7 Accelerator Programs and Funds Created for African and Black-Owned Brands
Words by Shreya Wankhade
One of the positive results to have come from the racial-equity awakening of the past couple of years has been a focus on empowering and supporting Black-owned brands and designers of color who have long been overlooked by the wider fashion industry.
Since 2020, many funding, mentorship and accelerator programs have been created to bridge the gap between creatives of all backgrounds and access to opportunities that they are not usually afforded, whether it’s raising capital, educational development, or introductions to a helpful network of experts. From investment firms willing to write checks and offer financial support to established designers who are sharing their lessons learned with up-and-coming entrepreneurs and philanthropists who are keen to level the playing field, many organizations are stepping up to specifically support designers from Africa and the diaspora.
Proving that awareness, communication and visibility are not the only ways to support and uplift emerging brands founded by Black creatives, the seven organizations below demonstrate the importance of addressing racial imbalance in the fashion industry.
01. Birimian Ventures
Billed as the first operational investment company dedicated to emerging African brands, Birimian Ventures champions creatives from the continent by providing capital, institutional support and strategic advice to help them grow their brands. With a focus on brand development and long-term opportunities, the team at Birimian connect up-and-coming designers with their extensive global network of experts across distribution, media and industry events. Some of the brands that Birimian Ventures have included in its accelerator program are South Africa’s Rich Mnisi and MmusoMaxwell, Lagos-based Shekudo, Ivorian brand Kente Gentlemen and Ghana’s Christie Brown.
ROOM, which stands for “representation, organisation, opportunity, mentoring” was founded in 2015 by London-based Americaan magazine editor Kenya Hunt as a way of creating space within the British fashion industry for Black, Brown and marginalised voices. recognising mentoring as a means of tackling the fashion industry’s lack of racial diversity, Hunt enlisted her peers to offer advice and guidance to students and entry-level professionals aiming to progress in fashion. With an advisory council that includes the likes of former model and managing agent Bethann Hardison, writer and editor Funmi Fetto and stylist Karen Binns, ROOM has connected students with editors, publicists, academics and stylists from brands such as Elle, i-D, Vogue, Burberry and Michael Kors.
03. African Fashion Foundation
Convened by Ghanaian businesswoman and philanthropist Roberta Annan, the African Fashion Foundation provides professional and educational development for creatives, to aid in their success in the global fashion industry. Through initiatives such as a scholarship to the Condé Nast College of Fashion & Design and a three-day industry retreat in West Africa, AFF is dedicated to supporting the growth of talented creatives across fashion communication, business and media talent, especially those with the greatest financial need. In just a few short years, AFF has dispersed funds of about $1.3m across 15 programs and 24 alumni and impacted the lives of many others.
04. Seed Ambition
Described as platform dedicated to educating and providing resources for the development of creative entrepreneurs, Seed Ambition was founded in 2020 by Nigerian fashion designer Andrea Iyamah. Inspired by Iyamah’s experience of more than a decade as an entrepreneur, the designer decided to impart some of the lessons she’s learned along the way to up-and-coming creatives in the African fashion industry with a virtual masterclass titled “The Cutting Room: Building A Brand Message”. Through classes, networking, partnerships and financing, Seed nurtures and develops the knowledge and business skills of creative entrepreneurs, creating some much-needed structure in a growing industry.
05. Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab
American artist Theaster Gates teamed up with luxury fashion brand the Prada Group in September 2021 to create the Dorchester Industries Experimental Design Lab, a three-year program that is designed to amplify the work of designers of color across the creative industries, ranging from fashion and graphic design to architecture and the culinary arts. From financial grants to collaborative opportunities with other established brands, the program aims to equip creatives with the tools needed to achieve their potential, and to give their work the global platform it deserves. The first cohort of 14 designers — chosen by a committee of industry leaders such as Prada’s creative director Miuccia Prada, director Ava DuVernay, and architect Sir David Adjaye — include Kendall Reynolds of Kendall Miles and jeweller Catherine Sarr.
06. The Black Fashion Accelerator
A joint venture between annual music and arts festival Afropunk and e-commerce platform Shopify, the Black Fashion Accelerator pairs nine fashion designers with a mentor over the course of six months to develop their brands into more sustainable and profitable entities. Launched earlier this year with inaugural mentor Christopher Bevans, creative director of menswear brand Dyne, the program offers coaching, business support and a grant of $5,000, culminating with a fashion show displaying the handiwork of the chosen designers. This year’s class included Vavvoune founder Valerie Blaise, House of Fleek’s Jelisa Smith and Sophia Danner-Okotie, founder of Besida.
With a vision to realise a more diverse, inclusive, equitable and prosperous fashion industry for creatives of color by 2050, newly formed non-profit enterprise Sovereignty is on a mission to create a lasting impact. Founded by Neil Montgomery, an executive with experience in social impact at global organisations, Sovereignty has secured partnerships with Wells Fargo and Japanese car manufacturer Lexus to create an impact fund. Its Fashion CEO accelerator program will see entrepreneurs receive a grant of $50,000, eight months of intensive training and access to a network of experts in order to launch a sustainable fashion business.