One of the beauties of e-commerce is that you can shop from anywhere in the world.
While you think this leaves consumers with varying closets, people end up having similar looks all the time.
Despite online retailers copying one another and focusing on all the same trends, they're selling out faster than ever.
Young entrepreneur Amira Rasool is finally breaking this uninspiring fashion cycle with an online store of her own known as The Folklore, where she sells one-of-a-kind apparel and accessories exclusive to the site from a range of African fashion designers such as MmusoMaxwell, Simon and Mary, Andrea Iyamah, and more.
"I recognised that these brands were not in these major retail stores not because the customer demand was not there, it was because retailers were not willing to hop on a plane to Johannesburg or Lagos to sit down with these designers and place orders as they do for European and American designers," the businesswoman told Forbes. Not only have multiple items sold out proving the strong value of these designers, a number of celebrities including Beyoncé, Will.i.Am and Sevyn Streeter have worn The Folklore's brands.
Rasool has come a long way in just a few years. She first came up with the idea at the University of Capetown, where she was getting her master's degree in African studies. In December, she actually plans to return to the continent for her graduation and to meet with new designers to showcase even more exclusive products on The Folklore. To say she has plenty to come is an understatement, but there's no one better to explain what to expect than Rasool herself. Read through her interview below where she explains her inspiration and future plans for the company.
Isis Briones: Can you elaborate on what pushed you to pursue The Folklore?
Amira Rasool: "The Folklore was created as a platform for African designers to share their work with larger audiences and actually get paid for it. During the time I came up with the idea, I was watching African fashion designers receive a lot of international recognition from important fashion industry figures and establishments but still struggle to attract significant and consistent international wholesale business. Securing wholesale orders is important for emerging designers because many of them do not have the necessary money, time, or information to start an e-commerce site for their brands or open brick-and-mortar stores. The fashion industry loves to write about these brands and everyone takes inspiration from what they are doing, but no one wants to step in and offer business opportunities that could help them continue what they are doing and provide customers with the fresh new designs that they actually want."
IB: What characteristics do you look for when choosing which designers to work with?
AR: "When I search for designers, I look for those who are interested in running their brand like a business. Of course, they have to produce gorgeous designs that fit our clean and modern aesthetic and contemporary price points, but they also have to be passionate about expansion and reaching greater financial milestones, as well as creative ones. I want to work with brands that I can grow with, that I can be proud to say also have rack space in Barneys, Bergdorf Goodman, and Saks Fifth Avenue."
IB: Why did you decide to call the site The Folklore?
AR: "I chose the name The Folklore because when I was getting to know the designers they were literally telling me stories about their life and about their business that I could not find in the magazine articles about them. Not only were they verbally telling me stories they were visually doing so with their designs and their visual work. For so long Africans voices have been misrepresented or undocumented, so verbal and visual folklore was the only way to preserve African history. The Folklore is helping tell a new generation of African's stories through African design."
IB: Where do you see the brand in 10 years?
AR: "In 10 years I see The Folklore being the leading exporter of high-end African apparel, accessories, bags, shoes, and lifestyle products, basically the Net-A-Porter of African design. The Folklore will function as the primary authority for all things Africa and luxury, collaborating with the government and corporations to help expand the luxury export market and finding new ways to promote African creativity. Although our e-commerce site will remain the primary destination for global audiences to find the widest selection of high-end African designer goods, as wholesale agents, we plan to have these designers placed in hundreds of retail stores. We also plan to have brick-and-mortar locations in major cities around the world."
IB: South Africa is a major influence in The Folklore's portfolio, but what other African countries have caught your eye for future collections?
AR: "Since I have spent so much time in South Africa, I was naturally inspired by everything that was going on there and I look at the country as The Folklore's second home. We shot our first lookbook in Cape Town, we work with a lot of local South African photographers, stylists, and makeup artists. Although I love South Africa, I would really like to start expanding and working with more artists in West Africa, specifically in Lagos and Accra. I have been to Lagos twice within the past year and a half, but they have been pretty short business trips and I have not had the opportunity to fully explore all of the opportunities there. I have never been to Ghana, but I know there's a lot of talent there and a thriving business economy. I would love to see what we can make happen there in terms of possibly opening up a brick-and-mortar location or putting our West African headquarters there."
IB: You mentioned you were going back to Africa at the end of the year, what will you be concentrating on for The Folklore during your trip?
AR: "My first stop will be South Africa for my graduation ceremony at University of Cape Town. While I'm there, I'm going to organize a few photo shoots and meet with designers. I'm headed to Lagos after that to work on some photo shoots and meet with designers, I'm hoping that I can take a trip to Abuja, too. I'm going to finish the trip off in Accra for NYE. Ghana is pushing this 'Year of Return' initiative that commemorates 400 years since the first group of enslaved Africans were captured and taken from the continent. They are urging Africans from the diaspora to return to the continent this year, so there are a lot of activities happening. We're working on hosting a pop-up shop in Accra during that time."