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- 16 Jul 2010
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Matt Morley, Brand Strategist and Co-Founder, SALA


How a change in location led to a big shift in luxury thinking

CAPE TOWN– Since relocating to South Africa two years ago, Matt Morley’s attitude to luxury has fundamentally altered, both as an industry professional and a consumer. This is partly due to luxury’s ongoing identity crisis, he says, but he doesn’t discount the influence of his experiences in South Africa.

A luxury strategist, Morley made the move from London when his company, Luxury Branding, relocated in search of new opportunities in a burgeoning market and he soon became involved in setting up the South African Luxury Association (SALA).

Although there are two prominent pockets of wealth in Cape Town and Johannesburg, Morley says living in a developing economy with one of the highest poverty gaps in the world has caused him to rethink the hackneyed view on luxury as one characterised by excess and indulgence. He has increasingly felt the need for a more meaningful explanation for its existence. Morley found what he was looking for in the industry’s hidden value system, in craftsmanship, authenticity, product quality and superior customer service. Defined in this way, he says, luxury is no longer confined to the pristine pavements of Paris’ rue Saint-Honoré. Far from it in fact, he believes it can just as easily be found in a dusty workshop on the edge of Lake Como or even in a showroom at the foot of Table Mountain.

After cutting his teeth advising clients such as Armani Hotels, One&Only Resorts and the Dorchester Collection, Morley divides his time between a strategist’s role at Luxury Branding and his responsibilities as commercial director for SALA. As the luxury association is a non-profit organisation he says that the strategy has been to keep membership fees accessible for the local market, despite the considerable, but inevitable, start-up costs in year one. One of the biggest challenges in the South African luxury market is the severe lack of consumer data, something that Morley found out the hard way during his research review for SALA. There is a lot of talk here about an emerging middle-class – circa three million black professionals – but he believes that the consumer group is still a way off from attaining true luxury consumer status. On the upside he says, Johannesburg is developing into a regional shopping hub of considerable importance for luxury brands and, as a result, local entrepreneurs have been rushing to bring in big name brands such as Fendi, Shanghai Tang and Loewe. The influx of international brands to the market is helping to create and finesse the local luxury market for nascent SA brands.

In terms of large-scale, international brand definition and identity projects, the kind that was in abundance pre-crisis, things are slowly showing signs of improvement but he says it’s going to take time to get back to where he was before.

For Morley, he hopes the future holds an opportunity to practice what he preaches by taking some of his own luxury concepts to the SA market – but only when the time is right.