West Africa’s e-commerce platforms take local fashion makers global

“I’ve always loved and wanted to wear more African prints here,” says Bami Adenike, expressing her enduring passion for African clothing despite being close to alluring Parisian luxury boutiques. Adenike, a 28-year-old Nigerian artist, moved to France in 2016 and has mostly bought clothes from French fashion stores since she moved due to the prohibitive cost of having bespoke African clothing shipped to Europe.

By the end of 2020, when Adenike wanted to upgrade his closet, he discovered a number of online platforms offering African clothing delivery to Europe, at affordable prices, and took the opportunity by ordering through Fashtracker, a linking marketplace. more than 40 African designers with local and international consumers. Within two weeks, his prints were delivered to his door in Paris by DHL.

“I have to admit that I was shocked that the clothes were tight fitting. I spent hours looking at Ankara’s images on Pinterest with no idea how to get them, “he told TechCabal over the phone.” It has now become the norm for me to patronize brands from Nigeria and sometimes other West African countries. “

African fashion in recent times has attracted considerable media interest from the global North, fueled in part by megastars, such as Naomi Campbell, Alicia Keys and Beyoncé, who occasionally show off continent-designed clothing. Last year, the 28-time Grammy Award winner was seen wearing a patterned dress and wide-leg trousers made by Tongoro, a Senegalese brand owned by designer Sarah Diouf.

While show business celebrities have helped bring African designers to international fame, diaspora Africans such as Adenike are the continent’s largest exported clothing consumers, with e-commerce platforms, such as Nigeria-based Fashtracker and Ivorian website Afrikrea , who play intermediaries.

Get the best African tech newsletters delivered to your inbox

The African Union Commission defines the African Diaspora as “peoples of African origin who live outside the continent, regardless of their citizenship and nationality and who are willing to contribute to the development of the continent and to the construction of the African Union”. Globally, this group is spread across several continents. An estimated 36 million Africans live outside their country of birth, with just over 50% residing on the continent. The sheer size of the African diaspora means that there is a large potential market for African fashion collections outside the continent.

In an interview with TechCabal for this article, Fashtracker founder and CEO Wunmi Akinsola revealed that the platform was originally built to serve markets in Africa. But that changed when the team realized that more traction was coming from outside the continent than from inside. “I was only running ads for Nigeria and neighboring countries, yet about half of my clients were from other parts of the world. So, it became obvious that there is a huge market out there,” Akinsola said.

Moulaye Tabouré, the founder of Afrikrea, grew up in Mali but lived and worked in different countries. While in Paris, he found that the Africans he met abroad were primarily interested in African fashion items, but could not easily access them. This inspired the founding of its online marketplace in 2016 with the ambition to export African culture globally.

“A few months after we launched and had a few designers, loved ones noticed that we wore more African products and became more interested,” Tabouré recalled in an interview with TechCabal. “Africa has led us to consume more from African companies, not out of solidarity or charity, but out of pure interest”.

This year, Afrikrea’s trading community has transacted nearly € 8 million, according to company data, with more than 80% of its orders coming from overseas, 40% from Europe and 30% of its orders. % from the United States. It claims to record more than 500,000 monthly visits to the site.

Despite stiff competition from many other similar platforms, Tabouré believes product diversity has helped Afrikrea grow rapidly, considering the African diaspora is not a monolithic group. “The black diaspora is the largest in the world and probably also the most heterogeneous. So having a wide range of vendors, products and experiences to satisfy everyone has always been the key to our success, “he said.

Afrikrea and its counterparts are attracting more and more African designers and micro-businesses along the fashion and art value chains who wish to gain awareness among customers outside the continent. In five years, Afrikrea has increased its vendor base from 500 to 10,000 in 47 African countries and currently allows them to display and sell African-inspired clothing and accessories in 170 countries around the world.

Essentially, these platforms provide a gateway to reach global consumers demanding African fashion collections and handle all of the resource-intensive components, including marketing, cross-border shipping and payments, which would otherwise hinder local stylists and retailers from selling outside. of their national borders. .

“After launching on Instagram and boosting our post, we started getting a lot of inquiries from people overseas about buying items. But there was no way to get things to them effectively, “says John Pelumi Oyedokun, founder and creative director of Mode Vert Limited, a Nigerian company behind the Jon Pelumi fashion label, which launched in 2019. partnered with Fashtracker after Akinsola contacted him. “After signing up [on Fashtracker], we are able to sell our products to a growing customer base in Ghana, the United States and Canada. “

For Olakunmi Oni, Lagos-based designer and founder of the minimalist women’s clothing line, 1964 Brand, selling online and shipping overseas has never been a problem, but she admits that listing her brand’s products on Fashtracker “shows our designs at a much wider audience “.

Typically, designers selling on ecommerce sites can create storefronts and get paid from anywhere in the world. Once the purchase is made, the platform deducts a 10-15% commission per sale. On the logistics side, Afrikrea, for example, has a partnership with DHL that allows micro-resellers selling through its platform to ship to their customers starting at $ 20 per package. The company also recently launched ANKA, a SaaS ecommerce solution for African stylists and merchants, which offers a single dashboard to manage multiple sales, inventory and payments channels.

Ankara dresses are now popular with Africans and non-Africans in Europe and North America, thanks to e-commerce. Photo credit: Umaizi

Whether it’s curators like Afrikrea or mono-brand sites like Ghana’s KIKI Clothing, African fashion platforms are tapping into a growing global demand for African design products, riding on e-commerce. The e-commerce opportunity in Africa is estimated at $ 19.8 billion by Statista, and in terms of overall e-commerce business on the continent, McKinsey & Company estimates that consumer spending will reach $ 2.1 trillion by the end of the year. 2025.

This presents an opportunity for local retailers to promote African fashion globally, particularly with consumers increasingly switching to online shopping amid the raging Covid-19 pandemic. For designers, partnerships with e-commerce platforms turn their otherwise small tailoring businesses into fashion brands with global patronage, while opening up the $ 31 billion sub-Saharan African apparel market to the rest of the world. .

But global scalability is not without its challenges. Customs officials mostly within the continent still represent a major constraint for cross-border shipments, especially in the absence of an effective free trade agreement. “Initiatives such as the AfCFTA are there but have yet to become concrete realities,” said Tabouré. He adds that African governments can do more by facilitating customs clearance for people shipping outside the continent, particularly to Europe. “We want to bring you African culture wherever you are. Our task is mainly to remain optimistic but pragmatic ”.

If you enjoyed reading this article, share it in your WhatsApp groups and Telegram channels.

Get the best African tech newsletters delivered to your inbox

Leave a Comment