In fact, until this year (where it lost out to New Look) it was the most loved retail brand in the UK. The Inditex Group, which owns Zara made €1.67bn profits in the first 3 quarters of this year. These guys are doing alright. Good designs, good quality pieces, customers love them.
The problem isn't actually with Zara, it's with...well - YOU. Our social media response when we posted the above image, was immediate and we were bombarded with emails and messages asking for a link to the necklace (which is here), congratulating Zara for being nice and having African inspired pieces (aww, Zara is sooo sweet - they were probably just trying to help promote Africa right?).
Just to clarify, the images on the right were put together by us from Google images illustrating just how Zara were "inspired" by Maasai. Zara on it's website product page makes no reference to Maasai inspiration and when I bought my necklace, it simply had a plastic thingy that said Zara on it. Not Zara Africa or Zara by Maasai or not even the Zara for starving African children collection (which is the general fallback for big retail).
I wonder (maybe irrationally) if the Christie Brown necklace above was slightly modified (maybe smaller buttons or triangular buttons) and sold in H&M for £20 how many hours it would take for them to sell out? What is it about the pull of big retail? As prospective customers, do you place any value in African designers and does that value equate to buying African? How is it ok that Zara produces a clearly Maasai inspired necklace OUTSIDE of Africa, make €1.67bn and then bring the same pieces back to Africa and we thank them for it? Do you not think it would be better to compel them to either design these pieces in collaboration with our African designers, or produce these pieces in Africa? Would that not be a much better story?
As a shopper you really do need to think about these things as they have long term repercussions. Soon the Maasai will be accused of copying Zara. Creativity will be sucked out of Africa under the guise of "inspiration" and the continent will end up having to buy it back.
What can you do?
- Simply #buyafrican - shop on the sites which support African designers Sapelle, Agnes and Lola and of course My Asho and My Asho Market. Also check out independent designer sites and etsy as great sources. The funny thing about big retail, once they see that products sell, they'll start to show interest.
- Tweet "@Zara @HM @topshop @mango Could you do a collaboration with some of our amazing African designers? Would be great and there'd be so much support #buyafrican"
It's not an impossible ask - Duro Olowu did a JC Penney collection last season. And with €1.67bn profit, these guys can at least indulge us.
So, all we ask for Christmas, please be a savvy shopper. Buy African and compel big retail to buy and support African too.
Have a great Christmas!