« Panafropolitan », Swaady Martin Leke, former director of Sub-Saharan Africa of General Electric, could have had a brilliant career. Yet she left everything to investment… in tea. In 2011, she created Yswara, a brand of refined tea. She contributes to changing the image of Africa abroad, by offering a luxury product.
Swaady Martin Leke defines herselft as a « panafropolitan ». Born in Côte d’Ivoire, a Franco-Ivorian-Guinean mother and an American-German-British father, she grew up in Liberia and Senegal, before going to high school in France and the United Kingdom. Graduated from a Swiss business school, she married a Cameroonian and went to work for ten years in Europe, the United States and on the African continent. An openness on the world that she knows how to use.
« Yswara wants to be the missing link between craftsmanship and luxury in Africa »
Former director for sub-Saharan Africa General Electric, an American company, Swaady, had a brilliant career in front of her, when, in 2011, it operates a 180 ° turn. « I decided to do something very different to showcase African resources, cultures and identities. My dream was to capture true African luxury, change the perception of the world on the continent and propose a brand of luxury, truly African in its origins, nature and tradition. My career has given me the opportunity to acquire the necessary skills, but also the sense of responsibility, not to mention the network, to start my own business and attain my dream ».
Thus was born Yswara. The concept is based on the idea of creating tea and high value-added tea products from the wealth of Africa. « I chose the luxury industry because it transmits cultures and identities. When you buy a luxury product, you define yourself in relation to this product. The continent is too often considered a place of goods of poor quality and lack of refinement. We can do more than produce homemade and “ethnic” trinkets.
Yswara envisions to be the missing link between craftsmanship and luxury in Africa. « The first pop-up shop opened in early 2013 at Hyde Park in Johannesburg. « We exceeded our 2012 annual target of 100% in just two months! Our brand has been extremely well received by both African consumers and the international market. In June 2013, we introduced Yswara in France».
« I decided to be a leader and promised to go beyond stereotypes »
Yswara campaigns, through her business, for « an African renaissance ». « Developments of our time call for an emergence of the continent. A renaissance from within. It is time to regain our individual and collective power to live our best lives. If we want to change the world, we have to start by ourselves ».
When you ask her the simple question of where Swaady Martin Leke comes from, you will get a complex answer. « I do not belong to any particular place, but I feel at home in many places. My different origins, backgrounds, my marriage and my career connect me to several continents and cultures. Embodied Diversity! I am a global citizen. Since my childhood, my classmates had been troubled, they could not classify me. It was therefore very early that I had to ask myself whether my diversity would be a handicap or a blessing. I decided to be a leader and promised to go beyond stereotypes. »
Restore value to the African genius
With Yswara, she brings together two of her passions: Africa and tea. With a particularity, her products are part of a qualitative up-market. Her way of helping to promote a continent that suffers from clichés. « I decided to create Yswara for several reasons. Firstly, by the frustration that Africa is the world’s largest exporter of tea and its third largest producer, but only 5 to 10% of the added value of packaged tea is retained in Africa. With Yswara, we retain 90% of value added in Africa. In addition, passionate about the continent, I wanted to create a company that preserves and promotes African cultural heritage, the richness of our history and our know-how. I am convinced that Africans must establish new codes, drawing inspiration from African refinement and creating products that move away from the somewhat tribal and often caricatured image of today’s African crafts. We must not forget that Africa has its own history and a rich tradition of refinement, such as sumptuous Ashanti gold jewelry, Kente fabrics, complex embroidery of Senegalese boubous or the delicate lace of Benin. The wealth of African know-how is undeniable. At Yswara, our luxury is proudly made in Africa. Our alchemy is based on the addition of an African essence, a contemporary aestheticism and an international diffusion. Finally, it is important for me to support our talented artisans, especially women and small businesses by allowing them to express their creativity through an international platform. Moreover, the Yswara team is composed exclusively of African women, and 75% of our suppliers are companies owned or run by women ».
Today, while a favorable wind is blowing over Africa, Swaady is more than ever bit on her continent. « Africa is booming and represents a huge business opportunity. To date, seven of the world’s ten fastest-growing economies are in Africa. On the other hand, a powerful middle class is emerging. One of Yswara’s missions is to meet the expectations of this new category and to take up the challenge of offering the world of luxury products that are essentially African ».