Last weekend i went to Bubuashie for a wedding. We finally arrived, the road to the church was flooded, muddy and slippery… and there was no parking space anywhere. First of all, building a church with no parking space is a gross lack of faith. You don’t expect the Lord to bless you/your members with cars eventually? Secondly, walking thru mud and trying not to slip and fall is not my idea of saturday morning entertainment.
So, i turned around and left, obviously… which meant i had a lot more time to spend at my next engagement – the launch of AfroChic’s new line. There was no pomp and pageantry here, just a large green garden with the clothes spread around and soft calm music wafting thru the air. The vibrant colours of the clothes set against the fresh green grass made it a calm and serene experience. But there was something else…
Everytime i’ve gone for a fashion show, it’s more like an exhibition of the designer’s creative whims and wild fabric-oriented fantasies than a presentation of clothes women would actually wear… in daylight. But in the two hours that i spent here, i saw all sorts of women breeze in and out. Size 2s… size 12s… and larger… and none of them left without buying at least one thing. And without sounding overly dramatic, there was something for everyone. There were fashionistas there, and there were “ordinary” women there.
AfroChic’s founded and helmed by Adwoa Perbi and Esi Cleland, two extraordinary women in their own right. Esi’s a GeyHey girl, the first in her family to go to Uni on a full scholarship to Smith College. She started off studying electrical engineering (switched to Physics because she found that more interesting… ) and then proceeded to Duke for her Masters.
Adwoa’s an Akora. (i can literally hear the cheering) She’s got a degree in Computer Science from Cornell and worked for Goldman-Sachs in New York and London before moving back to GH. Ya.
So it’s safe to say starting up this fashion company wasn’t an act of desperation.
Their passion is undeniable and AfroChic is becoming a big thing. Not just in terms of the market they’re reaching out to but also in how they’re doing it. Apart from their shop on the Legon campus, they sell most of their clothes via their online store. They take orders online and do doorstep deliveries. That’s pretty awesome considering our addressing system… or lack of one.
“Online shopping is new here. It means we’re having to teach people to use what we have developed like our size charts and our website. In some ways, it’s exciting to be at the forefront of that.”
These two come across as women with balls of steel but it’s taken a lot of time and sacrifice to get to where they are, both quitting lucrative jobs to concentrate on AfroChic fulltime. They describe it as the dues to pay to live one’s dreams.
“It’s scary of course but Adwoa says that courage is not the absence of fear. It’s the willingness to do it inspite of the fear. That’s what she said when I was scared to quit my job. It didn’t make things better. What I wanted to hear was that we were at the brink of pursuing this grand venture. That if we did it, it would be awesome.“
And yes, it was brutal in the beginning. Yet, almost a year later… if not more, here they are and here AfroChic is. It’s gained a steady reputation and a growing fanbase that actually actively patronizes their clothes and looks forward to new collections.
The thing i admire most about these guys (and by guys, i mean women…) is that they’re single minded in what they aspire to be. They want to be a brand that’s worn. Period. Worn here, in Lagos, Douala… wherever there are women who want to look good. That automatically puts everything from their pricing range to their marketing strategy in perspective.
“we want to be global but Africa is where we wish to begin. And we want AfroChic to be worn not just by a few rich people but by as many Africans as want to.”
The brand promise for their consumers is simple. “Get Compliments…” It’s remarkably strong and continues to guide their design and production efforts line after line. It’s funny how you could pick up anything on sale and see how it fit that promise. African women like to look good. African men like their women to look good. If you can do that and still stay within a sensible and morally acceptable budget, you’ve cracked the brief. I think they have.
For me, it was hilarious fun to watch all these different women try clothes on and strut out with an excited grin on their faces, eager to hear their friends’/spouse’s reaction. But you could see it, right there on their faces – the reassured glow of knowing that they looked good. It was interesting and slightly freaky. But that’s the point.
As Esi puts it…
“When people choose AfroChic, they’re choosing to reflect all that is remarkable about themselves. It’s about clothing Africa from within… but Africans… we don’t wear just anything, so only compliments will do.”
In 1994, there was an ad slogan for a wood dye manufacturer that became very popular. It simply read “Does exactly what it says on the tin.” And that’s true in this case as well, because from what I saw, and the excited buzz around the company, AfroChic is doing exactly what it says on the tin.
Go on, Get Compliments…