BY Wesley Diphoko 3 MINUTE READ

When lockdown limited commercial activities there were winners and losers. Some businesses were able to trade online locally and to global markets. Most of those businesses that thrived online were mainly established entities. As for informal and mainly township based businesses it was the worst time to run a business. There’s not a single business that operates informally or in a township that has some form of online presence.

This scenario has to change if everyone is to continue to trade despite the hurdles that will come due to another Covid-19 like situation.

For a very long time we’ve known that some businesses ought to have some form of virtual existence. What COVID-19 has shown us is that online presence is critical especially when physical stores are no longer accessible. The recent situation should inspire the creation of market places that will serve the informal and the township economy. Going forward the township economy has to look beyond the township market. Some goods that are manufactured in townships can be exported beyond South Africa shores.

Google tried to create a solution that enabled smme’s to create their own websites but later closed it down. This was a positive effort but needed more focus and attention to really make a difference. Now that there’s no formal platform to serve township economy online, it’s about time that this matter receives the attention it deserves.

In townships there are fashion designers, bakers, painters, upholstery designers, shoemakers and other entrepreneurs whose work can be traded online.

What is lacking is a credible and commercial fair platform that can serve this underserved part of the market.

While is this is a necessary step there’s also a need to be conscious of the stumbling blocks that will come with e-commerce for the township economy. Already we’ve seen the challenges experienced by by Uber eats in serving the the township economy. In some instances some experienced difficulties to enter the township for fear of criminal activities. Recently, we are also witnessing extortion rings rearing their ugly faces. All of these are challenges that should not discourage innovative efforts to modernise the township economy. There’s a need for bold entrepreneurs who can innovate around these issues and deploy solution for this market.

Another challenge that we need to guard against is the tendency of usual suspects closing this space and creating an appearance of a solution. This challenge needs to be solved by people with the skin in the game. Those who feel the pain of not accessing markets, those who understand local conditions. Support from established would be ideal if its coupled with supporting local people to create their own solutions.

Laduma Ngxokolo has shown us that it’s possible to create a local product and sell it to the global market. His insights on producing a product and an online platform to distribute should serve as an inspiration to local creators.

Black Coffee is another great example of a local artist that took a locally produced product and used digital platforms to take it to the world.

Amira Rasool is also on a mission to help African designers to take their place among their American and European counterparts. Four years ago, she launched The Folklore, a marketplace that curates top African designers, like Ahluwalia or Thebe Magugu. But now the company is expanding beyond single item sales, and will soon be unveiling a new platform called The Folklore Connect that makes it easy for retailers to place bulk orders from these designers to get their clothes in front of new customers.

In some ways, Rasool is working to create the kind of luxury conglomerate we’ve seen in Europe and the U.S. The modern luxury industry was born a century ago in Europe as designers like Coco Chanel, Hermes, and Louis Vuitton began making expensive, fashionable clothes. Some luxury brands have become more powerful by consolidating. Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH), for instance, owns 75 luxury brands including Christian Dior and Givenchy. Kering owns Gucci, Balenciaga, and 13 other brands. This has allowed them to invest in building new factories and landing prime real estate. The Folklore is far from achieving LVMH’s scale and Rasool isn’t interested in actually buying any of these companies. Still, Rasool believes that there is a lesson to take from the big fashion conglomerates: there is power in bringing luxury brands together, and sharing resources and logistics