The Folklore, a multi-brand e-commerce site that sells goods designed and made in Africa and founded by Amira Rasool, has some pretty impressive business goals. Just two years after launching the platform, Rasool hopes The Folklore can become the ‘LVMH of Africa.’
The site’s idea came when Rasool was living in Cape Town, finishing a master’s program in Philosophy of African Studies. She traveled across the ‘Continent’, as she referred to it, for her studies and discovered the local African designers she saw on social media. These travels helped form relationships with creatives who had yet to sell their wares in the US or Europe. “I wanted to introduce their work and designs outside of Africa. I wouldn’t haven’t been able to do this successfully if I didn’t have a presence there,” says Rasool.
The first year was a labor of love with Rasool running the entire site alone. Her mom fulfilled her orders. She added staff in keys roles such as chief operating officer, buyer and special projects associate, marketing manager, e-commerce manager, editorial content manager and a digital producer for audio and visual content this past year. The brand had about thirty designers when the pandemic hit.
While Rasool was maintaining the operation though May, she benefited in a significant uptick in sales due to the push to support Black-owned companies that came in the wake of the George Floyd murders. “Sales are up from the months before the pandemic even though we sold out many items; we weren’t expecting that.”
It isn’t to say that Rasool wasn’t ready for her attention and her site started to get. “I’ve always operated this business at a super high level even when we were only getting 4 or 5 sales a month; I treated it like we were on the same level as Bergdorf Goodman, for instance. I was hyper-focused on the quality of presentation and delivery of products.” She also became a focus of the fashion media with features on Elle.com, Footwear News and Harper’s Bazaar under new Editor-in-Chief Samira Nasr among other publications.
This polished approach and highly curated selection will come in handy as the founder seeks first-round seed money this fall. With a new emphasis on attention and support for Black creatives and companies, the time to strike is now. The site carries about thirty brands and designers – all Black-owned with approximately ninety percent from Africa and ten percent from the diaspora originating from Africa – but will double the selection by November.
“We didn’t scale back on our fall selection orders because we are looking to scale up on revenue as we seek to raise our first round of capital,” she said. Adding thirty new brands versus relying on the thirty already on the site relieves the burden on developing brands to create that revenue. It’s the first time to sell outside of Africa for many. With production cycles at fifty percent in some places due to the pandemic, it’s also a reality. The Folklore selling new names also adds variety and a chance to capture a new audience.
Keeping a holistic view of the big picture for the brand is part of Rasool’s brand strategy and those on her site. She is selective not just aesthetically but also about the brand’s MO. “We want designers who want to build a legacy brand, employ more people, sell on their direct-to-consumer, and other multi-brand e-commerce sites besides The Folklore. Helping develop these businesses grow has become a larger part of the work that The Folklore does. “Seventy-five percent of the brands we work with were not selling online before they sold to is,” said Rasool adding, “we laid the blueprint, especially the international pricing that didn’t exist for these brands.”
The Folklore’s low overhead cost, partly due to no permanent physical space, was a way to test these brands in the American and European markets. She tested brick and mortar retail with a some pre-pandemic pop-ups with more to come in 2021 and a permanent retail in two years time.
“Now we know that people want it, so how do we provide it at scale? We can’t be their only distributor in these markets.” Multi-brand is our entry into the market, low barriers to enter the market because we launched on e-comm and don’t have the overhead of physical space. That was us testing the waters – finding out we had a demand for it in the US and Europe. Now that we know that people want it, how do we provide it at scale? We can’t be the only distributor for these brands in this market.”
This fall Rasool and her team will help two designers on their site launch their mono-brand services by white labeling their e-commerce model. Additionally, they will give them support to run it and support content, customer service, and fulfillment. Brand sites allow brands to offer more selection than an e-tail or retail partner. Helping to amp this up will be a new third-party logistics partner, Bergen Logistics, to outsource that aspect.
Currently, she estimates that about sixty-five percent of assets on the website and social media content on The Folklore is created in-house. But her goal is to have at least 90 percent there. Simultaneously she will be creating content and assets for the consulting clients from photoshoots for these brands.
During this ambitious growth, she raised her first round of pre-seed money from venture capital funds and angel investors with some specific targets. Those who started or exited successful fashion start-ups such as Natalie Massanet of Net-a-Porter or Andrew Rosen of Theory are high priorities to approach. “It’s not just capital we want but someone who can offer a network and advice,” said Rasool, furthering someone who knows how fashion works won’t require having to over-explain.
With some commitments already secured, The Folklore will invest in marketing for the first time. “What will dictate our success is a strong team, so we are seeking industry investors that will commit to our vision to uplift the designers and brands of Africa and provide more jobs on the Continent.”
Currently, The Folklore features Andrea Iyameh swimwear from Canada; Clan women’s Ready-to-Wear from Lagos, Loza Maléombho shoes from Côte D’Ivoire, Maxhosa Africa knitwear from South Africa; Nataal African culture magazines from London; Orange Culture menswear from Lagos, and Third Crown Jewelry from New York, among others, each with a significant social media presence.