This Online Retailer Wants to Make African Brands Household Names


How does one go about defining a continent’s personal style? Is that momentous task even possible? Those are some of the questions Akin Adebowale is trying to answer when it comes to African fashion with the luxury e-commerce platform Oxosi. Developed in 2011, the site aims to provide a voice that encapsulates every region on the continent and throughout the diaspora with ready-to-wear clothes and beauty.

A Maki Oh look sold on Oxosi.com

Courtesy of retailer

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“You can’t put Africa in a box,” admits Adebowale when discussing the brand he’s created with co-founder Kolade Adeyemo and chief operating officer Kwesi Blair. “There is no one brand aesthetic that is intrinsically ‘African’ and honestly, that’s the wrong way to approach it.” As such, their goal is as large and momentous as the continent itself. “It is a process,” says Adebowale, who handles the design, engineering, and creative design aspects for the site. “That’s what excites us about Oxosi to be quite honest: all the different conversations and learning opportunities coming from Africa.”

Adebowale and Adeyemo have always been interested in the creative and economic development of Africa. The former has Nigerian roots, but was born in the United States, while the latter calls Lagos his hometown. In 2011, they sat down and pinpointed a void in one of the continent’s biggest markets: the fashion industry. “There really weren’t any avenues in the retail sector that could connect brands with their consumers digitally, all in one hub,” says Adebowale. They identified that these brands lacked the contacts, technological prowess, logistical resources, and marketing savvy to enter the global market. With funding from Kupanda Capital, the team launched Oxosi and opened to the public last year.

“You can’t put Africa in a box.”

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“We want to help to forge Africa’s digital footprint,” Adeyemo declares. “Our goal is to feature brands that could essentially stand beside those on the top European and American luxury online retailers.” It isn’t all about competition, though. Oxosi also wants to expose other retailers to what else is exceptional and dynamic in Africa—the buying power. At the moment Oxosi’s customer falls between 25 and 45 years old and has the disposable income to shop regularly. “They’re most likely bringing in a salary of at least $75,000,” Adeyemo shares.

They’ve also been divided into three different groups. Oxosi calls their first segment “Pan-Africans” because “they have a deep emotional connection to the continent (most often because they’re born in Lagos, Nairobi, Cape Town, and Johannesburg) or because they’re first-generation in New York City, Washington D.C., Los Angeles, and various Caribbean islands,” explains Adeyemo. They’re looking at Oxosi’s offering as something they can relate to because it represents a part of who they are. Second are the “Pro-African”, those “whose interaction with the continent is seen through a philanthropic lens, sustainability, and goodwill—style lovers who buy Bono’s brand Edun and hand-crafted designs from Anthropologie, ” says Adeyemo. These men and women “have an artisanal point of view when it comes to which brands they want to support, whether that be empowering women or a social enterprise.” The last group are the “Pop Africans.” “They know what’s going on when it comes to trends and fashion weeks,” says Adeyemo. “When one of LVMH’s labels has an Africa-inspired collection, these individuals are aware of it and look for similar things among what we’re giving them.” Adebowale and Adeyemo’s hope is to grow with all of these men and women across different geographies through a series of efforts, starting with trunk shows for burgeoning labels.

A Lisa Folawiyo coat sold on Oxosi.com

Courtesy of retailer