One would expect this kind of thing to have launched at the peak of the bricks-to-clicks exodus, which over the last 3 years saw the an exponential growth in online retail stores, especially by bricks and mortar retailers who were all chasing the winds made by the massive increase in customers shopping for clothing online.
But here in Africa, we are only launching our first pan African fashion online store in 2013. And there's a very good reason. What KISUA has managed to achieve is a first and something to be extremely proud of. Conceptualised by CEO and Founder Samuel Mensah, a Ghanaina businessman who at that point was not even mildly related to the fashion industry, the idea to launch an online store where African designers will sell Ready-To-Wear clothing to a global market was not unique, it had just not been done properly.
After working on the idea for over a year, Mensah was introduced to Danica Lepen, formerly at Black Coffee and Creative Director at Marion and Lindie before the company closed its doors. Not one to miss an opportunity when he sees one, Mensah got Lepen on board as the Creative Director and soon Kisua was born. It would be another 10 months before the store would launch.
I worked at Kisua for a few months and got a full understanding of what it is like to not only launch an e-store, but one where the production of the clothing is done in house but there are many designers to work with. Kisua approaches designers (or designers can approach Kisua) and makes collaborative clothing ranges with the designer to create a new range that Kisua will sell under the name Kisua by X Designer, from which profits will be distributed accordingly. The market they are targeting is the US and the UK purely because there is very little presence of African fashion on a Ready to Wear scale in the EU and US. The online shopping culture and economic activity is also much more developed in those markets so it only makes sense to launch something like this right now. It was a very high pressure environment and personally, especially after closing Mememe and the stress that came with that, I had no business being involved in another business so soon.
The response has been good so far with coverage from international titles such as Style.com, Elle and Vogue and interest from bloggers like Phil Oh, Tamu McPherson of All The Pretty Birds and Where Did U Get That's Karen Blanchard. It's no wonder. Kisua is working with probably the biggest and best PR and Digital Agency in the world Karla Otto, whose other clients include Celine, Maison Martin Margiella, Giambatista Valli, Valentino and Viktor and Rolfe.
I'm interested to see the growth of this company, the reception to a neo-African aesthetic when it comes to fashion, one that celebrates our foundation in prints and patterns, but what that transcends the typical and will hopefully shape a more modern aesthetic that people feel comfortable wearing every day. The designers that they have launched with are relatively unknown outside their countries. I didn't even know them but enjoyed seeing the process of how the eventual garments came to be based on what the designers submitted and what the Kisua design team did. I'm interested to see what other names they will work with, hopefully more established ones who carry more clout internationally.