Shopping for fashion has never been more exciting as the internet has made it convenient and fun. What's even more interesting is that African fashion can be bought online from any part of the world, just sit in front of your computer, bank card ready and off you go with deliveries straight to your door step. The online shopping buzz has taken a major leap in the past year, gone are the days when you have to figure out how you can get clothes from African designers.
African fashion is at the centre of the world and some young fashion conscious entrepreneurs are taking advantage of the boom. We speak to three major African online retailers; Fully–Charged- a brand specialised in making t-shirts with emblazoned words expressing individuality and heritage. Though inspired by Nigeria, Fully-Charged has now expanded beyond the African continent, its tees are now worn across the world. MyAsho- a retailer that promotes talents within African designers with the hope of becoming a one-stop-store for all that is African. Agnes and Lola- only just launched in August 2010. A and L as it is popularly called carries designs of young talents from all over Africa.
These young African entrepreneurs are breaking boundaries with their online retail outlets. Adam Sada of Fully-Charged, Dolapo Shobanjo of My Asho and Lola Remi of A and L all have something in common; retailing and promoting Africa fashion online. Onobello.com explores different aspects of this new buzz sweeping from the continent.
African fashion has become contemporary and has a huge impact globally with premier designers in the likes of LAMB, Diane von Frustenberg and Marc Jacobs using African prints in their collections, which have all been well received in the fashion industry. Accomplishments like these make one proud to be African in the fashion industry today. Pride is something Remi identifies with “as an African, I am proud of my culture and feel that we should celebrate it so much more than we do and expose the global fashion industry to it- not just be influenced by the Western world, but to also influence it”. The continent is richly blessed with a variety of traditional fabrics rich in colour from Ankara, Batik, to Khanga prints and Aso oke that express our heritage. For Sada, it was getting a suitable brand name for the Fully-Charged label. He wanted something that reflected what the brand is about and easy for people remember. Sada believes that whatever in life anyone does, its best they are fully charged for it, “like a battery that operates at its optimum level when charged”. African designers have been creating beautiful pieces for a long time and the beauty of the African fashion industry is that it is relatively untapped, as it has not yet been industrialised compared to countries like China, according to Shobanjo of MyAsho “African pieces are unique as they are mostly handmade with a certain value attached to them. In this day and age, it is a luxury to have pieces handmade and even tailor made to suit you, that is where the term “affordable luxury” that relates to the brand comes from”.
A lot of things inspired these online retailers; one was to see the development of the fashion industry across Africa from actual production to finished goods. According to Remi, she wants Africa to move away from the culture of importing our traditional fabrics in bulk from overseas and rather invest in ourselves and develop the industry. Sada inspiration on the other hand was that he noticed a gap in the market as people only wore t-shirts that celebrated their identities during sporting and independence celebrations and not on a day-to-day basis due to the poor quality of the shirts. “I thought of using quality, durable and fashionable slim fit t-shirts. Fully-Charged started by focussing around word play and the quickest way to get out there was to launch around food. When you see a person wearing one of the t-shirts you instantly recognise that there is more as it ties in to a part of the world. True ID line- the identity range of are based around national identity and the Supafly Inc line- centred on the artist Supafly’s vision that harmonizes and expresses the artist through a mash-up of Dance, Hip-Hop, Reggae, Funk and Indie, which Sada and his business partner Mykey Ammah is looking to expand and identify with other artists. For Shobanjo, it was having a one-stop store where one could get pieces from their favourite African designers. She says as an African living in the UK, she always had to ask someone back home to go to a specific flagship store to get pieces from which is one of the reasons she started MyAsho, to be able to provide global access to popular African designers. According to Shobanjo, the initial idea started in 2008, with a dress she wanted from a fashion show she had seen on television but had no idea how to get it.
This line of business has challenges that affect it being that most part of it is done in Africa. In Nigeria, one of the biggest issues is lack constant electricity, which increases production costs. In some other parts of Africa, it is the political instability that hinders smooth production. Remi believes Africa as a continent is only in the baby stages and we will eventually get somewhere better, she is inspired by African designers Lalesso and Mar y sol who have set up established ethical production units in Kenya and Madagascar as it only shows that proper fashion production can be done out of Africa. Dolapo believes the challenges she is facing in running MyAsho is what comes with the territory as every business has their challenges meaning she tackles each on as they come up. Sada's main concern is in the business is delivery, “in the UK we have a system that works, I don’t believe that people will buy from the internet except we have some sort of guaranteed delivery system to any part within and outside Africa. To tackle this issue we are working on getting retail outlets in Ghana to serve that region of Africa and going to start producing locally, build the brand, make it our centralized hub and distribute from there.
The future is bright for these entrepreneurs, they need exposure for their various platforms to increase in scale of production of African designers and lovers of African fashion all over the world an easy and hassle free shopping experience. MyAsho future plans include adding a menswear, maternity and beauty lines to the store while Fully-Charged is looking to expand into adding jeans, jumpers and trainers lines, the brand is also looking at adding an energy drink called Fully-Charged. A and L, wants to grow, stay true to its inspiration especially with their involvement with ethically produced products and keep up with their involvement in giving back to communities around Africa.