Twenty four years ago when Little Red Unmistakably brought in Hugo Boss, it was a luxury brand and a preserve of the top tier of Kenyan society.
Now, Hugo Boss has been relegated to premium product from the luxury category, as Brioni and Zegna - among others - fill the slot with their hand -tailored custom-made suits.
Little Red, a family company, has been operating for the past 63 years, evolving with the trends and growth of the spending power of the consumer.
“Our clients’ tastes have evolved and we have evolved with them. As their wealth increases, so does the level of luxury,’ says Aziz Fazal of Little Red.
Ten years ago, the change in spending, as well as the growth in exposure of the brands, prompted the clothing retailer to add brands like Ermenegildo Zegna to their offerings.
This also prompted high-end master tailors for similar brands like Giorgio Armani, Brioni and Zegna to be flown into the country for the made-to-measure suits.
“We don’t make suits. We make second skins.” said Angelo Petrucci, Brioni’s Chief Master Tailor during his visit to the country last year.
During this visit, exclusive clientele of Little Red received an invitation for the private sessions held at Serena Hotel.
The ever rising number of high and ultra-high net worth individuals in the country has grown the market for consumption of these luxury goods.
In the latest Knight Frank Wealth Report, 10 Kenyans joined the dollar billionaire league last while the dollar millionaires grew to 8,962 from 8,760 the previous year.
A majority of the wealthy in Kenya — 6,527 dollar millionaires — reside in Nairobi, 952 live in the coastal town of Mombasa while the remaining 1,483 are dispersed across the country.
Analysts attribute the increasing number of professional dollar millionaires in Kenya to the growing economy.
Luxury outfits in Kenya offer bespoke services and maintain an exclusive list of their customers, with each brand having its own list of clientelle.
The challenge faced by many of these companies is access to the wider data base held by other luxury brands with products that would go hand-in-hand with what they have.
This is what has prompted the entry of the latest player in the luxury brands category, The Luxury Network (TLN).
Known as the ‘matchmaker’ for luxury brands, TLN works by linking premium brands with like-minded ideas and target clients to each other as well as the brands to their target clients.
Since its entry into the Kenyan market, less than a year ago, the Network has signed up 15 members including a luxury fashion brand, designer furniture, luxury cars, private jet services, technology, bespoke travel and brand management.
TLN Kenya, a franchise of TLN International, has been instrumental in bringing these brands together. “We work by bringing together non-competing brands and to do this, we organise events where all these brands and their clients can meet,” says TLN Kenya CEO Michael Mwai.
The events, according to him, are in two categories, business to business where the businesses are brought together to showcase their products and see which brands partner best with them and also the business to client categories where clients are introduced to those who have these luxury products that they may be interested in.
The business to client meetings are organized in the form of an event, usually hosted at one of the business locations or in a luxury hotel, with each business inviting its own clients. These events allow the partnering businesses to access new clients with the prospects of converting them into regular customers.
A person wearing a Sh800,000 custom-made Brioni suit, would also be the same person walking into Karibu Italy to purchase a Philippe Starck designed seat that goes for £526 (Sh76,270) for an arm chair. The same person may also own a penthouse at English Point Marina and drive a vehicle from Jaguar Land Rover.
“Being part of the network provides a platform of like-minded people with similar tastes and are confident about the luxury product lines,” says Beatrice Nyutu of Karibu Italy.
The furniture outlet deals exclusively with high-end furniture brands including Alessi and Kartell.
This connection, according to Aziz of Little Red, allows the individuals and companies within the network to attract a certain target clientele.
To join the network, each member has to be prequalified. “The brands have to be high quality, targeted which means they are expensive and the products have to be locally available to the customer,” explains Mwai.
“Each brand must also be willing to collaborate,” he adds. The brands then discuss their marketing plans and goals with TLN and work on affinity-marketing—a highly targeted marketing where you deal with consumers that fit certain requirements.
It is said that you will be hard-pressed to come by a Lamborghini advert running on daytime television because a person who can afford one will go to the shop to get one - not wait for an advert to purchase one.
This is the case with most luxury goods. Marketing has to be targeted as mass market advertising may not garner the momentum needed or may have a negative impact on the brands, making them seem available to all and sundry, hence losing the ‘snob’ appeal.
To get this kind of networking and marketing does not come cheap. Buying into the network will cost you $10,000 (Sh1,000,000) and a similar amount in annual subscription fee.
So far, Little Red, Jaguar Land Rove, Karibu Italy, English Point Marina, Prive, Africabs Platinum, Bombadier Aero and Elite Digital (distributors of Apple and Beats products) are some of the members of the local elite network.
The Luxury Network, launched in London in early 2007, covers all areas of the top-end market including: Marine, Finance, Motoring, Concierge, Health & Beauty, Aviation, Property, Travel, Golf, Events, Jewellery & Watches, Entertainment & Fashion among others. It has 30 offices and over 500 members globally.
Even as the spending and exposure rises, many Kenyans are yet to make a clear distinction between luxury and premium products.
“It will take between half a decade to a decade to have more shops, malls or streets dedicated to luxury brands as you would find in places like Hollywood and Paris and other places,” says Aziz.
Currently, only a handful of shops offer the top level luxury, with most still dealing with premium product, commonly mistaken as luxury.
“The Kenyan market is not yet ready for some brands as they are quite expensive but others are more accessible and as the market embraces them, they move forward to a higher level,” says Beatrice.
According Aziz, a person who was driving a particular car five years ago has moved up as his profile changes and that is the same in all products. This trend is what has informed the growth and investment in luxury products.
In February, Motor dealer Porsche Centre in Nairobi invested $1.2 million (Sh122 million) in a body shop for repair of Porsche cars and other luxury brands.
The facility, located off Mombasa Road, is expected to boost the dealer’s market share in the high-end car market where service and repair centres are part of the offering to customers.
Kenya’s luxury car dealers booked record sales of 409 units last year, with the new brand Porsche emerging as the top-selling model relegating Mercedes to second place.
Reports have indicated that unlike Nigeria, where fashion power houses find a home in the luxury market, Kenyans have an inclination for fine wines and liquor including single malt whiskys and cognacs as well as high cost real estate.
These new spending habits have driven up the price of land in prime estates to as high as Sh1 billion for an acre of land.