Lulu Shabell Is Championing African Luxury On The Global Stage.


Lulu Shabell is a visionary leader and trailblazer in the world of creative industries and social entrepreneurship, with nearly three decades of professional service.  

As the Founder and CEO of LULUBELL Group, she has created a consulting firm that offers  bespoke solutions to African luxury brands seeking to expand their businesses globally while  contributing to the economic development of the African continent. Since its inception three  years ago, LULUBELL Group has become a powerhouse, providing exposure, building  capacity and offering direct market access to over fifty talented fashion and accessories brands  from more than twenty African countries. 

Lulu’s exceptional ability to bring people and ideas together has enabled her to forge strategic  partnerships with prestigious organizations such as Portugal Fashion and Afreximbank,  resulting in the creation of the CANEX Presents Africa @ Portugal Fashion Week program,  which she conceptualised and directs. This biannual showcase in Porto places African  designers on the main runway calendar, providing them with access to manufacturing and  textile production facilities in Portugal. The participating designers also benefit from a  customised mentorship program on the business of fashion, facilitated by renowned  international industry experts in brand management, e-commerce, production, supply chain and  finance. 

Lulu and her partners played a vital role in establishing a partnership with the TRANOÏ  international fashion trade show in Paris. The goal of this partnership is to extend the reach of  the fashion industry and provide greater access to the market for industry professionals. It  works to provide African designers with a dedicated suite in the exhibition, ensuring they have  direct access to international wholesale buyers and sales opportunities. The current cohort of  20 designers have handled over 1,000,000 Euros in sales since the launch of the first exhibition  in October 2022. 

Lulu and Armando Cabral collaborated to curate the Mercado project at Rockefeller Center in  New York City, featuring emerging and established African fashion, accessories, and art  designers. This annual pop-up store that launched in September 2002, complements Cabral’s  eponymous label and showcases a diverse array of African talent. 

Lulu is a sought-after speaker on the subject of Africa’s creative and cultural  industries, frequently sharing her insights at pan-African and international events. Prior to her  entrepreneurship journey, she gained valuable experience working with several leading global  luxury hospitality groups, including Kempinski, Marriott, Mövenpick, and Serena Hotels, as  well as with the United Nations. 

Lulu is a polyglot and a global citizen, having lived and worked across three continents and  visited over 55 countries worldwide. Her extensive network is dedicated to championing  Africa’s positive image transformation. With an MBA from the European University, a  Bachelor of Science degree from the University of Wales, and a Bachelor of Science in  Hospitality and Tourism Management from the prestigious Glion Institute of Higher Education  in Switzerland, Lulu is well-equipped to lead the charge for Africa’s creative economy.

In this inspiring interview, she takes us through her journey of redefinfing what African fashion luxury means and how strategic partnerships has been a base for this. Read and Be Inspired!

If you could describe yourself in a few sentences, in your own words, who would you say you are?

It’s truly an honour to be considered for the spotlight on Leading Ladies. I deeply appreciate this opportunity to connect with your audience and hopefully inspire fellow creatives to pursue their dreams. My name is Lulu Shabell. While I live in Switzerland, my African roots extend to Ethiopia, Somalia, and Tanzania. I draw inspiration from the diverse places I’ve been and the lived experiences that has afforded me. I am multi-passionate and multi-hyphenate individual driven by diverse interests and have lots of energy! With over three decades of experience in hospitality, tourism, and the United Nations, and more recently as the founder and Chief Creativity Champion at Lulubell Group, my life’s purpose revolves around empowering and uplifting others to pursue their passions and make meaningful contributions to society. I also cherish my best role yet, as a mother to my teenage son.

Your current focus on building the capacity of African luxury product manufacturers is intriguing. How do you envision the intersection between creativity and business acumen in driving growth and sustainability in this sector?

Thank you for asking this critical question. The fashion industry isn’t just about showcasing creativity; it’s a dynamic business with the potential to drive prosperity across our continent. At its core, success lies in the synergy between creativity and business acumen, crucial for driving growth and sustainability in the industry. Creativity sparks innovation, enabling designers to craft unique and beautiful products that resonate with consumers. However, it’s the strategic application of business acumen that transforms these creative designs into sustainable business ventures.

Fashion design must be complemented by robust business strategies to effectively penetrate the market, efficiently manage resources, and generate revenue. This encompasses various aspects such as branding, marketing, supply chain optimization, pricing, distribution, and financial management. These strategies empower designers to identify market opportunities, understand consumer preferences, and develop products that align with evolving demands. 

In the fashion industry, access to adequate financing often poses a significant challenge. Yet, upon closer scrutiny of demand, it becomes evident that brands may not necessarily require the funding they assume. Instead, the critical need often lies in enhancing capacity and capabilities related to systems and processes. Strengthening these foundational elements provides a clearer understanding of funding needs. Establishing robust systems and processes not only lays the groundwork for scalability but also empowers businesses to build and sustain their enterprises while ensuring profitability.

The fashion industry in Africa is evolving rapidly and people are more open to some fashion items that were not acceptable years ago, what do you think made the difference?

I’m glad you’ve noticed! I think the rapid evolution of Africa’s fashion industry can be attributed to several factors. Firstly, the mainstream popularity of afrobeat music, coupled with advancements in technology and the rise of social media, has significantly influenced people’s fashion preferences and encouraged experimentation with new styles. These developments have not only boosted the visibility of African fashion but have also made it more accessible to wider markets.

Moreover, the growing prominence of African designers and influencers on the global stage has further normalized African fashion, appealing to a broader audience. Alongside this trend, there is a noticeable resurgence in the proud connection that Africans and the diaspora have with their heritage and culture. While international brands have often drawn inspiration from Africa and its abundant resources, the continent is now positioned to be the epitome of creativity and culture.

Furthermore, there is a growing trend towards mindful fashion consumption, with consumers increasingly conscious of the environmental and social impact of their purchases. This shift has led to a rising demand for ethically produced and sustainable fashion, emphasizing the importance of cultural representation and social and environmental activism within African fashion. This positions African fashion as the ultimate frontier in the industry.

As someone deeply committed to growth through partnerships, what do you see as the key ingredients for successful collaborations, particularly in the context of empowering fashion designers in Africa?

I firmly believe in the power of collaboration and partnerships, guided by the adage ‘if you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.’ Building the nascent African fashion sector necessitates partnerships with designers, manufacturers, financial institutions, policymakers, and international sales platforms. Like any ecosystem, these partnerships require several key ingredients.

Firstly, a shared vision, alignment, and commitment to the partnership’s objectives are essential. Secondly, trust and transparency are crucial, as they foster open communication and honesty, enabling effective decision-making and problem-solving. Thirdly, complementary skills and resources are vital; each partner brings unique expertise, networks, and resources to the table, maximizing impact when combined.

Fourthly, a commitment to inclusivity and diversity is essential. Collaborations that embrace diverse perspectives lead to innovative solutions and empower a broader range of creatives along the fashion value chain. Finally, a long-term perspective and flexibility are key. Partnerships require time to develop and adapt to changing circumstances, necessitating flexibility to recalibrate and seize new opportunities along the way.

Can you share some insights into the challenges you’ve encountered while working towards your vision, and how you’ve overcome them to keep pushing forward?

Absolutely, facing challenges is an integral part of any worthwhile pursuit, and I’ve encountered my fair share! Championing a vision that demands tangible proof of its viability before securing support and investment is no easy task, especially in an industry where perception often overshadows reality. Convincing stakeholders of the inherent value and significance of the fashion industry as a viable conduit for prosperity is a daunting challenge, further compounded by the scarcity of adequate funding to broaden our reach and impact.

It’s also crucial to acknowledge that success often requires time and patience. Many iconic heritage brands have taken centuries to establish themselves, underscoring the importance of adopting a long-term perspective. Despite these inevitable challenges, I remain steadfast in my commitment to progress. I’ve learned to navigate these obstacles by placing God in the driver’s seat, seeking guidance from like-minded individuals, and consistently adapting my approach. The unwavering support of my circle of friends and allies has been invaluable on this journey. Keeping our focus on the positive outcomes of our efforts serves as a powerful source of motivation during challenging times. Ultimately, witnessing the tangible impact of our programs fuels my determination to continue pursuing our vision.

Your dedication to championing Africa’s positive image transformation is inspiring. How do you believe women can contribute to reshaping the narrative of Africa on a global scale, and what initiatives do you believe are crucial in achieving this?

Thank you for your kind words. I know a lot of women who are actively contributing to reshaping Africa’s narrative. It starts with owning our story and identity, embracing our diverse cultural heritage and history. Through a commitment to excellence, we challenge stereotypes and elevate the global perception of African talent. By actively engaging in leadership and decision-making, we advocate for positive change that benefits society as a whole. Collectively, I have seen it achieved through different ways:

  • Amplifying Diverse Voices: Through platforms such as yours, women continue to share their stories, experiences, and perspectives, showcasing the diversity, resilience, and innovation across the continent. By highlighting these achievements and contributions of African women in various fields, we can challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about our continent.
  • Leading by Example: Women leaders across various sectors, including business, politics, academia, and the arts, serve as inspiring role models, particularly for other women and the youth, encouraging them to pursue their dreams and aspirations fearlessly. With an increasing number of women taking on prominent political positions and leading major corporations, they exemplify excellence, professionalism, and integrity in their respective fields. Through their actions, they contribute to reshaping perceptions of Africa and its people for the better.
  • Promoting Collaboration and Partnerships: Collaboration is key. By forming partnerships among ourselves and with a diverse range of stakeholders—such as governments, civil society, the private sector, and the media—we can effectively address shared challenges and capitalize on opportunities for development and progress.
  • Advocating for Change: Women can advocate for policies and initiatives that promote gender equality, social inclusion, and sustainable development. By speaking out against discrimination, injustice, and inequality, they can influence decision-makers and shape the agenda for change.
  • Engaging in Cultural Diplomacy: Women in the arts, culture, and creative industries have a unique opportunity to showcase African culture, heritage, and identity on a global scale. Through various mediums like music, film, literature, and fashion, they can foster social cohesion and promote cross-cultural understanding.

In your opinion, what are the key challenges facing women entrepreneurs in Africa today, and how can initiatives like yours help address these challenges?

Through our work, we have encountered the same generic challenges facing women entrepreneurs in Africa today, which include limited access to finance and capital, cultural and societal barriers, lack of access to markets and networks, and inadequate support systems for business development and growth. The fashion industry has the potential to empower women entrepreneurs by addressing these challenges and creating an enabling environment where they can thrive and contribute to economic development and social progress in Africa.  Through our programs with Portugal Fashion Week and the trade shows with Tranoï, we have been able to contribute towards this by:

  • Supporting Skill Development: through our initiatives, we offer mentorship, capacity and capability building programs focused on business skills, manufacturing and production, marketing, and sales, empowering entrepreneurs with the knowledge and expertise to succeed in the global industry.
  • Creating Market Opportunities: Via partnerships, we have programs that facilitate access to domestic and international markets through platforms such as trade fairs, exhibitions, e-commerce platforms, and collaborations with retailers, enabling brands to showcase and sell their products to international markets.
  • Building Supportive Networks: Over the past three years, we’ve established a network and community of entrepreneurs, facilitating collaboration, peer learning, and exposure. We have been able is to cultivate a supportive ecosystem where women can mutually benefit from shared resources, ideas, and experiences.

Looking ahead, what are your hopes and aspirations for the future of women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship in Africa, and how do you envision your role in shaping that future?

Looking ahead, my hopes and aspirations for the future of women’s empowerment and entrepreneurship in Africa are focused on creating a supportive environment where women, especially in the creative sector and fashion industry, have equal opportunities to thrive and excel. I envision a future where women across the continent are empowered to lead businesses, drive innovation, and contribute to sustainable development.

In shaping this future, I see myself as a catalyst for change, working to establish programs and initiatives that provide women entrepreneurs with access to the resources and opportunities they need to succeed. I am committed to breaking down barriers to women’s economic participation and providing mentorship, guidance, and support to aspiring female creative entrepreneurs.

Additionally, I am dedicated to fostering collaboration and partnerships within the creative sector, amplifying the voices of women and youth entrepreneurs, and celebrating their achievements. By championing diversity, inclusion, and women’s leadership, I believe we can build a brighter future where women are at the forefront of driving economic growth, social progress, and innovation in Africa’s fashion and creative industries.

What are your 5 favorite fashion items, things you can’t do without?

Haha, why limit it to just five things? But if I had to narrow it down, here are the essentials:

  • My Smile: It’s my ultimate fashion accessory, accompanying me wherever I go and whatever the occasion.
  • A Classic White Shirt: A wardrobe staple that never goes out of style, effortlessly versatile for any outfit.
  • A Stylish Kimono: Perfect for layering over any ensemble, adding a touch of elegance and flair.
  • A Luxurious Silk Scarf: Ideal for adding a pop of colour or pattern to elevate any look, versatile and chic.
  • A Quality Handbag: My go-to for carrying the world with me, accompanied by beautifully crafted shoes to keep me grounded.


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