“You can have a lot of money and still not understand luxury” he asserts, as a matter of fact. Meet Mandla Holomisa, a former luxury beverages merchant with a natural flair for luxury brands.
Listening to him unpack the world of luxury drinks you don’t get any sense that he was once at the door step of doing a Financial Accounting degree when his sister gave him a VEGA brochure, effectively taking his career trajectory in a completely different direction.
After completing his copywriting training at VEGA, Mandla was thrust into the South African world of luxury brands at a rather exciting time. “Brands were starting to realize that they had to speak and sell themselves to the black consumer” he says. Starting out, he found himself cast into the deep end, at a time when single malt brands were moving from the top of the cupboard to the table to be enjoyed every other day. It was a time when indulgence had stopped being a privilege and it had become a statement. From those exciting early days his star has been on a constant ascent.
After years in the luxury drinks trade, Mandla recently decided to move on and established his own consulting firm called M H Worldwide, a name denoting his insatiable global ambition as well as the appreciation that whilst luxury is consumed locally, it must be understood from a global context.
He lets me in on an exciting adventure he is currently busy with as a consultant for Opera House. Opera House will be opening a members only private club in Sandton, Johannesburg around June 2019. Without divulging a lot of information about the project Mandla informs me that he was basically brought on board to assist with forging corporate and luxury partnerships for the events series which will be tailored for clients and potential clients.
How does your personal style influence your work? I ask, and without hesitation, he quickly tells me that he believes that in order to be effective in selling any brand, there has got to be a strong connection between what you say and what you look like! “Luxury brand consumers are facetious like that”, he says, rather emphatically. Whilst maintaining an appreciation of the fact that any luxury drink is ultimately a statement in and of itself, Mandla believes that “we need to stop expecting appreciation for being sophisticated. It is what we ought to be!” Talk about a perfect confluence between who the man is and what he does. I am not sure why I found this surprising but it was interesting to note that whilst he clearly enjoys what he does, he places a lot of emphasis on discipline. “To be successful in any career or endeavour, discipline is of utmost importance, selling luxury beverages is no exception, despite it having a lot to do with creativity and strategy.” This is followed by the reminder that as a son of a soldier, discipline is almost innate!
TGA: So who is Mandla Holomisa?
Mandla: Ndingu Mgebe, uNgaleka, uMduduma! Simply speaking, I see myself as a young man who has had the privilege of seeing the world and being exposed to a lot of life!
TGA: What is your assessment of the current state of the luxury market in South Africa?
Mandla: As South Africans we have tended to catch on to luxury and luxury brands pretty late. We tend to be more reactive than pioneering. We are however currently seeing an era of nostalgia brands, brands like Fila and Kappa are seeing a strong resurgence!
In the global context, Africa is the last frontier of luxury brands, and South Africa is a particularly exciting territory! America and Europe have hit the ceiling, so to speak, and we present volume and we are impressionable. So as South Africans we still have a lot of room for luxury brands because we still need to know a lot more.
TGA: What makes a brand a luxury brand?
Mandla: Mystery and a great story are the keys to luxury brands. For example, the founder of Hermes used to make horse saddles and now it’s a global luxury brand. Another interesting example is Veuve Cliquot, which is named after a widow who had been married to the founder of the champagne house. The famous yellow on the Verve bottle was developed to differentiate the brut champagne in a time when most champagnes on the shelf were demi secs and has white labels.
TGA: What is your definition of the modern gentleman?
The modern gentleman needs to be a gentleman first. That informs how you relate to women, elders and how you carry yourself. The modern gentleman is a gentleman, period.