WorkinFashion Presents: Akojo Market
By Yasmin Jones-Henry
“If It’s Not Ethical, It’s Not Fashion – If It’s Not Ethical, It’s Not Luxury”
(YJH, September, 2018)
For the longest time, African designers and artisans have watched their patterns and ideas reappear on the catwalks of New York, London, Paris and Milan, with little or no recognition. It’s virtually impossible to combat cultural appropriation, if there is a severe lack in the availability of platforms that can allow these artisans to sell to an international market. We’ve had Net-a-Porter – bringing luxury to our doorsteps for well over a decade. Far-fetch wasn’t far behind. But while these luxury e-commerce platforms cater to the predominantly mainstream market of luxury retail, what about the emerging markets? What about Africa?
Allow me to introduce you to Akojo Market. Founded by Natasha Buchler and Annie Rudnick, Akojo Market is the new e-commerce platform that is putting African, sustainable luxury lifestyle brands on the map. Whether it’s fashion, jewellery or interior design, whatever ethically sourced treasures you are after, Akojo Market is a great place to start. As a social enterprise, Natasha and Annie have created a business that is designed to financially empower the female and male artisans they collaborate with, thus supporting local communities. They curate brands that promote African culture and are committed to transparency as the foundation of their business practices. Their downloadable ‘Due Diligence Pack’ is a two page step by step guide as to the questions they ask, and the processes they undertake to ensure that the products they are selling are genuinely ethical, and genuinely sustainable.
One of the upsides to the backlash surrounding the unethical homogenous entity that is fast-fashion, is that increasingly, consumers are gravitating to the bespoke. Produced at a smaller scale, often in communities that benefit exponentially from the revenues generated, the market for African luxury goods is on the verge of a Renaissance. Ahead of their launch next month (4th June) I decided to ask the founders a few questions…
1. What was the motivation for starting Akojo Market?
Our co-founder Natasha traveled frequently to Ghana and always returned with beautiful products and amazing stories of basket weaving women’s collectives in the Volta region, recycled glass bracelet initiatives in Accra and the female founders inspiring positive change within artisanal businesses. She wanted to bring these products to a UK audience and champion the makers by creating a platform and a community where brands can draw on her knowledge, particularly in supply chain compliance, to grow internationally whilst improving the transparency and sustainability of their operations. Partnering with Annie, our co-founder and Creative Director’s skills in marketing, curating and digital communications, was a natural fit!
2. There has definitely been a gap in the market for creating an ethical luxury e-commerce platform for artisans in Africa. How has it been received?
The platform has been received extremely well by customers, potential investors and our brands. We have had many sales in the first month and interest from the industry. At present, there are many “buzz words” around ethics, transparency and sustainability in retail, and this can confuse customers. We break this down as simply as possible, using clear criteria that determines at a high level a company’s ethos and accountability in business. Anyone can download our free guidance on vetting business partners and suppliers from our website’s APPROACH page. Most importantly, through our conversations and due diligence processes, our brands and artisans are understanding what they need to implement and achieve to be “ethical”, and that is the driver to real change – change that enables women to be financially independent, to send their children to school and to be in business in five years time with a growing workforce.
3. Your launch date is set for June 4th, what are your plans for the future?
Our core objective is to generate sales for our brands and support their needs as they grow. With increased profits, these brands’ ability to do good in their local communities are endless. So, expanding our customer base in the UK to become a well known platform for beautifully curated, unique African inspired/made products is our immediate goal. We will then expand to the EU, US and Rest of World, tackling two primary challenges: meeting customer demand without compromising on quality and sound work practices; and managing a seamless shipping and logistics operation, carrying this out in the least environmentally polluting way possible. [End]
Don’t just take my word for it – check them out for yourself!
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