The Fashionomics Series: Onchek.com

“Focussing on Made in Africa is so empowering because there is just so much opportunity.”

Chekwas Okafor – Founder, Onchek.com

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The African Luxury series continues this week with an interview with Chekwas Okafor Founder of Onchek.com, an online retailer for African luxury fashion.

‘Made in Africa’

Not only does the e-commerce platform exclusively stock luxury brands founded by African designers but it is restricted to made on the continent products only. “Onchek is an online retailer for African luxury fashion although I’m hesitant with using the ‘Made in Africa’ label in fear of sounding homogenous, but we do stock luxury brands and designers from across the continent who are in the luxury space and who make their products locally.” This is a model that Chekwas initially battled with, “I did think: what about all the amazing brands and designers of African heritage in the luxury space who are producing elsewhere? But it was clear to me that if I really wanted to play a role on the continent then it had to be on the continent.

www.onchek.com

This rationale was clear to Chekwas even before he focussed his attention on African luxury fashion. “I was born in Aba in South West Nigeria but moved to the States when I was 19 for college. I have a Biology degree and have worked in the manufacturing space most of my career but the whole time I knew that I wanted to do something different. Not just because I wanted to be my own boss or anything like that but because I always wanted to create opportunities back home but I didn’t really know what that looked like.”

It was only after a friend introduced him to some suits made in Nigeria back in 2014 that an interest in African luxury and fashion in general, was triggered “At the time I didn’t really know anything about fashion, Lagos fashion week or anything like that. I wasn’t all too interested as I just never connected my ambition to create jobs and opportunities back home to the industry.” It was later on that year that Chekwas finally made this connection, “I started to really look into the industry and that year I went to Africa fashion week in New York. I realised the way I could do this was through e-commerce and if I only stocked brands that were made locally,” through this Onchek.com was born. Despite the obvious challenges of having a stringent Made in Africa criteria, Chekwas remains optimistic and sees the Onchek platform as a vehicle for change “I think about it as an opportunity – if I really want to work with these amazing designers then I can focus on making it easier for them to produce on the continent by increasing their visibility in a highly competitive market and making African luxury fashion more accessible to the world.”

I don’t think if you asked African designers who produce elsewhere, they would say that they do not have a desire to produce on the continent it’s just that there are a lot of infrastructural barriers. The way I see it, someone has to do it.

TAIBOBACAR

Partnerships

With no fashion experience, Chekwas endeavoured to gain knowledge of the industry, “I began studying the fashion industry in general, Nigerian fashion, African fashion, ethical fashion etc. I came from a totally opposite industry and knew nothing so I had a lot to learn. I also learned about e-commerce and taught myself how to code. Overall, It took me about 2 years to do the groundwork before launching officially.

Chekwas then began to reach out to luxury, locally made brands to feature on the platform which at first, proved difficult, “When we started it was brutal – most were not interested and understandably so. They’ve spent years building their brands.” Eventually, though, a couple of designers agreed to stock their collections on the Onchek platform and things began to kick off “I won them over by buying their products and doing a shoot so I could show them my vision. Once I did, a couple of brands decided to give me a chance. It’s a natural process – you’ve got to show what you’ve got for people to have trust in you. And I think we have started to build that trust.” After 2 and half years Chekwas quit his full-time job to work on Onchek.com, having been working on the platform on the side. Onchek.com has now been in operation for a year and a half, stocking 18 Made in Africa luxury brands with plans to expand its partnerships.

FEMI

The power of content

As the Founder and CEO, Chekwas oversees a team of 3 core team members as well as periodic contractors, “within our core team I have a social media manager and a content creator. I believe these roles are extremely important to our brand and mission simply because I believe in the power of content as a driver of education and take education very seriously. African luxury is still relatively new. People want to know what it means and understand why they’re paying x dollars for an item. So we are taking a big stand on educating people about the brands: how they’re made, where they’re made etc. Customer satisfaction is our top priority and I believe creating an educative experience is part of that.

African Luxury

What is luxury? To Chekwas, all the African made brands featured on the Onchek platform effortlessly encompass luxury. “take for instance Maxhosa by South African designer Laduma. The craftsmanship is well done and consists of weaving wolf/ mull hair material into his fabric. We survey all our customers and have 100% satisfaction for quality. The collection is unique as Laduma seeks to merge his xhosa culture into his pieces which makes for really distinctive clothing that creates this sense of belonging that luxury brands have. For example, when I’m wearing my Maxhosa socks and I see someone else in them too we look at eachother like ohh! – literally, there’s this sense of belonging and emotional attachment to the brand and it’s something that’s not easy to create.

MAXHOSA BY LADUMA

Chekwas believes this sense of belonging goes further as there is a growing market of sophisticated African consumers that are emerging “African luxury is becoming more intrinsic, it’s becoming a consideration of what does it mean to me? Even if it’s not something as obvious as Laduma –  if I wear a Sawa shoe for instance even if its plain black it means something to me: Its made locally and its empowering people because these designers don’t just see themselves as designers but as people who are creating jobs and that’s super exciting.”

So I think these black consumers identify themselves as the type who don’t just buy into anything they’re more sophisticated. They use their money to vote” This is something that Chekwas closely identifies with himself “Personally, for a few years now I haven’t shopped anything that is not African brands because it doesn’t mean anything to me. And I think for a lot of African consumers its empowering.

 

MAXHOSA BY LADUMA x LAURENCEAIRLINE x TAIBOBACAR

African designers in the spotlight

Already competing in a highly competitive market, African designers face a myriad of challenges that mean they struggle to access markets and the media spotlight they deserve, “It’s just so hard for them. They’re dealing with infrastructural challenges and trying as far as possible to make their products locally and paying 2 or 3 times the price because they’re not buying in large bulks.” In Chekwas’ opinion part of the solution lies in mobilising support for the fashion and creative industries on the continent “There just needs to be a lot more players – Oncheck is playing its part but we need more. As Africans, we have to see fashion and the creative space as something that’s tangible and worth investing in. We need more players, organised bodies and funding.

Chekwas, however, remains excited about prospects on the continent “I get excited about how raw it (Africa) still is – there is opportunity everywhere. Every aspect of business from sourcing to manufacturing to agriculture there is so much opportunity in every tier of fashion – from the farm to the rack: Manufacturing that we see as a huge problem is equally a huge opportunity, e-commerce is a major opportunity that I think we will double down on in the next couple years – the reason why they’re opportunities is precisely because they’re challenges.”

SIMON AND MARY

 

One persistent challenge though goes beyond the physical infrastructural barriers but is one of mindset, “the idea that African clothing or products made on the continent are of lesser quality is a challenge. But I believe that can be overcome with good marketing and it is something that is slowly eroding right now. As I mentioned there are sophisticated buyers right now who are already buying African brands and who are enlightened to its worth and value beyond the price tag.”

It is part of the Onchek mission to begin to reverse this mindset “We are trying to make it a little more mass market where people don’t look to the east or west for products. We’ve spent years saying our products are terrible which sometimes they are – but it’s going to take time to reverse that and that’s okay as it is just the process.”

FEMI

Chekwas advises any budding African designers to,”focus on the made in Africa ethos no matter how challenging it gets. Make products locally and weave our culture into our fashion. Every creative space is needed because we’ve lost so much of who we are. We need our brands to start this conversation about who we really are, where we’ve come from and what we have been.”

Chekwas also urges entrepreneurs to “Start where you are with what you have. When I started it wasn’t exactly where I wanted to be but at least I started – the value of starting is important.

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Onchek.com is a one-stop shop for African luxury fashion and it is just getting started! What are your thoughts on the platform? Comment below

 

Chekwas Okafor

Shop: www.onchek.com

Contact: hello@onchek.com

IG: @_onchek

Twitter: @_onchek

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An Interview with Okwu ID

Okwu Ndi Igbo na Ala Beke

(Igbo Diaspora Media)

 

Okwu ID is an independent platform of young Africans, telling their own stories and documenting their culture. Earlier this month I joined Okwu ID for the filming of a panel on sexism within the Igbo culture. On the agenda was:

How much to blame are women for enabling sexism within Igbo culture?

How much do you personally identify with your Mother’s/ Father’s view of manhood/ womanhood?

 Okwu ID lady’s panel 

These hard-hitting questions made for fascinating, passionate and often heated discussion which was amazing to observe from young Africans in London. As a non-Igbo (and non-Nigerian for that matter) learning about the Igbo culture in its own right in the organic form that is presented by Okwu ID has been incredibly interesting. So far it has been valuable to discover the nuances of Igbo culture as well as it’s similarities with my own.

 

My only exposure to the Igbo culture had been from Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s depiction of the Igbo language and history in her novels. I also remember listening to a BBC World Service podcast entitled ‘Forgetting Igbo’ which was a fascinating account of one man’s exploration of the Igbo language and the idea that it is effectively ‘dying out’. I feel as though Okwu ID has tied all these themes together in a consistent platform.

 www.okwuid.com

Birthed Out Of Frustration

After the panel, I caught up with brother and sister Chukudubem (Chids) and Chinye, who form the sibling duo that makes up the founding members of Okwu ID. They discussed with me their motivations for creating the platform and what they see its purpose as. Chids who works in psychiatry and Chinye who works in the construction industry both run Okwu ID alongside their day jobs. However, the concept was the birth child of Chinye whose return from studying abroad ignited a frustration with the African community. “I studied and worked abroad for about 6 years and one of the things I learnt (especially in Denmark) was how societies work together to create a cohesive unit, and how having a unified identity and support system could change the face of a nation. When implemented this can allow them to direct their narrative.”

Thinking about her own cultural identity, Chinye realised that this was not a concept that was being applied within African/ Igbo communities worldwide. “When I returned from Denmark I came back to London wanting to know what Africans were doing across the board. I attended various events of different cultural groups trying to figure out what we were doing as a community. And to be honest I was quite disheartened as I felt like there were so many issues in our community that were not being addressed, and that if we do not act to direct our own narrative and to control our self-determination as people, looking into the future – where does the African stand?

Having a good cultural brand is important – it is important what people think of Nigerian people because it affects whether we get visas, our ability to travel and do business it is important that people respect your country and that’s what I learnt from living in a Nordic country. They have a fantastic PR system and we don’t and it affects the everyday lives of Nigerian people inside and outside of the diaspora and back home. Plainly, no matter where you go and whoever you are, you will always be African, so it is important that our image and narrative is a positive one. I think all that frustration just lead to a feeling that we had to do something.

 

Chinnye decided to take matters into her own hands and create her own initiative. But after trying a few things that did not really work especially as she was going it alone she created a poster which called for African creatives to get in touch. This is where her brother, Chids who, with a significant Twitter following and social media presence came in. He shared the poster and it was met with great interest. “We then specified that we needed people to take part in a discussion especially after seeing loads of discussion panels out there. Once we started getting responses from social media we thought ok wow, people are actually responding to this let’s do a pilot and see how it goes.” The pilot went well and after its success, they along with their brother Ike began to build the Okwu ID platform.

 

Okwu ID
Okwu ID
Okwu ID

Chids’ motivations for getting on board were aligned with Chineye’s, “Similar to my sister the project was birthed out of frustration from the lack of access to information and available networks within the Igbo and West African community. I also think Igbo culture can be quite individualistic and hyper-ambitious, so you have a lot of people that are not particularly concerned with group identity.” Chids also has a strong passion for dispelling misinformation about the Igbo culture, “there are a lot of things that you find online about our culture which is plainly incorrect. So part of the reason why we wanted to set up Okwu ID was to express a pro-Igbo and African narrative because we knew there was a lot of misinformation out there and a lot of people narrating the culture in a way that is detrimental to our people in general.

 

The siblings have since created a team behind Okwu ID with their complementary skills sets, “My sister came up with the concept and then it was lightning in a bottle: Chinnye who came up with the initial idea, my brother Ike who is quite tech savvy and myself who has a good network of people and a social media following so together we have consolidated our strengths and it has gone well from the first pilot.

Challenges

Okwu ID is currently a platform encompassing a Youtube Channel and Blogsite as well as the main social media platforms which currently each produce consistent content. This would be no easy feat for any content creator, but particularly for young people juggling full-time careers and education.

One of the main challenges I’ve encountered running Okwu ID is a constant conflict between the desire to do everything – keeping it in-house, within one small team of like-minded individuals, and not ‘burning out’” says Chids. “If all the major decisions are made between 2-3 people including organising and creating content, it’s easy to burn out and effectively create an ‘echo chamber’. In the future, it would be ideal to form a wider network of people who are truly interested so that we can delegate roles and have established roles but at the moment it makes the most sense to keep it in-house as we figure things out.”

Another challenge the siblings have encountered interestingly centres around the nature of the Igbo culture itself, Chinye mentions “an issue we’ve encountered is that certain people feel threatened by what we’re doing and it is quite disappointing as it is something that has plagued our community. Igbo people have historically democratic systems (i.e there are no Kings) and a lot of the cultural narrative is that you are your own King and that individualism can turn negative and can create unnecessary competitiveness. It would be better if we could come together. There is also a strange subculture amongst the older generation of Igbo people that want to keep Igbo culture in their pockets which is completely opposite to the premise of Okwu ID as we are about sharing, teaching and creating a network around our culture.”

Okwu ID on Youtube

 

Learning Points

I asked Chids and Chinnye what they have personally learnt about their own culture and history since launching Okwu ID.

Chids: “Getting an insight into different narratives. When you bring together different people across the Igboland you discover the impact of things beyond your immediate family or network e.g. when we discuss things like religion, patriarchy and gender dynamics I think – wow, these things have affected an entire nation of people in so many different ways

“From observing our analytics it has also been fascinating to see what culturally, people are drawn to i.e. men and women, British and US audiences. We can almost anticipate which subjects are going to resonate with who.”

 

Chinnye: “Learning more about the Biafran war. How it’s trickle-down effect has impacted people like our parents. Additionally, I have learnt more Igbo and since launching Okwu ID my Igbo has improved greatly from often doing infographics and language learning content and simply creating an environment where we can ask questions and practise.

 

There are also many misconceptions about Igbo people, culture and history. To Chinnye one of the most poignant to her is the idea that, “we are all light skinned. This narrative annoys me as often my Igboness is questioned as a dark-skinned Igbo woman” To Chids it is about the history of Nigerian Civil war and the view that “’Biafranism’ (the cessation of Igbo people from the rest of Nigeria to establish their own country) is something to fear.  One of the biggest misconceptions is that Igbo people are causing trouble and antagonising with the country, but Igbo people are just at the forefront of airing their grievances but all the grievances that Igbo people are airing are universal. I do not think there is any ethnic group that is particularly happy with Nigeria. We are speaking for the majority of Nigerians who are unhappy with the system.”

Goals and Takeaways

So what do the siblings hope that it’s audience take away from Okwu ID?

If there is one thing that I would like people who consume our content to know is that we (Igbo people) are African and we have been African since the dawn of humanity. There is another common misconception that we are descendants of Jews but we are not related to any semantic culture and our accomplishments have nothing to do with Palestine/ or Jews. This rhetoric is plainly anti-African.”

Through the Okwu ID platform, the siblings hope to encourage a pro-African narrative, the development of Igbo culture and language and create a network of young African people within the diaspora.

www.okwuid.com

Instagram: @okwuid

Twitter: @okwu_id

Contact

Are you Igbo? What is the most interesting thing about your culture? Okwu ID and I would love to hear from you, comment below!

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annettebena

The Changing Face of Fitness in Africa

The post-festive period usually starts with good intentions and resolutions, new gym memberships or diet plans (guilty!). In fact, around 12% of gym members sign up in January alone according to the Fitness Industry Association with similar #fitjanuary trends seen across the globe. As a result, in developed markets like North America and Europe, the fitness industry makes over $30 billion every year.

Fitness Trends in Africa

It is a popular theory that as a result of a growing ‘middle class’ and increasing urbanisation (people moving from rural areas to cities) similar trends are now being seen across Africa. According to smallstarter.com, the continent is fast becoming a huge demand pool for the fitness industry with yearly memberships surpassing $1000 in countries where per capita GDP is just above $500 – this speaks volumes of the increasing consumer demand for gyms and health clubs in certain parts of the continent.

 @thefitlawyerr

Getting fatter is one side-effect of economic growth. For instance, Sub- Saharan Africa’s most developed nation, South Africa has the highest density of gyms and health clubs on the continent – it is also the plumpest country on the continent with 61% of its people overweight or obese (South African Medical Research Council.) International brands such as Virgin Active have had huge success in the country. It currently boasts 138 Virgin Active clubs in South Africa located in places like high- end suburbs in Cape Town to Townships like Soweto as well as Namibia and Botswana. The international firm is looking to replicate its success in Ghana, Kenya and Zambia with future sites.

Increased access to technology has also been said to have spurred on fitness trends. A qualified trainer, wellness coach and lifestyle consultant, ‘The Fit Lawyer who is based in Lagos agrees, “I think millennials, and technology and the media are responsible for the growth of the fitness industries in countries like South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. African millennials have easier access to the media; we are able to read more about what to do to improve our appearance and health long term, people are keen to do and be better.

 @bestbodybybry

Trends in Nutrition

Aside from gyms and fitness, changing attitudes towards food and nutrition which has been felt globally have not been missed in parts of Africa. There have been an increasing number of millennials at home and within the diaspora who are pushing for healthier diets within their cultural cuisines. 21-year-old Bryanne Hackman, a health and fitness enthusiast and blogger from Ghana shares healthy Ghanaian inspired recipes and fit lifestyle tips on her blog bestbodybybry.com, she says “more and more Africans are looking to create healthier versions of our food as opposed to eating foods that are prescribed by ‘Westerners’ which include ingredients which are difficult to find on our continent. As a result, through my brand, BestBodybyBry, I desire to create healthy versions of Ghanaian food to show people that living healthily is more accessible than they think.

 

@bestbodybybry
@bestbodybybry
@bestbodybybry
@bestbodybybry
 @bestbodybybry Ghanaian inspired healthy meals.

The Fit Lawyer also shares healthy recipes on her blog www.sofiticated.com (see Bodysofit by The Fit Lawyer) and observes that in Lagos “people are keen to learn, people want to keep up with the best practices, people also want convenience; so, for example, www.sofiticated.com does meal plans and to ensure convenience for our clients, we have partnered with another company to do meal prep… I try to encourage clients to have a different motivation asides aesthetics, as once they achieve their physical goals if there is no other reason to keep fit there is a tendency to slack and return back to the starting point.”

Adapting Trends & The Importance of Contextual Relevance 

Although an emerging fitness culture can indeed be observed across Africa, as diverse as the continent is, it is important to note that this will present itself in various forms based on the context of each diverse nation. For instance, whilst swanky gyms and health clubs have manifested as part of Cape Town’s fitness boom, in Accra Bryanne observes that “to the average Ghanaian working out in a gym comes at a high price. Gyms have existed for decades in Ghana however, there are increasingly more people enquiring into and attending the latest workout classes that Ghana has to offer and are jumping on the workout class bandwagon.

 

@thefitlawyerr

In Lagos, The Fit Lawyer has noticed similar trends, “trainers are making an effort to provide clients with diverse products; from dance classes to yoga and CrossFit sessions, and there is something for everyone.” Gyms, however, are something that she has observed to have manifested as part of Lagos’ growing fitness culture; “I have also noticed a trend of gyms springing up on almost every street/area in Lagos Island; the trouble is there are very few differentiating factors. Many people think that having the latest equipment alone is enough to draw in clientele, which is not the case. The lack of differentiation and overpricing of gyms has translated to home service personal training being popular, many people are saving costs by simply training with a personal trainer.”

Opportunities for African Entrepreneurs

For any entrepreneurial fitness enthusiasts, there are clearly exciting opportunities on the continent to make the most of. With great diversity and dynamism comes both opportunity and challenge:

1.Know your market

The needs and desires of your potential clientele will vary from country to country and city to city across the continent. Therefore understanding your market will be key to tapping into its fitness industry. What does the demographic consist of? What is their spending power? Are they well connected with access to social media/ technology?  For instance, the expansion of a fitness chain would require more strategy, networks and capital not so readily available in most countries, not to mention the exclusionary impact of membership fees in many African cities. An independent, mobile service may suit your target market best. In that instance, networks and relationship building will be key. Who do you know? How will you build your brand? Consider social media and networking events to promote your services.

2.Become an expert

Gaining qualifications may give you the credibility you need to attract clients, (especially in cultures where titles are King!). For instance, this year (2018) Bryanne will become a qualified nutritionist and has enrolled in a Nutrition and Weight Management course to better serve her online following and potential clientele; “Becoming a qualified nutritionist will make me better suited to give advice about health and better attend to my followers.”

 @BestBodyByBry

3. Be innovative

The dynamism and sheer diversity of the continent allow for so much creativity and an opportunity to find your niche. The Fit Lawyer has taken her love for fitness and has created three different brands which provide different services; The Fit Lawyer (a personal training company), Sofiticated(The Lifestyle Establishment) and Ikigai (The consulting Service);

“One of the things my company Ikigai does, is optimise gym spaces. Lots of people have great spaces but aren’t putting them to good use. For example, charging yearly memberships of 500, 000 naira immediately excludes a large market of young people who are the prime target market; we highlight this to you. We also then provide you with an optimisation plan which is geared towards helping you differentiate yourself from the rest, taking your gym to greater heights and helping you learn how to maintain those standards.” Ikigai is a great example of creating opportunity from gaps in a young and dynamic industry.

The growing fitness culture in parts of the continent is an exciting one. With still so much room for development with opportunities in the integration of technology and the potential for startups to become household names, it will be great to observe its progress.

Are you a fitness enthusiast? What are your thoughts on the potential of the industry in Africa? Comment below!

Dao Fitness

 

If this post has inspired you to kick start your fitness journey, Dao Fitness who are bringing African prints to fitness is a great start!

One of our goals at Dao fitness is to increase health and fitness in the motherland as well as in the UK”

 I recommend the Monochrome Kente Side Panel Leggings.They’re cute and super comfy…

Get 10% off with code ‘BENA10

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Dining With Jamii

Jamii is a discount card for black-owned businesses. The platform was founded by Khalia Ismain, to improve the visibility of the incredible businesses and entrepreneurial talent within our communities. Members of Jamii have the opportunity to “shop, save and support” with a range of products on the platform – from food to fashion and hair care to lifestyle brands.

Last month I got the chance to experience dining as a Jamii member with Tokunbo’s Kitchen, at their Green Rooms Hotel residency. With my Jamii card, I enjoyed 15% off my meal and got to learn more about the purpose of the platform, how it’s helping it’s partner businesses like Tokunbo’s Kitchen and you and I to discover quality black-owned brands. I had a chat with Courtney, Khalia’s younger sister and the woman behind Jamii’s social media presence over jollof rice, chicken, yam porridge (my personal fave), yam balls, coconut prawns and more.

Changing Habits

We began with having a conversation about her personal shopping experiences that came to inspire herself and Khalia, to push the platform forward. “For years I went to my local hair stores and probably spent hundreds of pounds just experimenting trying to figure out what was good for my hair. Now I just use Luxe Beauty and Antidote Street who are both on Jamii and I literally use an oil and a cream.” It’s experiences like this that demonstrates the need for platforms like Jamii who give customers the opportunity to discover quality black owned brands that are able to provide an authentic service. Moreover, Courtney’s experience of hair and beauty products is something that resonates with most black women (and some men) and is an issue that has become even more pertinent as the ‘natural hair movement’ continues to grow. Now more than ever we need to be purchasing products from people who can understand our needs and find solutions for them: make- up brands that cater for a wider range of skin tones and skin types or greetings cards featuring Afro Caribbean art and culture. There is a growing number of small businesses within our communities providing solutions to challenges we’ve faced for years, just waiting to be discovered.

 

Yam Porridge
Tokundo's Kitchen Jollof Rice
Tokundo's Kitchen Plantain

For many of us, however (including myself), we want to support black businesses but plainly, convenience and price holds us back. For example, I personally live in an area where non- black owned beauty supply stores are in abundance. So, it can be pretty hard to get out of the habit of opting for these alternatives. So how does Jamii plan to get people to change their shopping habits? “with Jamii we make it that bit cheaper to shop black – so hopefully that attracts people to begin to change their habits and to explore the brands that are out there and soon discover their worth and quality.” Courtney continues, “Of course online retail is very important but ideally what we’d eventually like to see is black owned alternatives on every street corner.” Purposefully and consistently supporting smaller black owned brands encourages their growth and helps towards creating a larger ecosystem of black businesses we would like to see trading on our streets corners.

The Blog

Jamii has recently launched a blog alongside the E-tailer platform, “we want it to be an extension of our newsletter where we highlight things going on like upcoming supper clubs and new brands and include extended features about our cause and mission.” One particular section they’ve launched is one where they show Jamii members how their membership has made a difference to black businesses, “For instance two of the food businesses on Jamii, Chale Let’s Eat and Nim’s Dim were recently featured in the Guardian which we shared with our members on the blog. In this way, we hope to build more than an advertising/ retailer platform but a community too, as we remind people why they are doing what they are doing.

 

Sourcing Businesses

So how does Jamii source upcoming black businesses for the platform? “it’s pretty much 50/50. Khalia reaches out to upcoming business or I highlight brands I’ve seen on social media we believe would be great on the platform and many reach out to us. Generally, most are really eager to jump on board. It is a very collaborative relationship, “Our partner businesses check in and ask how things are coming along and we do the same.” However, Jamii is eager to expand, “we want more businesses – the more brands, the more we can offer. There aren’t some particularly hard criteria we just want to give quality brands in our community a platform and the opportunity to prove their worth and be a success.

Tokunbo’s Kitchen

After she returned from the kitchen I also got the chance to chat to Tokunbo herself. Tokunbo’s Kitchen is a private chef, pop up and supper club service for people from all cultures to experience and enjoy authentic Nigerian food. I began by asking her why she joined Jamii and what about the platform appealed to her as a business: “In terms of being a black owned business it’s all about gaining visibility. I always tell people as much as Tokunbo’s kitchen is a growing brand with every person who knows about Tokunbo’s kitchen there are 20 people that do not. So, it’s really about accessing as many different audiences as possible. What I love about Jamii is the fact that it’s supporting black owned businesses and it’s for the community by the community”. She continues, “The platform is helping me to reach the millennial audience – young people who may not have grown up eating African/ Nigerian food or may not feel like it is something they can go out and eat and actually have a great dining experience with.”

Tokunbo also highlighted the benefits of the discount for businesses, “Jamii acts as an incentive for customers to return as you get a great experience as well as money off your food – it helps create a consistent experience across our different services: pop-ups, supper clubs, events etc. which I think is incredibly important for a restaurant business.

Tokunbo’s Kitchen officially launched in September 2015 by former social worker Tokunbo Koiki, whose entrepreneurial journey began as a fashion retailer selling bags from China, “I’ve always been very entrepreneurial although I never saw myself in food. I just loved making people feel good and discovered that my food made people happy.” Tokunbo spent a few years in Washington D.C working and studying and recalls food being a big part of her experience, “I was really inspired by the food trucks I’d see in the business districts of D.C. I always thought If I lived here this is what I’d do.” But she recalls being discouraged by the lack of representation of the African cuisine, “I remember every single continent being represented in those food trucks except Africa – it was really shocking to me.” The final push to launch her food business was after a visit to Walthamstow Garden Party, “I remember having to queue for 2 hours for jerk chicken! I returned home that evening and launched my business. The next month I was trading at Africa Utopia.”

Tokunbo's Kitchen, Suya Wings
Tokunbo's Kitchen Coconut Prawns

Competition vs. Collaboration

Currently, Jamii hosts six African/ Caribbean food retailers. I asked Tokunbo what she thought about the emergence of so many African/ Caribbean food retailers and pop-ups like herself in the London food scene. “When I was launching Tokunbo’s Kitchen, others like Chuku’s and Jason’s Kitchen were all launching at the same time. I took this as validation that my idea wasn’t crazy!” She continues, “The market is so big there is room for everyone and it has been very beneficial to the business and market research to go out and see what else is out there and most importantly it’s been great to support others. For instance, I’ll be going to a Sierra Leonean pop up to support and to also discover food from my own continent.”

Courtney agrees, “There is certainly room for everyone in the market and on Jamii. If you look at this very high street (Wood Green), there are about 5 Turkish stores and restaurants all operating successfully. We hope that Jamii can also be a platform for collaboration and networking, where founders can meet and get ideas.”

What’s next?

“Recently we’ve been adding more lifestyle products – it seems the way we are going is to be a platform for niche brands. For instance, our newest brand is Bonita Ivie, a stationary line with African print. And that’s great – its fresh and exciting to bring something new.

Courtney emphasised that for now, the platform is focused on consistent and sustainable growth, “at the moment we have 5 categories: Art, Fashion, Food, Hair and Skincare & Beauty. We are just hoping to build on those with quality upcoming black-owned businesses. We are focused on providing a platform for these brands.

When I got home, I decided to log in and get my own Jamii card and start discovering upcoming black-owned brands. Sign up and get yours here!

Jamii
Jamii

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Opportunities for African Entrepreneurs in Africa’s Booming Wedding Industry

The Wedding Season is in full swing. For many of us in the Diaspora, this means weddings and/or traditional engagements every other week. In Africa, weddings are deeply rooted in age-long cultural, social and religious values that make it a very serious ceremony for many people. It is estimated that more than 5 million weddings take place in Africa’s towns and cities every year and it remains the single most cost-intensive event for many families. Here in the UK, the average wedding day in 2016 spiralled to an average of £27,000 outside London and £38,000 inside the capital, according to wedding planning site Bridebook. How does this compare to the average wedding spend in Africa? According to smallstarter.com as of 2013, depending on the country and location, the average wedding budget in many cities in Africa could be anywhere between $4,500 (£3,471.30) and $40,000 (£30,856). It is also estimated that Africans spend millions of dollars every year on wedding-related products and services. When we consider that the average salary in SSA is just $762 (£587.81) such expenditure is a significant proportion of the average African’s income. Yet the continent’s wedding industry is booming and set to grow even further in the next few years due to it’s*young population, buoyant middle class and expanding disposable incomes.

 Photocred: @Eastafricanbrides/ @photographybyabi

Sustaining the Nigerian Economy

Nowhere is the wedding ceremony more lavishly celebrated on the continent than in Nigeria. Funke Bucknor-Obruthe, CEO of Zapphaire Events a full-service event planning company, believes the industry is flourishing because “Nigerian’s love to celebrate and want to outshine others“, plainly one’s wedding is seen as a status symbol. This is unsurprising to many of us who are well versed in the Instagram feeds and blog pages of the likes of BellaNaija Weddings or Wedding Digest Naija who document the lives of Nigeria’s hottest couples and their lavish ceremonies. The country’s wedding industry is currently growing exponentially, although there is not much by way of official statistics, according to Folake Ojo, the executive producer of ‘Nigeria’s Top Weddings,’ a TV show that documents Nigeria’s hottest weddings,”it is a multimillion dollar industry that is growing incredibly fast’”. Aside from the strong social media influences that have exacerbated the competitive culture, it is said that Nigeria’s youth having stronger western influences than their parents, being well travelled and studied abroad, have returned with more expensive tastes which, have pushed the boundaries of the traditional wedding.

 Photo cred: @Nigerianweddings

As a result, Nigeria’s ‘elite’ blow the average wedding spend out of the water with many, spending over $2 million on their dream weddings according to Forbes. In 2013 research company Euromint showed how Nigeria had the world’s fastest-growing rate of champagne consumption due to lavish celebrations like weddings, second only to France, while ahead of other lucrative markets including the US and China. In Lagos, around $17 million was spent on parties over a 5-month period in 2013 alone – with one-fifth of the sum on weddings.

What recession? 

Things get even more interesting when we are to consider the fact that Nigeria’s economy is actually currently in a recession. The country officially entered recession in 2016, its first in two decades due to the impact of its vital oil industry hitting weak global prices. Could the spend on lavish weddings be seen as irresponsible on the part of the country’s wealthy and/ or even immoral considering that the poverty rate in Nigeria is about 35%? (The World Bank). On the contrary, the country’s current economic woes have been seen to have little to no impact on its wedding industry which continues on an increasing trajectory. In fact, as the industry grows, so too do the opportunities for everyday Nigerians. How?

Firstly, the wedding industry is responsible for creating new professions in the country as well as transforming traditional ones. For instance, the ‘MUA’ (Make-up Artist), according to Weruche Majekodunmi, founder of Newton & David, a Lagos based company specialising in event design and décor, “prior to these major weddings,  wasn’t even considered a full-time job ’. Now, the role is an essential part of any Nigerian bride’s wedding celebrations – and all parts of it. From the traditional ceremony and the (ever increasingly important) white wedding as well as the pre-wedding/ engagement shoots. And this has opened the door of opportunity for another relatively new profession in the country – The Wedding Planner. As ceremonies get more and more extravagant, the Wedding Planner has become integral to any busy modern day African woman with big plans. Ibidunni Ighodalo Founder of Elizabeth R Events, a leading events management company recently expanded her event planning business into a Bridal line with the aim to become a ‘one-stop-shop’ for brides whilst Funke Bucknor-Obruthe of Zapphaire Events (mentioned above) has expanded her business into a training school for events management.

 Photo cred:@NWdecors

As Nigerian Weddings have become more and more extravagant, it is creating opportunities for

creative entrepreneurs in event planning and decor.

For the traditional photographer meanwhile, opportunities have been created to become an even more integral part of the wedding ceremony. Trends such as the engagement shoot and cinematic film like footage have expanded this role and opened the door for lucrative opportunities.

 Photo cred:@Zapphaire_events/ @frankugahphotography
Trends in the wedding industry have created lucrative opportunities for skilled photographers

Secondly, an expanding industry has meant homegrown brands are getting a cut of the market. For their wedding attire, couples are increasingly ‘wearing Nigerian’ as they opt for Nigerian tailors and designers to dress their large bridal parties. And finally, on a smaller scale, the boom in the wedding industry has created opportunities for the everyday labourer in catering, upholstery and carpentry etc. After all, many are needed to serve the 1000+ attendees of a Nigerian wedding.

photo cred: @bellanaijaweddings
The wedding industry has benefitted homegrown designers as many couples
seek Nigerian dressmakers and tailors to dress their large bridal/ groomsmen parties.

 

“The weddings keep our economy going. Normally the rich Nigerians will spend their money abroad, whenever they go shopping. Thanks to the wedding industry the money is being invested back into our economy. Jobs of caterers, tailors, carpenters and upholsterers are being sustained.” Weruche Majekodunmi, founder of Newton & David

Unemployment in the country has risen stubbornly according to new data published by Nigeria’s National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) and currently stands at 14.2% (up from 13.9% in the last quarter). A booming wedding industry, therefore, has the potential to fill gaps left behind by some of its staple industries.

Opportunities for African entrepreneurs   

Although Nigeria’s wedding industry remains a standout example of growth,  similar trends are being seen across the continent and it is one that any innovative and creative entrepreneur should take advantage of. Given that weddings have always been a staple part of most African traditions, tapping into this market now has the potential to be very lucrative. The influence of social media has undoubtedly left a mark on young Africans which has created a demand for specialist service providers. Additionally, entrepreneurs within the diaspora could also take advantage of the growing industry, as they are in a good position to offer a fusion of modern traditional ideas and services.

A wave of new startups are already looking to tap into the booming industry and provide services specially tailored to the needs of the continent’s booming wedding industries:

  • Weddingdress.ng: A platform that allows former brides and brides-to-be to exchange, sell and hire wedding gowns.

  • Drinks.ng:  Enables customers to order drinks online and have them delivered to their door. Founder Lanre Akinlagun got the idea for his company after a difficult experience trying to obtain drinks for a friend’s wedding at an open-air market.

  • DMT Toilets: Mobile lavatories for weddings and events. The company offers a range of VIP toilets equipped with red carpets, flat screen TVs, air-conditioning, mp3 players and plush interiors.

@habeshabrides
@idoghana
@habeshabrides

*Apart from having the world’s fastest growing population, the continent also has the world’s youngest population – more than 50% of its one billion people are under 20 years old, compared with only 28% in China.

What are your experiences at African weddings? What are your thoughts on the growing industry? Comment below

 

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