Start a conversation about personal luxury goods and most automatically think of global brands like Ralph Lauren, Prada, Burberry, Cartier, Louis Vuitton, Chanel, Estée Lauder and of course Tiffany & Co. the inspiration for our name: Caribbean & Co. These global personal luxury goods brands are not about unimaginable wealth but more about taste, quality, and superior craftsmanship. They are expensive but still accessible. Ownership brings about status and for most an immense pleasure.
So what does this mean in a Caribbean context? Well, many of the emerging Caribbean personal luxury goods brands have similar attributes to these global mass luxury brands. However, because they often lack exposure, distribution channels and recognition beyond their own country’s borders, they don’t get the public support in the region never mind on the international stage. As a result, many people in the Caribbean just embrace the global brands who have the marketing power and name recognition.
“…Luxury as a concept has been characteristic in western and eastern civilizations throughout the ages, where boundaries and delimiter have been determined by social classes, elite groupings and the ever changing nuances in the democratization of consumption. Tautologically, Caribbean luxury lifestyle has been rigidly defined by European and North American structures, where the region’s luxury asset classes are dominated by real estate – luxury homes and estates; tourism and hospitality – boutique and luxury hotels, private islands, yachts, fine dining; social and professional cliques, and the general acquisition of foreign consumables – cars, clothing, jewelry, fashion and habits…” Gus Franklyn-Bute, Editor-in-Chief, ACUBIEN
Others have sought to redefine Caribbean Luxury as they contend that luxury is about so much more than flashy designer labels. It is about embracing the precious natural wonder and assets of the region.
“I would define Caribbean luxury as refined tropical living. It is the ability to embrace and appreciate the beauty that abounds in the Caribbean. If you open yourself up and truly experience the warmth and the spirit of the Caribbean and its people from every walk of life, you’ll have a sense of a refined and renewed spirit. If you really want to experience the Caribbean, a spirited concoction of luscious tropical fruits with a splash of your favorite rum will go a long way. Even if it is in a plastic cup!” Meghann Hawes, General Manager, Caribbean Trading Company
“Caribbean Luxury is a deserted white sand beach, perfect warm breezes on your skin, cool sparkling blue waves massaging your legs and tingling your toes. It is also birds flying in clear blue skies singing happily. Having time to think and be without the noise and hustle of urban city life. Luxury is having the space, time, peace and freedom to live in a way where you can appreciate the things that matter to you, not being pressured by the wants of others.” Elizabeth Clayton, Owner, Firefly Hotels
Ideally, Caribbean luxury would be more about what is from the region, but there is really no right or wrong answer as to how to define Caribbean luxury. Ultimately, everyone decides for themselves what luxury should be. It is after all, more about individual circumstances and preferences. That said, there is no denying that travel to many of the extraordinary destinations in the region is a big part of Caribbean luxury. 26.3 million people visited the region in 2014 from Canada, the United States, United Kingdom and further afield. So with this many people visiting, shouldn’t the creative sectors be selling more of their personal luxury products? Shouldn’t we by now have a few regional if not a few international Caribbean personal luxury goods brands?
A recent article via ForbesLife indicates that in 2014, global expenditure on luxury goods amounted to just over US$1.1 trillion. “Personal luxury goods—the ‘core of the core’ of luxury—continue to buoy the market.” In fact, US$278.1 billion was spent on personal luxury goods including perfume, jewelry, clothing, and accessories.
Also, in the latest Luxury Goods Worldwide Market Study from Bain & Company, it was further revealed that many markets now depend on Touristic spending for luxury goods purchases, not just on local consumers. Furthermore “…Chinese consumers now represent the top and fastest-growing nationality for luxury, spending abroad more than three times what they spend locally. Tourists are also increasingly influencing the luxury market in the Americas. With such cross-pollination of luxury spending, it makes less and less sense to think only in terms of location. Instead, the focus is shifting to consumers, with local trends and tastes representing only part of the picture.” Thus, emerging personal luxury goods brands from the Caribbean who have a miniscule share of this market need to up their game. Caribbean personal luxury goods brands need to begin thinking about their “product offerings from a more global perspective, with the concepts of seasons and national boundaries—key pillars of this industry—becoming obsolete.”
The demand by locals for luxury goods may be small, but as already alluded to, millions visit the region each year spending billions — last year alone, US$29.5 billion. The majority of this money was spent on accommodations some of this luxurious though not all Caribbean owned. Thus, a plan of action is needed to generate greater awareness and entice visitors to purchase personal luxury goods from the region. These campaigns should not just target tourists with no connection to the region, but also the Caribbean diaspora many of whom visit each year and total approximately 10 million+ worldwide. The Caribbean diaspora is extremely loyal with many fairly affluent and would make great ambassadors for the region’s emerging luxury goods brands.
To capitalize, each Caribbean personal luxury goods brand needs to do these ten critical things:
1. Continue creating products of a superior standard.
2. Smarten up their branding — logo and design.
3. Register trademarks and domain names if they haven’t already done so.
4. Ensure that their company website is robust — ideally one with e-commerce functionality.
5. Improve packaging so that it meets and exceeds the requirements for target international markets.
6. Have production and manufacturing systems in place to meet growing demands.
7. Hire and train staff with a view to providing excellent customer service online as well as in person.
8. Engage in public relations and content marketing strategies on their website and through other credible sources to increase visibility.
9. Attend region and international shows to market and promote their products.
10. Strengthen existing partnerships and develop new ones. Going Global is a team effort!
The above are necessary as luxury is aspirational, and so consumers need to be drawn in with stellar branding and quality for the premium price being charged. Also, marketing and promotions is necessary as no one is going to seek out a brand while on holiday in the Caribbean if they don’t know it exists. Furthermore, there is no point doing public relations or attending regional and international shows if you won’t be able to meet increasing demands or if there is no functional website in place — this is your global shop window. Thus having a presence on social media sites like Facebook is not enough. The algorithms are constantly changing, and brands have limited control. A functional website is the better option as it allows for better storytelling about the brand and actually selling the products. It is not a nice to have but a necessity to push. Finally, stellar customer service is part of the experience that customer expect with dealing with a luxury brand. Thus the retail experience needs to be flawless.
Beyond the efforts by the brands themselves, professional and development agencies like the Caribbean Export Development Agency need to better ensure that the brands they work with have a solid business plan for regional and international expansion. Also, these agencies need to better coordinate their efforts with the tourism boards moving beyond the simple message of sun, sand and sea which is no longer unique. The region has so much more to offer than this. Visitors need to be further encouraged to spend time beyond the beaches to visit museums, art galleries, heritage sites, historical landmarks and take part in cultural, musical or sporting events. Also, they should be encouraged to shop, not just for beach and roadside trinkets, but at high-end boutiques and markets where they can then purchase these emerging Caribbean personal luxury goods; many with rich cultural lineage and heritage.