The Rise of E-Commerce Platforms and the Impact on African Designers
Words by Temilade Adeyinka
Thanks to the internet, the demand to shop fashion by African designers is growing. Now more than ever, brands are increasingly offered opportunities to heighten their visibility and expand their target market on various digital channels. Through the use of e-commerce platforms such as The Folklore Connect, Fashtraker and Afrikrea, cross-border purchases are enabling designers to reach customers eager to access their collections irrespective of where they’re located. By facilitating resource-intense components such as shipping, handling, payments and marketing, these platforms are easing some of the many barriers African designers face when it comes to selling outside their national borders.
One of the barriers that African designers face is the inability to effectively scale their businesses in the countries they operate in. From high operational costs to delivery logistics challenges, it’s difficult for businesses to grow at a rate that they might like. Partnering with e-commerce platforms gives them the opportunity to tap into global markets and forgo financial and structural hurdles that a business of their capacity may be able to handle if they want to introduce a greater group of customers to African brands.
When Nigerian-based online marketplace, Fashtracker, was launched in 2020 it was originally set up to serve markets in Africa only. That quickly changed when the team realized that a bulk of their transactions were coming from outside the continent rather than within. As a B2B online marketplace, Fashtracker uses a two-pronged approach to boost sales. The first focuses on the brand and sellers that get listed on the site and the second focuses on the buyers. Buyers and sellers looking to get listed on the site undergo a thorough vetting process, showcasing Fashtracker’s curatorial eye and stamp of approval for quality pieces.
“As an independent brand, I’ve found that stocking on various e-commerce platforms has helped cement my global brand identity at a relatively faster rate,” says founder of the eponymous brand Abiola Olusola, a women’s ready-to-wear and bespoke line. “I’m able to connect with customers across the world who share my passion for sustainability and craftsmanship.” An additional benefit for Olusola is that more sales help empower local artisans and preserve traditional craftsmanship employed by her design team. Her brand is part of the growing system of brands securing ties with like-minded individuals whose purchasing decisions are motivated by shared values and ethics.
One way this is done is through content. Platforms such as The Folklore Edit and Industrie Africa amplify the brands they stock through expertly researched articles and designer spotlights. These pieces help drive awareness and showcase the multitudes of identities, cultures and design nuances, and help dispel the myth of a homogenous African continent. It’s working, as these platforms are opening up more and more emerging brands to new frontiers, while also fulfilling growing demands from retailers who are keen on inclusion and sustainability.
According to Statista, Africa’s e-commerce opportunity is valued at $19.8 billion. One e-tailer that’s plugged into this growing economic prospect is Ivory Coast-based platform Afrikrea, which boasts more than 500,000 monthly website visitors. Designers selling on Afrikrea can create storefronts and receive payments from customers anywhere in the world; a key benefit for sellers based in Africa who are able to curtail existing payment challenges on the continent. The result? In 2021, Afrikrea was able to carry out almost €8 million worth of transactions, according to the company’s data, with approximately 80% of its orders coming from outside the continent.
This growing prospect is also why The Folklore Connect’s purpose is to bring together African fashion brands and retailers for opportunities that encourage the brands to scale their businesses and compete on a global stage. Because Connect operates as a B2B wholesale e-commerce platform, brands are essentially able to create digital showrooms for buyers to explore and to conduct virtual market appointments with boutiques or retailers that wish to stock their products without costly visits to trade shows.
The bubbling and exciting prospects e-commerce presents can also pose some challenges. Since the 1980s, most of Africa’s textile industries have been wiped out and a generation of skilled workers has been lost. Textile manufacturing in the region is also estimated to have fallen by more than 75% in that time. Although the African Continental Free Trade agreement hopes to boost intra-African trade to 50% by 2030, many designers are yet to fully reap these benefits. For African designers looking to grow beyond their borders, these issues can severely impact their supply output and can hinder their ability to keep up with demands. While technology and e-commerce have been key drivers of generating awareness and sales, these platforms will have to build structures that not only cater to global demands but help solve deeply entrenched hurdles within the industry to ensure long-lasting change.