You might have read that the future growth of the global fashion market lies in Africa, thanks to a vast population that is increasingly looking towards western fashion trends and brands willing to buy their products in certain countries. One of these nations is South Africa, where its capital city Johannesburg has been home to the most relevant urban- and streetwear tradeshow on the whole continent in the last five years: STR.CRD. Its holistic approach to lifestyle, mixing up fashion, music, art and food attracts the crème de la crème of South Africa’s street crew and also international brands with expansion aims in the region. Among the show exhibitors, there are names such as New Era, Reebok, Vans and Asics. In order to get to know a bit more about local consumers and what non-African brands should do in order to conquer the continent, we chatted with STR.CRD founder and creative director Hardy McQueen, a journalism-graduate whose successful concept is going to be implemented in Nairobi (Kenya) next year. Interview by Lorenzo Molina

With special focus on South Africa; are there a "black" and a "white" streetwear culture, do brands/artists/bands address either or? Is the racial topic still a topic after all when it comes to street fashion?
I would say "yes" to your question. There's definitely a divide between "black" or "white" streetwear. Admittedly these stereotypes are starting to breakdown and merge into one succinct cultural experience. During Apartheid we had economic sanctions but what goes unmentioned is the 'Cultural Apartheid' that our country went through and as a result, our cultural experience from a global standpoint is finding its feet and identity. South Africa is a young country with plenty to learn and experience, the best analogy I've used before is that we are experiencing what the rest of the urban culture world went through in the 90's and early 00's. Brands are seeing urban culture as an important message to use to engage with their relevant audience. In the same manner we as STR.CRD are also learning how to create platforms and opportunities for these brands in our market and through a greater extension in the rest of the continent.

How is streetwear developing in South Africa? What about other African nations?
Streetwear has undergone phenomenal growth over the last 5 years in South Africa and the rest of the continent. Through greater exposure to brands and ideas online, we've experienced growth in local and regional brands. I would identify key countries being South Africa, Kenya, Angola, Ghana and Nigeria.

What are the unique characteristics of South African consumers that Occidental brands should be aware of when settling down here?
The African consumers are very savvy in their brand choices. I would not say that we have unique characteristics, my feeling is that our consumers have the same needs and wants as any other in various regions globally, i.e. product quality, product/brand positioning, coolness factor. Like anywhere else we have pride in our locally produced brands, this pride however needs to translate into greater sales.

Various industry insiders talk about Africa as the next big market for global fashion players. What’s your opinion on this?
I wholeheartedly agree that we are the next big thing. Brands however need to understand that you cannot do this via remote control. Similarly brands need to be in a position to create hyper local campaigns that resonate with the local consumer. The worst thing to do is to implement the same campaigns from Europe, America or Asia directly into Africa without the various nuances that exist from country to country. Most brands exist in here via distributors, there can be no growth conducting business in the same way it’s always been. The brands who make the commitment to be on the ground are the ones who will start seeing results the soonest.

Does Africa still have some homework to do in order to make this happen? What are your recipes for success?
Yes for sure there's homework to be done. If we expect brands to commit to being on the ground, the conditions need to be conducive to doing great business. I refer to matters around importing, transportation and various other logistics that need to be consistent and safe. However these things can't happen in a vacuum, there needs to be dialogue between all parties to understand the needs and I guess that's where we fit in. I'm a firm believer in creating the right conditions for conversation that achieves results. The old ways of working on implementing brands in new territories won’t work here, we need to develop new models around ROI (Return on Investment), new methods of building brand equity after all T.I.A (This Is Africa)

The upcoming edition of STR.CRD is only a few months away. What’s going to be new?
We've looked at our local market and needed to create greater collaboration with our local vertical brands. Seeing what has happened with shows globally, if we don’t engage these brands in a serious manner we risk losing out as market leaders. In addition to this its greater access to the whole value chain on the business. Traditionally South Africa has had a stronger supplier base, due to varying factors we want to create realignment with these companies. Knowing that you can create and manufacture a globally accepted product on your doorstep goes a long way for greater confidence in product and brand.

What strategies are you following in order to increase the internationality of the show?
Over the last 7 months we've undergone a rebrand and repositioning in the market across the continent and globally. The 1st step for us however has not changed; we need to create the convenience for brands to attend the show as a 'soft landing' on the continent. It’s up to us to show brands that Africa is a viable location for business and sales. No doubt most people have read how young the continent is but few know how to implement proven strategies to enter this market. Similarly there’s a difference to launching in South Africa to launching in Kenya. With all this in mind we will be offering brands 'Trend Safaris' through our environment in South Africa and the opportunity to tour with us in other countries across the continent.

You will be producing a new sister show in Nairobi (Kenya) next year. Can you share some details with us?
It has always been our intention since launching in 2010 to take the show across the continent. We will be launching the Nairobi edition during tradeshow season in January, so look to have more details then.