Helping African Brands Enter the Chinese Market
“I think of myself as a “Kuroko” – the stagehands who dress in black and support the dolls in Japanese puppet kabuki theatre. My passion is to assist African and Japanese entrepreneurs in achieving their goals and delivering better value, but my role is always behind the scenes, and the spotlight is always where it should be.”-Hara Yukari
Africa Reimagined (AR) is a Beijing-based consultancy which provides bespoke China market entry advice and guides to African brands. We offer services ranging from onboarding onto Chinese e-commerce platforms, match-making with Chinese business partners, support with import and customs procedures, trademarking, IP and copyright registration, and more.
As the second and third largest economies in the world, China and Japan respectively provide opportunities for African brands and entrepreneurs to expand their market reach and grow their business. Not only that, the Chinese and Japanese luxury goods markets are the largest after the United States with an estimated annual market value of $43.9 bn and $30.7 bn, respectively in 2021, according to Statista. Yet, these two markets remain poorly understood by African stakeholders due to cultural, linguistic, and geographical barriers.
As a consultancy that helps African brands enter the Chinese market, the AR team was keen to find out the similarities and differences in demand for African brands entering the Japanese market. We were lucky enough to interview Hara Yukari, a Japanese entrepreneur helping high-quality African brands enter the Japanese market through her company SKYAH Co. Ltd. Through their flagship project, Proudly from Africa, they have assisted dozens of African brands to sell their products in the lucrative Japanese market, from food, fashion, and jewelry, to sustainable cosmetic products and more. This two-part article will summarize what we learned from our interview with her and highlight noteworthy insights for African entrepreneurs that want to sell their products Japan and China.
After having a transformational experience in Northern rural Ghana during her internship at a local NGO and UNICEF, Hara Yukari felt compelled to move to Ghana to contribute to its development. She worked as a junior diplomat at the Japanese Embassy of Ghana. During her diplomatic tenure, she went back to the community in Northern rural Ghana and founded an NGO called “MY DREAM. org” to raise funds to empower women in the community by training them to make high-quality hand-made crafts for sales mainly in Ghana but also abroad.
Realizing that depending on donations is not sustainable, Yukari decided to re-focus her project to be more business-oriented. To gain more experience in African business development, she left her role at the Embassy and moved to Johannesburg, South Africa to work for Misui & Co. Ltd., one the the 4 largest Japanese trading corporations, at which she focused on Japan-Africa trade and investment projects across various sectors, including food and agriculture, chemicals, and variety of consumer tech businesses. After this, she briefly worked for Mara Group, a pan-African conglomerate, before launching SKYAH Co. Ltd. in mid 2018 which manages the Proudly from Africa line of products in Japan. Yukari says, “I wanted to support great African entrepreneurs to access the Japanese market.”
Today, in addition to still selling products from her affiliated community in Northern rural Ghana, she also promotes high-quality African brands in Japan selling a range of products from fashion items, organic cosmetics, jewelry, food, garments, and more. Although in recent years, the Japanese market has seen a rise in African products even at popular department stores in Tokyo, what sets Proudly from Africa’s work apart from the rest is its mission to amplify the voices of the entrepreneurs behind the brands, not taking the limelight away from African players as some other Japanese vendors of African products do. She says, “I think of myself as a “Kuroko” – the stagehands who dress in black and support the dolls in Japanese puppet kabuki theatre. My passion is to assist African and Japanese entrepreneurs in achieving their goals and delivering better value, but my role is always behind the scenes, and the spotlight is always where it should be.”
Despite starting just three years ago, Proudly from Africa products have partnered with notable global luxury brands, department stores, boutique shops, SDG-focused businesses, and more. Proudly from Africa has leverage both online and offline avenues to promote its products. For example, a Ghanaian brand, AAKS, selling Rafia handbags is now being sold on ELLE Japon’s website through a partnership with Proudly from Africa. Yukari says, “The partnership with ELLE Japon has allowed us to reach customers that would have previously never thought much about Africa. ELLE partnered with us because they wanted pioneer the sale of brands that have never reached Japan before.” Additionally, Yukari says more Japanese consumers are willing to purchase products online since the COVID pandemic begun. “This has meant that our online sales are more popular than our physical sales”.
Although Proudly from Africa has achieved much success, it is not without its challenges. Firstly, importing African products into Japan is still quite expensive due to high duty charges and shipping costs. Yukari says, “The absence of FTAs (Free Trade Agreements) or EPAs (Economic Partnership Agreements) means that there are still high barriers to importing African products into Japan. The recent surge in oil prices has also increased freight and shipping costs. It is really challenging right now”. Japan has, in fact, no FTAs and EPAs with any African countries.
Secondly, clearing imported goods at Japan’s Customs is very challenging, especially for non-Japanese speakers. Yukari shared her experience, “It is very difficult if not impossible to clear goods as a non-native speaker. Even as a Japanese person, I had to learn complex jargon and processes to clear our African products.” Both challenges highlighted above mean that African entrepreneurs seeking to enter the Japanese market need to have strong Japanese partners to assist them get their products into Japan.
Proudly from Africa’s success has invaluable lessons for African entrepreneurs trying to grow their brand globally. Firstly, they should not overlook the lucrative luxury goods markets of Japan or China to expand their reach despite the geographical, cultural, or linguistic barriers. There is a growing interest in African products in both China and Japan that they could benefit from. Secondly, for African brands to succeed in these markets, it is important to have a trustworthy local partner, such as Proudly from Africa or Africa Reimagined, to help navigate the complicated processes of importing African products in China or Japan. Thirdly, in a covid era, online purchases have dramatically increased which means that a brand’s online presence is all the more important. To reach more clients in Japan and China, African brands will need to tell their stories through digital content suited for each market.
AR is a China market entry service platform and consultancy for luxury African brands. Visit our website to learn about our services and the brands we work with. Contact us to learn more about how:
– If you’re a China-based business owner or person, how you can connect with our brands and explore business partnerships
– If you’re an African brand, how we can support you with selling in the Chinese market.
Freddy is a research intern in Africa Reimagined. He focuses on Chinese market research and wishes to assist African high-end brands to achieve success in China. He also has interest in international relations. Freddy is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in economics.
Sena Voncujovi is a research and policy analyst at Development Reimagined. Voncujovi specializes in global health issues, Japan-Africa relations, and China-Africa relations. He served as the Editor-in-chief of Peking University’s Africa Think Tank (PATT) during his master’s in International Relations & Politics as a Yenching Scholar. Voncujovi previously advised the Ghanaian government for the 2019 TICAD 7 Conference held in Yokohama. He is the co-founder of Jaspora, Tokyo’s largest community of African diasporan diplomats, changemakers, professionals, students, and business people.
Fikayo Akeredolu is a finance and research analyst at Development Reimagined. She is studying for a PhD in Politics & International Relations at Oxford. Her research focuses on how African countries can better leverage economic and political power. She has experience in financial products from Bloomberg LP and Thomson Reuters. She is also a Schwarzman Scholar.
Yixin is a Junior Research Analyst and her focus areas is on public-private partnership and entrepreneurship. She has over three years of working experience in both private and public sectors in Ethiopia. She was the China Liaison Officer for project ‘Partnership for Investment and Growth in Africa’ at International Trade Centre, where she accumulated rich experience in investment and trade promotion.
Ivory is a Kenyan lawyer with experience in policy research and analysis. She also supports the communications team through liaising with African brands, creating graphic content and other external outputs at AR. Ivory speaks English, Swahili and French
Patrick is an International Trade Policy and Trade Law Expert with over 5 years of experience. His expertise includes trade law, trade policy analysis and regional integration. He is currently engaged with Development Reimagined as a Senior Trade Analyst, and he applies his Trade Policy expertise to AR’s work. Patrick has previously consulted for the East African Community, UNECA and for the Kenya Ministry of Trade.
Jinyu is a dual-degree Master’s student at Sciences Po & Peking University. At Africa Reimagined, Jinyu produces research to foster better mutual understanding between African clients and Chinese consumers.
Yike Fu is a Policy Analyst and has been responsible for leading numerous areas of work, including on debt analysis in Africa and beyond, and China-Africa trade and investment logistics and analysis. She is the co-author of “African Debt Guide”, in which she challenged the narrative that Africa is in the midst of a new debt crisis by analysing data back to the 1970s and adopting new metrics to present the real story behind the data. She also developed a benchmark to compare the financial distribution of development partners such as the UK, US, Japan, France and China in Africa. Prior to her role at DR she worked at the International Finance Corporation and African Union Representational Mission to the US. She holds a Masters in International Affairs from George Washington University.
Rosie is the Project Manager of Africa Reimagined (AR) at Development Reimagined (DR) where she supports high-end African brands with entering the Chinese market by operating services such as trademark protection, Chinese market research, Chinese partnership building, and Africa to China logistical support and import/export services. Rosie has worked with DR for over two years now with proven success in helping high-end African brands navigate the Chinese market. She is extremely passionate about her work because more African brands selling in the Chinese marketplace means African countries can export MORE value-added goods, create MORE jobs and foster MORE innovation in African countries.
Leah Lynch is Deputy Director of Development Reimagined (DR), and head of the China office. Leah has over 10 years of experience in development and has lived in China for over 8 years. Leah has also travelled extensively around Asia and Africa for research. Leah supports the strategic direction of the team across China, with a mission to deliver high quality research on sustainable development and poverty reduction. Leah is also Chair of the Sustainability Forum at the British Chamber of Commerce in China, providing direction on sustainability initiatives for British and Chinese business. Leah has also consulted on various evaluations on UK aid (ICAI) and is a specialist on development cooperation from the UK and China. Leah has also consulted on various UN projects, including providing support to the UN China team during the COVID-19 Pandemic. Prior to DR, Leah was at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) China, supporting the UN’s portfolio on communication strategies, China’s South- South Cooperation and the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Before UNDP, Leah lived and worked in Kenya developing sustainable water policies for the Kenyan government.
Hannah Ryder is the Founder & CEO of Development Reimagined. A former diplomat and economist with 20 years of experience, named one of 100 most influential Africans in 2021, she is also Senior Associate for the Africa Program of the Center for Strategic International Studies (CSIS), sits on the Board of the Environmental Defence Fund, and is a member of UAE’s International Advisory Council on the New Economy. Prior to her role at DR, Ms Ryder led the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)’s work with China to help it scale up and improve its cooperation with other developing countries, including in Africa. She has also played various advisory roles for the UN and OECD and co-authored the seminal Stern Review of the Economics of Climate Change in 2006.
We support our clients throughout the whole onboarding and sales process on Chinese e-commerce platforms including registration, international and China-mainland logistics, storage, payment transfers, and marketing & advertising strategies.
In addition to supporting our clients with onboarding onto e-commerce platforms or developing their own WeChat stores, we also have our own Africa Reimagined e-commerce stores for our clients to sell on.
Kiliselect on WeChat Stores: Africa Reimagined launched on Kiliselect, which is a foremost e-commerce store for premium African products in China and the Chinese branch of East Africa’s Kilimall. It houses brands from a range of sectors including food and beverage, skincare and homeware. Kiliselect is found on WeChat Stores, which gives the store access to 1.2 billion active WeChat users across China.
JD-Worldwide: Next year, Africa Reimagined will open the first ever flagship, pan-Africa e-commerce store for premium African brands on JD-Worldwide, the cross-border e-commerce platform of China’s largest retailer, JD.com. It will sell exclusively luxury African brands from a range of sectors including, fashion and jewellery, food and beverage, skincare. and homeware.