The tech industry is now seen as an unrivaled path to independence and income among forward-thinking professionals. Digital solutions are being developed for everything from complex systems, such as agriculture and banking to everyday tasks like directions and grocery lists.
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An often overlooked story in the chronicle of start-up success is the fashion industry, where e-commerce sites, apps, and entire digital fashion houses are bringing new designers and trends in to the homes — and more appropriately — hands of people all over the globe.
Consequently, African designers and lovers of African-inspired fashion are maximizing this opportunity. With all of the hiccups of the fledgling fashion industry on the continent, the Internet has proven to be a short-term solution for boutique fashion start-ups seeking global clients and recognition. Here, Face2Face Africa has put together three African fashion startups to watch (and wear):
1. Minku Designs: I had the chance to meet Kunmi Otitoju (pictured above) at the inaugural Social Media Week Lagos back in February 2013, and she is certainly a firebrand with a quiet determination to make her brand succeed. After criss-crossing Europe and working for Goldman Sachs, the Nigerian entrepreneur decided to pursue her fashion dream and attend art school in Barcelona.
From the start, innovation has driven the brand and influences everything from the design process to consumer transactions. Minku uses aso-oke, a dense fabric traditionally used for making items of ceremonial dress, to line their bags. The brand also accepts the online currency Bitcoin as a form of payment, which is a big deal for a growing start-up. Most recently, Minku showed at Barcelona Fashion Week in a historical building in El Born. To get your hands on one of Ms. Otitoju’s designs, be sure to visit www.minku.com.
2. Sapelle.com: The U.K. online boutique sapelle.com is taking shoppers by storm with its collection of affordable African-inspired goods. Featuring fashion, accessories, and home décor from the very best new and established ethical designers and labels all over Africa, the website was started by another banker-turned-fashionista Daphne Kasambla (pictured at right).
Kasambla goes the extra mile to ensure that Sapelle’s artisans and designers are committed to the brand’s ethical ethos. Fair trade and a sustainable supply chains are all critical components to her supplier relationships. This commitment and her eye for style helped Sapelle get selected for the Pop-Up Britain tenancy in Victoria London last year, helping her brand to enter a live retail space and boosting its marketability. To date, the site has featured up-and-coming designers Ugandan Jose Hendo, South African Thula Sindi, Mozambican Taibo Bacar, and French-based label Tamboo Bamboo.
3. Heel the World: Ghananian banker-turned-shoemaker Fred Deegbe (pictured above) is on a mission to change perceptions of African-made fashion with his startup Heel the World. Tired of widespread dependency on foreign innovation, Deegbe set out on a mission to instill appreciation in to the quality and value of African craftsmanship. The chic collection of loafers, oxfords, and dress slippers is as eye-catching as it is luxurious — a must for any man of leisure (or one moonlighting as such).
Since receiving coverage on CNN and numerous fashion blogs, the brand has expanded into creating empowerment bead bracelets and a bespoke collection of custom-designed shoes. You can find the latest designs and order your own pair here.
Watch Fred Deegbe on CNN here:
Cherae Robinson is a self-described “passport stamp collector” and has traveled to nearly 30 countries, 8 of them on the African continent. In 2012 she realized one of her biggest dreams when she took 80 young professionals to Africa and founded the Afripolitans, a collective of professionals interested in creating a stronger narrative on Africa through commerce, connections, and creativity. Committed to being a “Game-Changer” in how the world sees Africa, Ms. Robinson’s vision has revealed itself in the creation of her first independent venture Rare Customs, a tourism market development firm.