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On December 14, 2015, Aparna commented on Goods Doing Good: Sustainable Luxury at Maiyet :

A number of “socially conscious” brands have come under scrutiny for giving money away in Africa but making their products in China, so I love the “teach a man to fish” model here — it’s fantastic to hear about a brand empowering and creating work for those it’s trying to help, rather than merely giving them money / food / things.

It’s also wonderful to learn about a model that is working hard to sustain local craftsmanship (often dying trades) in various parts of the world. But I think some really pertinent questions have been raised in some of the comments around scalability and price, and thought I’d throw in my two cents.

I actually think the luxury price-point is an intriguing one and probably where their business and operating models are best aligned. They are offering scarcity and uniqueness, along the lines of Dries Van Noten etc, along with handmade luxury using traditional techniques which puts them up against fabled fashion houses such as Hermes, Bottega Veneta etc. Only difference is the artisans are in Kenya or India rather than French ateliers. The intricate, handmade nature also creates scarcity value, which again makes the most sense at a high price point. But very fair point that since Maiyet is not relying on a legacy brand or designer of its own, it certainly needs to do a better job marketing what it is doing – which is relying on the legacies of the artisans and craft traditions in the regions it’s tapping into.

The scarcity point is also where I wonder how this all truly breaks down for the artisans. Maiyet has, perhaps, the luxury of not having to worry about scale — by staying firmly in the high-fashion realm, they are incentivized to keep supply low and prices high. But are their incentives actually aligned vs the artisans who may benefit more from slightly lower quality with greater volume? I wonder how Maiyet thinks about fair compensation in this regard.

This is such a fascinating and inspiring read!

I’m curious to learn more about the human capital aspect – in Singapore, creating a rigorous education system was an early priority which created homegrown capital. The government has also been very active in sponsoring Singaporeans to study in American / British universities – but brain drain is a constant worry, so they have created strong incentives for those students to come back to work in Singapore. How is Rwanda managing the transition from creating world-class talent at home to retaining them in-country instead of seeking opportunities abroad?

Again with the Singaporean parallel, as the country has created incentives to attract outside investors and talent, there have been some locals-vs-expats tensions. Are there similar issues in Rwanda – especially as it may throw a spotlight on broader income inequality in the region as well as any human rights concerns within the Kagame administration?

On December 14, 2015, Aparna commented on ASOS: Leveraging Network Effects in High Street Fashion :

I find it very interesting to compare ASOS and Zara — they have such similar business models in terms of delivering fast, on-trend fashion and keeping tight inventory but ASOS, along with its own brand, also seamlessly incorporates products from third-party designers. I wonder if it’s the online-only model that gives them more flexibility to do this, particularly from a margin perspective.

The point about balancing accessibility vs being aspirational is astute — the two things I wonder about are a) do you think having such well-known partners on the site dilutes the ASOS brand? b) as online fashion (both high and low) moves towards more curated models, I wonder how ASOS will fare.