The Going Global Series [PT1]: How Azza Fahmy set foot in London and Los Angeles

Photo courtesy of Azza Fahmy website

Azza Fahmy has established itself as one of the most original and significant jewelry brands in Egypt. Authenticity has been deep-rooted in the brand ever since it started decades ago, with minute details varying in each piece of jewelry.

Last year, the family business started its journey of expansion in western markets with a London store. Earlier this year, the brand also opened a pop-up shop in the United States (US) in Los Angeles’ high-end Beverly Hills neighborhood.

Business Forward speaks to managing director Fatma Ghaly to catch a glimpse of how a local brand can expand, the challenges Azza Fahmy faced and what Egyptian businesses could learn from this expansion.

Besides jewelry, the brand of Azza Fahmy also sells culture. How do you “sell” this culture in a foreign market?
Consumers internationally – and especially a certain segment of consumers that we call cultural connoisseurs – are very interested in different cultures, not just their own. Above that, Egypt, and ancient Egypt in specific, is very appealing to people. It has that luster and heritage. People want to know the story. What we sell is not only restricted to the Egyptian culture, but rather global cultures. However, the Egyptian edge makes it appealing.

How would you advise Egyptian businesses to go global?
I think initially, they need to master their own market. Then, I would say, one needs to study very well where they want to go and do a lot of research and tests in those markets they are targeting.

It is really crucial to understand the other culture. The rules of the game and the market in Cairo are completely different than a market in London, which is completely different than Paris, which is completely different than Los Angeles. Each market has its own dynamics.

The other thing we believe in at Azza Fahmy is collaborations and partnerships. This includes finding the right people to work with in these markets. These people are already there and they already understand the market. This adds value to your operation and helps you succeed.

Why did you choose to set foot in London and the US as your first foreign markets?
We are a brand that does not come from what you call the luxury or fashion capitals of the world, like Paris, Milan, London and New York. You need to make it there to be able to expand globally and to be able to say that you are a true player in the market. For us, the choice of the United Kingdom (UK) was due to personal ties that we have in the country. We have also been investing heavily in the market through partnerships and collaborations for quite some time. It was the natural progression to take our first step internationally in London. However, Los Angeles came as an opportunity as we were approached for a certain location. The US is one of the biggest markets in the world for luxury products and it made sense to explore it through a place like Beverly Hills where trendsetters come from. It was a natural fit for that to be our next growth step.

How easy is it to penetrate these markets?
It is very difficult and takes time; otherwise, everyone else would have done it. Especially in a market like London, there are thousands of brands going into the market everyday and not everyone stays. What makes it hard to crack is high competition and cost of entry. What makes London important is that the customer is there – people abroad also have a disposable income to invest in jewelry. The question is how do you stand out and and how do you present something different?

How is the brand performing abroad?
We are getting very positive feedback from both London and the US. People love the brand, the craftsmanship and the story behind the brand. Our main success element is very creative, unique designs with a story to tell.

What are your coming expansion plans?
We do not think we are done in London, yet. Expanding further and really setting ourselves stable in that market is key to us now, so we are very focused on London. The US as a pop-up shop is not a permanent thing – it is a three-month location with a possible short-term extension. However, it was a good test for us in the American market.

The Going Global Series highlights how Egyptian startups and companies set foot in foreign markets. Stay tuned for more stories!

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