Showcasing Africa with fashion—how to build an Afrocentric clothing line

Afrocentric fashion is a fusion of African dissonance into clothing apparel, showcasing prominent aspects of culture and values. It's an expression of oneself and being with innovative African fashion; by piecing elements of ancient Africa together to form a cloth.
Now we know what Afrocentric fashion means, but what does it mean to build a successful clothing brand out of it? Well, we had a chat with Bibie Odoemena of Zikorahafrica. Her clothing line has found a balance between modernity and chic with the use of Ankara.

A little background about her, she is an enterprising young woman and creative director at Zikorah Africa. She refuses to address herself as the CEO, even if that is what she is. Extremely humble and sometimes content creator; She barely wears asoebi and likes comfortable fashion.

Her goal for Zikorah is to make an everyday Afrocentric clothing line that is not limited to just special occasions; she wants to create something that everyone can wear anytime any day that projects modernity into Ankara prints and pieces. She is a firm believer in doing what you're good at.

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How did Zikorah Africa come to be?

Zikorah was born out of my passion for fashion; I've always liked to play dress-up, but it all started when I graduated. At the time, fashion was a thing of fun for me; I decided to learn how to make clothes when I realized how much I was spending on it.

But the idea of Zikorah itself was born out of a partnership with a friend; we got talking, and the idea to start a business came to be.

We just ran it passively while we looked for jobs, so we planned and prayed about it; in the end, we stuck with the name Zikorah (in Igbo, which translates to show the world).

What are your favourite things about your business?

The first thing is the reach it gives me; I've been able to reach out to many other African fashion-loving women across the world who are fashion enthusiasts like myself. So today, Zikorah has been able to ship to Germany, Ghana, Dubai, Australia, the US, the UK, etc. It's thrilling that people are wearing my pieces from the comfort of my space, and they are excited about it. I love that I can think of an idea for a bit, and somebody in Australia could see and go, "I love this, and I want to buy it".

What is Zikorah's operation model like? Did you start online or in a physical store?

I started online, but I was very consistent. That was how I was able to build a network. Offline, I did not know anybody; all my customers were online.

What are your least favourite parts of it?

The Tailors! Their headache is too much. No matter how the structure of a business is, this is very common because these people hold the production part of the business in their hands—so having to deal with their errors, mistakes and all that is a hassle.

And it's a problem that I don't even know the solution to it is, but a way around it for me has been delegating tasks with each and everyone's abilities in mind—to avoid any back and forth.

What's your relationship with customer service like?

In times of errors, which is a novelty—I reach out to customers myself to keep them in the loop of the situation. I offer them incentives; it could be free delivery, a free bonus, etc. Just something to make up for the inconvenience

I find that if you reach out first, you are in control, but if they do, you're just giving excuses, and no one likes excuses when their money is involved.

Why were Ankara prints your choice of fabric for your clothing line?

I saw a lot of edgy and chic clothing everywhere, but I didn't see the African versions of it. So for me, it became a thing of this Ankara that people are constantly subject to just special occasions or only Fridays. So I wanted to infuse it into everyday fashion; I wanted to make it work such that you could also wear an Ankara outfit to work even on a Monday, and the outfit could still be considered chic and modern.

Many people made Ankara pieces quite right at the time, but nobody made the chic kind, so it was more about filling a gap in the market.

What are some things you wish you knew before starting your business?

I wish I knew many things. Honestly, I had to learn a lot on the job and figure it out independently. But unfortunately, many people were not open to sharing insights or information about their business or experiences when I started. But now, there are YouTube videos and blogs.

There's so much I wish I knew; I wish I had someone put me through the entire process of running a business and managing staff with customers; I wish there had been someone to teach me how difficult it could be to have avoided running around in circles trying to figure out my business. I wish someone had told me, 'See, finances are a huge plus with running a business, and it would be hard to upscale if you focus on saving money. So I wish I had known all these simple business tips before starting my business.

When you work in this fashion, ready to wear space—you need to flow with trends to get people interested. But in as much as you want to follow trends, you still have to stay true to your brand's vision and mission so that you don't just fall off. You really shouldn't have to jump on every bandwagon. Just try to stay on course with your brand identity and what made you start in the first place.

In my case, I focus on many aspects of fashion in general—I think of seasons and weather (Spring or Summer etc.) because I don't cater to just the Nigerian audience.

What has been your craziest experience so far as a business owner?

Plenty of crazy things happen every day, but the most common one is problematic clients. You know, there are just these people that you can read their aura, and your gut tells you they'll be problematic, and then gbam, they are. So you find yourself either refunding money, re-shipping items, or figuring out logistics issues.

Finally, what are some challenges you face as a business owner?

Logistics issues because we have a diverse clientele—we ship across the world, and sometimes, due to forces beyond my control, items get lost in transit, and they never get to the buyer. So it's on us to fix that error, liaise with the customer, understand the situation, and appease them. If this happens, it's a priority that we don't lose the customer's interest.

Check out ZikorahAfrica on Instagram guys-https://instagram.com/zikorahafrica?igshid=YmMyMTA2M2Y=

Scale With Kippa is a weekly series where we discuss the peculiarities of running and scaling businesses in Nigeria. This month’s episodes focus on the lives of small scale roadside in different industries who are growing year on year using all available resources.

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Hafeedoh Balogun

Hafeedoh Balogun