Annesophie Achera: Bringing African fashion to the forefront of the retail industry

Annesophie Achera is the founder and creative director of AAchera Designs, a chic African fashion brand born in Nairobi, Kenya in 2011.

She created the unique clothing line for women to feel bold, vibrant and confident and has since taken her brand across the region to Rwanda, Ghana and across the pond to the US and the UK.

Annesophie takes pride in her designs as they show her love for the African print and African culture unabashedly.

A fashion force to reckon with, Annesophie has had quite the journey and in this article, she shares her eagerness to do a lot more for the burgeoning fashion industry in Kenya.


On how my career in fashion began…

A few years back, I would make my own clothes to wear to family functions, and would always get positive responses about the clothes I designed.

People always wanted to know where I got this dress or that top and it became so frequent that I started getting a few orders here and there and with the constant push from my family, I decided to start my own line.

Being in the company of my cousin Liz Ogumbo, a well-known fashion designer based in South Africa and my mentor also got me very interested in the fashion industry.

Having worked with True Love magazine as a stylist also helped me learn my ways around styling people from all walks of life.

What inspired my fashion line – AACHERA…

I’m very passionate about fashion and style and I personally like dressing for occasions – every day is my runway.

That is what inspired me to create a line for both myself and for people out there who love fashion and want to look and feel confident in what they wear.

I currently have two fashion lines. One is a luxury line which mainly has stock for occasions – this was inspired by wanting and appreciating the finer things in life.

I recently rebranded the line and what inspired that was the need to have local fashion businesses in the retail space, I felt the need to fill that gap and bring African fashion to the forefront of the retail industry.

My thoughts on the fashion scene in Africa…

I think the fashion scene on the continent is doing quite well. I always say Africa is the new luxury at large as a brand in itself.

The industry is really thriving in West and Southern Africa and it is picking up quite fast in East Africa as well.

I have done business in Kenya, Ghana, Rwanda, and the US and England – so as a designer in Africa, you have quite a big market, especially in the diaspora because they tend to prefer locally made clothes to support their own.

The African Development Bank (AFDB) stated that fashion in Africa is sustainable mainly just by the virtue of creating employment opportunities for our own here, especially for a lot of women and creating a positive working environment.

How I think the fashion scene in Africa can improve…

One challenge I think we face a lot is the challenge of production, and this is something I am constantly working on and gradually overcoming.

It is a case of either growing your in-house production team or taking your designs to the factories and that is always a challenge if you are a small business.

I wish we could have more people taking in small – scale orders so that the businesses that are just starting out can still get the same quality of clothing.

My fashion do’s and don’ts…

Don’t – wear clothes that do not fit.

They give the impression that you’re either not too confident with yourself and it kind of reflects badly on you as a person.

What you wear says a lot about you without you having to say anything at all.

Do – have a good base/foundation to your dressing.

By this, I mean what you wear inside your clothes should also be as good as what you wear outside.

Wearing the right size bra, good clean underwear, provides a positive base for what you will wear on top of all that.

Your style should be a reflection of who you are. Lousy foundations = a lousy fit = lousy confidence.

Don’t – rush into trends

I prefer to make classic pieces that can be worn for a long period of time.

Trends tend to die out quick and you end up wasting money and time on pieces that won’t serve you a long time. Buy clothes that you intend to keep forever.

Quality over quantity any day.

Do – have a signature style.

Be known for something. You don’t need to be a fashion designer or a stylist to be known for that particular style.

How does one get to know their signature style? One should ask themselves various questions like who are you really?

What do you like to do? What do you stand for?

My top 3 fashion icons, locally and internationally…

  • Asiyami Gold
  • Elie Saab
  • Michelle Obama

What motivates me to create and develop new designs…

My motivation comes from different things. I look to different cultures, I try to learn and understand them to appreciate what they offer in terms of creativity.

When I travel I take time to engage with different people from different parts of the world and get to learn the history of the place and the people and understand why certain things are done in a certain way.

All this inspires my designs in one way or another. Some of my collections stem from a personal story that I’m relaying in my work.

AAchera is basically made to incorporate African cultures into the design and telling an African story through our textiles and collections. When it comes to designing, I look a lot to the seasons we experience.

I use different colors according to the season and pick small elements fro what is trending that I add on to the main classic piece that will be the end result.

My advice to those wanting to start their own fashion line…

  • Don’t give yourself an excuse not to start. Just go for it and start. Know your strengths.
  • I knew my strength is in styling so I used that to get my start in the fashion world.
  • Don’t procrastinate – be consistent.
  • When necessary take breaks and you don’t have to explain why, because as creatives we tend to get into a rut or a creative block from time to time so taking a break to get your juices flowing again is not a bad thing.
  • Know your why. If you always remember why you started, no matter what happens or comes in your way you’ll always keep it pushing and keep going because you know your why.

What’s next for the future of AAchera Designs…

We just rebranded in 2017, we had been on a break since 2014.

It’s been a great two years so far of growth and constant learning and I think moving forward, we want to be very consistent and soon have an AAchera Retail outlet.

I want to be able to create clothes for women in all sizes in a retail space. I want the company to grow both locally and globally and continue creating awareness of the versatility of African Fashion.

I want to particularly have a prime presence in East, South and Western Africa with outlets being put up in various cities on the continent.

My biggest lesson in life and business…

Always have written agreements for proof/reference. Be it with suppliers of textiles, employees, any form of business interaction for clarity and all reference in the future, in case things go south. 

Do not make assumptions, communicate clearly.

I’m glad to have learned this early in my business life even before re-branding, and it has saved me a lot.

This has worked well because you end up minimizing your losses and everything is clearly written out for future reference.

It may have cost me earlier in my journey, especially being a young designer in the industry then, but moving forward it has been an effective and important lesson learned.

My mantra in life…

To see a change, you need to become a living, breathing asset to everyone you know and a true advocate to everything you believe in.

It can get stressful, hard, but these are things that are getting you ahead so keep at it – be consistent, practice patience and keep learning.

One thing I recently learned is to do business with people who inspire you.

Addie Olutola: Building a Fashion Line for the culture

Addie Olutola is the founder of D’IYANU, a ready-to-wear clothing line that offers African inspired fashion for men and women. She thought of the business idea while working as a buyer and also attending a Masters program in International Marketing. Her professional and academic background, coupled with a love for fashion and a passion for African-centered art set the stage for D’IYANU. A regular on my Instagram Explore Tab featuring #datenight outfits and a go-to brand for the culturally-conscious fashionista, D’IYANU encourages self-expression through its bold prints and unique pieces. The meaning behind the brand name draws from French (D’) and Yoruba (IYANU) influence, translating to “of something wonderful”–a reminder to everyone that they’re uniquely made and to dress like it. What makes D’IYANU even more special is Addie’s commitment to seeking ways her business can empower her community and help address the social issues it faces. The company has grown to 12 employees, many of whom are Nigerian women, and has donated a portion of its profits to nonprofits that provide clean water and education to African communities. In this interview, she gives a sneak peek into her world and shares her wisdom on how to build a purpose-filled business.

Tell us about your journey of starting D’IYANU.

Since university, I held a purpose to help build schools and clinics and provide opportunities to people in underdeveloped communities in Nigeria and other African countries. I later launched D’IYANU with a mission centered on community engagement. Since our start, we’ve donated over $20,000 to causes that support African communities and the D’IYANU brand continues to grow daily.  

What were some important lessons you took your work experience to your business?

My first job out of school was for an online pet store. I learned a lot of valuable lessons about inventory and website management that helped me when I launched my own business. My second job as a buyer helped me hone my vendor and customer relation skills which was much needed as well in my business. All my previous jobs really contributed to my success as an entrepreneur. I would advise aspiring entrepreneurs to regard their current and previous jobs as stepping stones and commit to gleaning as much knowledge and skill as possible from that role Not every business is the same. Don't make the assumption that what worked for another company will necessarily work for your own - @AddieIyanu Click To Tweet

What did you learn from your biggest failure?

One failure we experienced was trying to implement an ERP system that was too big for us. It was an archaic system used by larger companies and thought it would work for us. We made many assumptions, and it ended up costing us a lot. The lesson learned was that not every business is the same and not to make the assumption that what worked for another company will necessarily work for your own. Also, make sure you do your due diligence and get as much of your questions answered as possible.

Who has influenced you most when it comes to how you approach your work?

I listen to some motivational speakers regular such as Les Brown, Jim Rohn, and Tony Robbins whose words have helped me through tough times with my business. Words from Les Brown such as “It’s not over until I win” or Tony Robbins “I can, I will, I must” ring in my mind when I’m feeling discouraged.

As your business grows, what are some core values that will remain important?

  1. Always keep customers first and maintain excellent customer service
  2. Hire great people and keeping them happy within the team
  3. Continue to innovate and try new things with operations and fashion
  4. Make sure that D’IYANU continues to give to great causes

The African fashion market is heavily saturated, how do you cut through the noise to differentiate your brand?

  Since starting D’IYANU, my goal has been to make sure that we’re differentiating ourselves by offering quality, ready to wear clothing at reasonable prices, quick delivery, and quality customer service. Our men’s fashion line, for example, has allowed us to reach a rarely tapped market and to gain a competitive advantage in the African-wear industry.

With the substantial relationship between e-commerce and social media, what are some creative strategies you’ve experimented with or want to explore?

With social media, we recognize that the possibilities to connect with new customers are endless. We’re currently exploring our options in using more video content and collaborating with influencers.

What is your personal brand mantra?

“My mission in life is not merely to survive, but to thrive; and to do so with some passion, some compassion, some humor and some style.”- Maya Angelou

What’s your advice for a budding entrepreneur?

Write down why you want to start your business. Make sure the reasons are compelling enough to get you going on tough days. If your reasons are compelling enough, you’ll figure out a way to make your dreams a reality and continue to push in spite of failure. Make sure your reasons for starting your business are compelling enough to get you going on tough days. - @AddieIyanu Click To Tweet

What are you most excited about at the moment, and what are your next steps?

I’m excited about our use of a new type of fabric that’s woven but has a little bit of spandex for stretch. No one else in the African fashion market is using this type of fabric to my knowledge. We have to get it special made. It looks like cotton, but it’s made with a rayon/nylon/spandex blend. It can stretch to accommodate curves nicely. We have a few pieces that we will be launching in January 2019 with this material which is exciting!
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FACEBOOK LIVE WITH THANDO’S: TRANSFORMING THE WORLD WITH AFRICAN FASHION (APR 25)

African innovators are capturing the world’s attention through their unique designs –particularly in the fashion industry!

Examples include African designers like Mimi Plange, whose works have caught the eyes of Michelle Obama and Rihanna or Kisua, a luxury African brand that Queen Bey is a fan of!  

Amazing shoe brands like Thando’s, are revolutionizing the fashion scene with Africa’s first fashionable, comfortable and foldable ballerina flat that can fit inside a small handbag, office drawer or the glove compartment of a car!

Talk about convenience with style!

That being said, if you are looking to break into the fashion industry or want to harness your passion for fashion – this is one is for you!

Join us on Wednesday, April 25th, for a Facebook Live with Jibolu Ayodele – co-founder, Thando’s, and Chioma Okonkwo – Winner of 2017 Thando’s Design competition, as they share with us all a fashion innovator needs to know about changing the fashion scene through innovative designs.  

Change the fashion scene through innovative #AfricanFashion, with @ThandosShoes on, April 25th! More info at: http://bit.ly/Thandos Click To Tweet

Some of the topics we’ll cover

  • The art of designing for social impact
  • How crowdsourcing/collaborative consumption can work for Fashionpreneurs
  • Disrupting Africa’s fashion landscape
  • What you need to know about manufacturing in Africa

Webinar Details:

Date: Wednesday, April 25th, 2018

Time: 12PM Lagos // 1PM Johannesburg // 2PM Nairobi

Location: Register below to get access to this opportunity

Watch here:

She Leads Africa Facebook Live with Jibolu Adeyole, co-founder of @ThandosShoes and Chioma Okonkwo, winner of 2017 Thando’s design competition sharing insights on Transforming the world with African fashion. Join the She Leads Africa community by visiting SheLeadsAfrica.org/join!

Posted by She Leads Africa on Wednesday, April 25, 2018

About our experts:

Jibolu “J.G.” Ayodele is the co-founder of Thando’s, a Lagos and NY based fashion company that provides a platform for African artists to design for a global audience. 

Before co-founding Thando’s, Jibolu led the business development efforts of Viacom International Media Networks in Nigeria, where he co-created partnerships with brands such as Hewlett Packard and Lufthansa. He has also worked with Deloitte, Bank of America and GE Capital.

Mr. Ayodele holds an MBA in Finance, Entertainment, Media, and Technology from NYU – Stern School of Business. He received a Masters in Accounting from NC State University, and a Bachelors in Business Administration from the Kenan-Flagler School of Business at University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.

Jibolu is married to his co-founder, Taffi Ayodele.

Chioma Okonkwo, is a graduate of Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka, with a passion for illustration and animation. She recently participated in Thando’s inaugural print design competition, where she won with her unique design – The Akonmi Print.

She used this design to interpret how heavy rains result in flooding that displaces hundreds of thousands of people. Chioma was inspired to illustrate after her internship at an imaging company in Port-Harcourt.

When she is not working at her 9 to 5 call centre job or illustrating, Chioma is busy experiencing new places, cultures and foods. 

Assil Diab: Being an Arab Muslim female painting the streets is not always applauded

Assil Diab, is a Sudanese visual artist, graphic designer and graffiti artist based in Doha, Qatar. She is the first female graffiti artist emerging from Qatar and Sudan. Assil graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University in 2011 with a Bachelor of Fine Arts Degree in Graphics Design. She also holds a diploma in Digital Marketing and a Diploma in Advanced Social Media Marketing & ORM.

Known as ‘Sudalove’, today her work consists of mixed media and painting canvases using nothing but spray paint, “Graffiti on Canvas”. Assil’s first solo graffiti project was with SDI Marketing in Qatar where she was commissioned to paint at the Renaissance Hotel in Qatar for Cirque Eloize’s Press Conference. One of her great achievements  was when she  joined internationally known French-Tunisian artist El Seed in a Calligraffiti Project to paint one of the largest graffiti projects in the world in the Salwa Road Tunnels.

 

Feature photograph by: Ahmed Shaheen  


 

I’m a very quite person in general but once I start talking, it’s through that can Click To Tweet

Assil DiabPhotograph by: Tariq Mohammed Al-Fatieh

When you are tagging you are basically speaking to the world through street art. From the responses you have had so far do people actually get the message?

Being an Arab, Muslim female painting the streets is not always applauded. I’m a very quite person in general but once I start talking, it’s through that can.Graffiti is visually appealing because it is public art. It’s literally putting your art, thoughts, and feelings in people’s faces. Public art has the power to evoke thought and start dialogues. It is my way of communicating with society.

 

Tell us about the very first time you decided to hit the walls. What was the first tag and how was it received?

I started doing making art on paper and painting on t-shirts and shoes in my early teens. Then about three years ago, at the age of 25, I began taking it up as a profession.

I used to see graffiti everywhere while riding the metro in New York- where I was doing my internship as a photographer & graphic designer in Brooklyn. I was fascinated by graffiti, with all its shapes and colors. I loved what I was seeing on the streets and I wanted to be a part of it.

I’ve always liked challenging myself to see what I could do. So in 2013 I joined Public Works Authority ‘Ashghal’ and Qatar Museums Authority. I joined on a 4-month long internship to assist Tunisian-French calligraphist, El Seed, in painting the Salwa Road Tunnels; and that’s where I picked up a spray can for the first time.

I have never put the spray can down since those intense 4 months of graffiti. My first exhibition was in VCU-Q Bookstore where I sold 9 paintings of 13 in just two days. The paintings were painted using nothing but spray paint aka “Graffiti on Canvas”. I later switched my signature from my original name assil.diab to SudaLove. Which is my way of expressing my love and represents my home country, Sudan.

 

Assil DiabPhotograph by: Ahmed Shaheen Â 

There can be negative connotations associated with graffiti. What do you wish people knew?

Graffiti is not just for men. It’s not all about hip-hop, or gang-related, and it doesn’t have to be illegal. Most people don’t take it seriously and fail to see it as a profession. In fact, most of my work is commissioned, so I do get paid for it.

Also, often, people confuse mural art for graffiti or vice versa. There is a difference. There are no governing laws or rules to graffiti. Graffiti Is faster/quicker. But, there’s a lot of thought process & sketching when it comes to mural art, also, you don’t tend to use only spray paint when painting a mural.

 

Do you ever collaborate?

I’m working on a collaboration right now actually. I’m working with three local artists painting Aspire in Doha, Qatar. The first time I worked with these guys was in December 2016 painting in Katara. Besides these two collaborations I have only done exhibition collabs- where we all showcased our work on canvas in a particular hotel or gallery.

 

Assil DiabPhotograph by: Tariq Mohammed Al-Fatieh

Approximately how much time do you devote to art?

From the time I wake to whenever I need to go back to sleep. If I am not painting, I’m thinking about a sketch way before it needs to go up on a wall or canvas. My surroundings are full of art. I spend even more time looking at art, visiting museums, galleries, events, sketching and writing emails at least two hours a day talking about art. Or responding to emails that involve or commission artwork.

Even on the days when I don’t feel creative, I still have a consistent work ethic Click To Tweet

Are you still working on fashion as well?

Yes, I get special, sometimes unusual requests for T-shirt designs. As a fashion designer, I do not specialize in one category of apparel- I hand paint T-shirts, shoes and hats. I’m also working on a collection of Sudanese women’s “teyabs” using contemporary designs for the younger generation.

In 2010, I worked as an intern fashion photographer at Katya Moorman’s Style Defined NYC in Brooklyn, New York. I was also assisting with the design of the marketing materials for Better Than Kate, an award winning street style blog.

In addition to taking various courses in fashion design, my graphic design degree provides the required skills for fashion.

Assil DiabPhotograph by: Tariq Mohammed Al-Fatieh

What is your creative process is like?

I practice a lot of sketching in my little black book. Sometimes I’ll scan a sketch and enhance it on illustrator or a similar program. Sketching helps me grow and develop. I get inspired by everything – religion, politics, travel, culture, earth, feelings and reading.

When I’m interested in developing a new technique in graffiti, specifically, I go out and find a wall to practice on until it’s mastered. Even on the days when I don’t feel creative, I still have a consistent work ethic. My creativity is lead by my emotions and feelings at that particular time.

I’m also very easily distracted. I spend more time trying to discipline myself to get back into a particular artistic mind state, rather than the actual execution of the artwork. I remain involved with my imagination in an hourly and daily manner. I try to stay connected with everything and anything that inspires me- that way my creativity finds it’s way into a canvas.


Are you in the Graffiti art business?

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Anisa Mpungwe: Now clothing brands are offering a lifestyle

Anisa Mpungwe
I am African so that aesthetic cannot disappear, it will always be there - Anisa Mpungwe Click To Tweet

Anisa Mpungwe is a Tanzanian born, South African raised fashion marvel. She started her career at age 19 working for various fashion houses, magazines, and apparel factories within Africa, America, and the UK. Not a stranger on international runways, Anisa has showcased her work in fashion weeks in South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, Italy, Sweden and New York.

You might have spotted this Motherland Mogul’s garments on stars like Solange Knowles, Anele Mdoda, Lira, Simphiwe Dana, Amel Larrieux, Sharon Smith, and Yukimi Nagano from Little Dragon. The former US first lady Michelle Obama donned Anisa’s clothing on her first visit to Johannesburg.

Anisa has won the African Fashion International Emerging Designer Award 2013 and was the MTV Transform Today Award nominee. She has collaborated with brands such as LG, SPREE, Samsung, Maserati, Converse, Nestle, BET and Bobbi Brown. You can find Anisa between Johannesburg, Pretoria and Dar es Salaam studios.

SLA contributor, Kutlwano Mokgojwa, checks in with the humble and spirited Motherland Mogul to get the lowdown on celebrating 5 years in business, creating a lifestyle brand and shipping worldwide.


It has been 5 years since you opened the door to your flagship store, what would you say you owe to still being in business today?

I think consistency is important in any business and across everything that you do. There are certain things that you must always do and always take care of. Another important thing is having a good team. There are days when you will not feel so great and you do not want to deal with customers, you can always pass the responsibility along when you have a good team and in my experience, getting a good team together takes a while.

Your brand is described as having a strong African influence, prints and modern tribal. Do you think this description limits the brand or does it open the right doors?

I think it is all of the above. People always need to relate your brand to something, whether it is an experience in their lives or something they have seen. I am African so that aesthetic cannot disappear, it will always be there. Our aesthetic will always be around the African heritage but I am also really interested in sportswear for example.

I have travelled and moved around a lot and because of that, I am able to come back and tell a story through the garments. The change in the design is not that I am trying to target a specific person but it is just where the LoinCloth and Ashes (LCA) story is.

You have paired up with vibrant talk show host and radio personality Anele Mdoda as your brand ambassador, how does she embody the LCA brand?

Anele is quite a complex woman and that is an LCA girl – somebody who is strong and vulnerable. Somebody who has something to say wants to elevate and fully enjoy her life. Anele is all those things and she is crazy too, she is completely nuts and I love her for that. I identify the LCA girl in her; she really aspires for better in all areas.

You are known to feature on a lot of runways. How do you come up with inspiration for each collection? How do you incorporate your brands aesthetic to ensure your collections are true to the LCA brand whilst still being fresh and relevant?

It has to do with what is happening for us at that time but also keeping in mind who our audience is. For example, if you do something like New York Fashion Week, what they would expect is a whole lot of bead work and when you show something else it creates a kind of shock wave.

When you take African print somewhere like Stockholm where they are known for being minimalist you will blow their mind with so much colour. Same goes for Germany or Berlin. I know we have one of the biggest client bases in Berlin and they love the print because they don’t have that sort of thing there. So when we create collections it is about flying the flag but doing so in a manner that is relevant to the audience and to the brand.

When we create collections it is about flying the flag in a manner that is relevant to the audience Click To Tweet

Since your establishment as a women’s wear brand, you have ventured into quite a number of things such as your junior wear, home décor, giving industry talks and consultations. What motivated you to head in that direction and how has that contributed to LCA being such a big brand in the fashion industry?

There was a time when you went into a clothing store and it only offered clothing but now many brands are offering a lifestyle. So if I can’t afford the dress, I can maybe afford to buy a napkin or to buy my little baby a dress.

I wanted LCA to also follow that suit because we don’t only talk about women’s wear when we are in the studio, we talk about everything else. I am not known to hide my experiences so that is where consulting and mentoring comes into play.

We are looking to celebrate feminism and rediscovering the word sexy - Anisa Mpungwe Click To Tweet

You have a new collection coming up, can you tell us more about that?

Well, I cannot say much but it is a summer/spring collection. We are looking to celebrate feminism and rediscovering the word sexy. What does it mean for LCA? It means there will be lower necklines and high hems.

You started shipping your clothes worldwide this February, how would you advise a small business owner who wants to extend their distribution in the same way?

Firstly, I think it is important for one to evaluate their international client base. A lot of research is also required. You need to research the best courier for you. For your client base, you also need to evaluate if they are ready for something like that as a business.

You have collaborated with some of the biggest brands – Bobbi Brown, MrP, Samsung – in industry, what is the importance of collaborations in the fashion industry?

For me collaborating with somebody like Samsung, it was a business strategy. I had to think, “If I align myself with this kind of company, how LoinCloth and Ashes be seen?” or which type of distant audience will it reach?

That for me is important, collaborating with brands that are aligned to what you stand for as a brand. I cannot overemphasise the importance of networking, attending events and talking to different people. That is the best way to meet people, possibly future collaboration partners.

Does it get better than having Solange Knowles sport your clothing?

I get this question a lot. People do not always realise the risk of having a celebrity wear your clothing. There is always the risk of a bigger company copying the design and mass-producing it at a cheaper or claiming that design so although it is great and has its benefits, at the end of the day it is all about the LCA customer.

Never agree on anything, rather let the supplier know that you will be in contact with them Click To Tweet

You often have to source fabrics and all, what negotiating tips can you give us?

Never go alone. Always go with someone just so you have a second opinion.

Never agree on anything, rather let the supplier know that you will be in contact with them.

Which artist’s album do you secretly own?

I do not have an album that I secretly own, but I have an album that most of my friends consider embarrassing. It is a country album. I think that was a weird phase in life.


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