Africa is home to some of the world’s most beautiful fashion pieces but many of these designers never get seen in the global market due to a lack of access. Also, many designers are not taking advantage of the internet to showcase their products to the world.
New York City-based Amira Rasool also realized this soon after a trip from South Africa. She received compliments on the clothing and accessories she brought from Africa to the U.S. Besides the compliments she was receiving, she saw a business opportunity to bring African designs to the international market.
This led her to launch The Folklore, an e-commerce distribution company that aims to bring African fashion designers and brands to a global market. She started the e-commerce platform in 2017, running the business herself for about two years. She joined the Techstars’s accelerator program in 2021, and that taught her the skills she needed to know how to approach investors with success.
“The Folklore was always an extension of my style, the aesthetics I would say was inspired by my travels, especially in East Asia,” she told Blackgirlfest. “I love the street style there and so I wanted to create a platform that speaks to well-travelled customers who are looking for something that is unique and helps them stand out from the crowd.
“I’ve chosen to focus on Africa and the Diaspora because that’s what I’m passionate about, and I wanted to provide a platform for African designers who don’t have the opportunity to distribute globally.”
In April this year, the 26-year-old announced a $1.7 million in pre-seed funding for her brand, led by the Los Angeles-based early-stage venture capital firm Slauson & Co. The fundraise puts Rasool among a handful of Black female entrepreneurs to raise at least $1 million in venture funding.
The early days of the company encountered several challenges. First, she had little knowledge of background retail and Folklore became a big learning curve for her. In addition, financing was a challenge for her.
“The problems I faced with The Folklore was trying to get the products from Africa to the US with very little money which was quite difficult,” she said. “What I used to do was grab items from the various designers in Cape Town, Johannesburg, Lagos and transfer them through my luggage. It was also very challenging not having a background in retail which was a big learning curve for me and required a lot of research.”
Rasool has managed to deal with the initial challenges the company faced and has even gone ahead to launch The Folklore Connect, an “extension of the business that allows global retailers (some department stores, but primarily smaller boutiques) to purchase inventory from the growing database of about 30 African designers,” according to Inc.Africa.
She is currently launching The Folklore Connect with 15 retail partners and plans to expand in August. What’s more, African brands and designers can sign up to the platform for free, and Rasool’s company will work with them to build their own businesses.
Rasool said her goal is to see African brands in boutique shops across the U.S. and she is also hoping to create a conglomerate — something similar to Christian Dior, Fendi and Givenchy parent LVMH Moët Hennessy.
“I’m building The Folklore to be the LVMH of Africa,” Rasool told FN recently. “We want to be able to have ownership in some of these brands, help them expand and increase production capabilities on the continent, whether that be through building [manufacturing] facilities of our own or making sure that existing businesses are better funded.
“We’re looking at how we can get these designers into the same position that Western designers are in and have those legacy brands that can be passed on like these big fashion houses are able to do.”