Who We Are?
“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.