Friday, January 31, 2014

Louis Vuitton in Africa

There are certain things you just don’t expect to see in Africa… snow, sushi, polar bears.  Another thing you don’t really expect to see are high end luxury brands.

Until recently Africa operated on a 100% cash system.  Many places still do.  When I travelled to Uganda I had to pay cash for everything, even my hotel rooms.  Sierra Leone was even more of a challenge because there wasn’t a single ATM in the country.  I was never entirely comfortable when I arrived at the airport (at night, with no electricity) with five thousand dollars stuffed in my pants.
But some of the more prosperous countries have finally begun to adopt credit.  I think I’ve only used an ATM to retrieve cash here in Botswana about half a dozen times because I charge everything.  You can see the repercussions, for better or for worse, in the new homes that people are building and the clothes they wear.

My first week here I attended a conference.  The Post Master was talking about Louis Vuitton.  I was shocked he was familiar with such an expensive brand.  There are no luxury retailers here in Botswana, but people are familiar with certain names from television, celebrities, and availability in South Africa.  The Post Master went on to explain, “I have no idea why they call it Italian leather.  That is a lie.  There is no such thing as Italian leather.  It is Setswana leather.  They don’t raise cows in Italy!  They buy OUR cows and make them into handbags and call them ITALIAN!”
I can’t claim to know the truth about the Italian leather/ Setswana leather debate.  But one thing is for sure, the Batswana like more than Louis Vuitton handbags.  Today I was leaving my office on campus and here was a car sitting in the parking lot:
As you can see it is a Volkswagen (“It is a German car! And they are claiming it is Italian?!”) with Louis Vuitton embellishments.  Make sure you look closely, because even the rims have the LV signature design.  That is definitely one thing I could have never guessed I would see here.


  1. It's also popular to embellish your car with LV in China. I saw counterfeit steering wheel covers, seat covers, and tissue box covers on an old Toyota Camery when I was there. It's very common, and I bet that the aftermarket embellishment on the VW car is not real LV, but just a sticker/ plastic film from an aftermarket car shop. People use it like others would put a bumper sticker on their car. Therefore there is no cognizance of where the car was made, which was actually Mexico (with German engineers and parts coming from all over the world).

    1. Bryce, I know you take your Louis VERY seriously. :)