Earlier this year, Ayiba met up in Lagos with the ladies behind one of our favorite boutiques, Styled by Africa. In that interview, we chatted with them about how they use fashion as a tool for sustainable trade and their sourcing process. Now, Styled by Africa (SBA) has taken the big leap from online boutique to brick-and-mortar store. Ayiba’s Akinyi Ochieng spoke with owners Kiran Yoliswa and Alae Ismali about SBA’s growth. Visit their new brick-and-mortar store at Pop Brixton!
What attracted you to Pop Brixton?
We were invited down to Pop Brixton to see if we wanted to do a one week pop-up shop and instantly loved its community vibe and cool shipping container spaces. It’s a similar idea to the Boxpark in Shoreditch but has a much more indie feel to it—all the other traders are small businesses, too, so we fit in really well. Brixton also has a long history with the African and Caribbean community in London and people are used to seeing African fabrics here so it also felt like a natural fit. Plus, all the little restaurants and bars in Pop Brixton are incredible and we’re massive foodies, so it’s the perfect place for our customers to have an evening or day out while they visit the shop, which works really well for us.
How did you transition from e-commerce site to a brick-and-mortar establishment? Any surprises or challenges along the way?
It was a really organic transition. Although we started out with solely e-commerce for the first two years, we were also running a personal shopping service that was becoming really popular so we had begun looking for a space that could double as an office/showroom for clients to visit.
Around the same time Pop Brixton called us about doing a one week pop-up shop—we’ve done one day pop-ups in different parts of London but this would be our longest one so we accepted the challenge and the response was so incredible. People who had been following Styled By Africa online loved the opportunity to come and get up close with our African brands and try things on, while at the same time we were exposed to new customers who were visiting Pop Brixton. Pop Brixton then offered us the opportunity to stay for the rest of the month and we’ve since turned it into our permanent home.
It has been surprising to see some of the people who connect with our brand that we might not have expected. It’s always been important to us to have a good relationship with our customers but it’s great to meet them in person and see just how diverse they are in style. The challenges are that having a brick-and-mortar store is like having a baby, you have to stay and look after it and you know how we love to travel. We’re overcoming this challenge by expanding our team so that we have great people running the store while we travel and source new brands.
What are your favorite designers at the moment?
It depends on what mood we’re in but the Nigerian brand Kinabuti is one of our favourites at the moment as the weather in London cools down after summer. They have great tailored printed jackets that make Autumn much more appealing. Ameyo from Ghana is another favourite as their pieces are so beautifully tailored—their collection is so cohesive and is proving really popular with our customers as the pieces are very flattering. Accessories-wise we’ve just taken on a new designer from South Africa called Pichulik which does the most incredible colourful necklaces for bold and brave women.
Are you hoping to expand representation of any particular country or region in Africa?
We’ve just started sourcing brands from Cote d’Ivoire and are looking at many more brands from the Western and Central region such as Senegal and Cameroon. It would be good to get more East African brands as we do have quite a few Southern and West African brands. We also don’t have any brands from North Africa so it would be really exciting to bring in new designers from this region. Our eventual aim is to be sourcing from every country in Africa—currently we’re sourcing from ten countries so there are lots more to explore.
Nigerians and Ghanaians get a lot of buzz on the African fashion scene, but where do you see a lot of up-and-coming designers?
South Africa has some really strong emerging designers as well that we’re starting to work with, but we’ve been approached by designers from all over the continent. There’s also lots of exciting brands coming out of Kenya and a few from Malawi that we’ve started working with and will be stocking in September.
What’s the next step on the horizon?
The focus for us for the next few months is getting everything settled at Pop Brixton and launching new sides of the business. We’ve been testing out a few menswear brands, such as Awale from Ivory Coast and The African Shirt Company from Kenya, so that will be launching properly in the next few months. Now that we have the Pop Brixton space we can also play around with more interiors, too. We’ve built up a great production network across the continent as well so we’re starting to look at producing a Styled By Africa range as well in 2016 which is a really exciting next step for us.
You can find Styled By Africa within Pop Brixton, 49 Brixton Station Road, SW9 8PQ, Tuesday – Sunday 10 a.m. – 10 p.m.
Check them out on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook on @styledbyafrica. Visit their website: www.styledbyafrica.com