Sometimes an idea seems so simple that most people can only see pitfalls. That’s what happened when Alexandra Van Houtte first pitched tag-walk.com to what turned out to be her toughest crowd: her family. Her vision was to build an online resource that stocked every look from every show in the four main fashion capitals, and additionally, group them into themes and trends. She saw it as a weapon for people working in the industry, but in less than twelve months it has become a magnet for anyone interested in fashion. “My parents kept saying, ‘This is so obvious, surely it’s been done already,’” the ebullient 28-year-old recalls.
In recent times, the global demand and discussions on African inspired clothing has led to tremendous boost in sales for some African designers and brands whose works have caught the eyes of international personalities including Beyonce, Michelle Obama, Rihanna, and Thandie Newton. The potential for this billion dollar market has birthed a need for African-led ecommerce fashion platforms to create structures that will not only cater to global demands, but also help upcoming brands to thrive.
With a population of 170 million, the fashion ecommerce industry in Nigeria is still underserved, a weak match for the growing internet users in the country. However, a Nigerian company is making waves by leveraging on technology to create an online platform that would be a one-stop shop for fashion. Fashpa.com is Nigeria’s premier online fashion retailer. Fashpa is vertically integrated; it designs, manufactures and distributes its line of clothing. It retails the clothing online and offers delivery throughout Africa and the World.
Honey Ogundeyi, founder of Fashpa, acknowledges that starting a business especially in Nigeria is challenging. But one thing is certain, the astute, passionate and creative entrepreneur is determined to thrive and grow Fashpa.com to the No1 destination for Fashion in Nigeria.
In this interview, Honey talks about her company, challenges encountered while building a start up in the fashion technology space in Nigeria, and her plans for the future.
Tell us about your personal and professional background.
By profession I would call myself a Management Consultant with experience across-different industries ranging from Banking, Brand Management, Internet and Telecoms. I worked at great companies like Google, Mckinsey and Ericsson. I also come from a family of entrepreneurs, and growing up, I saw firsthand the challenges of growing a business and initially I was more attracted to structured 9-5 job. However, along the way I discovered that the roles I enjoyed most professionally were the ones that where entrepreneurial. I thrived when I was tasked with growing a business or starting something from scratch. I have also always had a passion for technology and fashion, so I eventually decided to work on an idea that I had for a very long time, that I was passionate about and that was how to make Fashion more accessible for Africans.
What was the original inspiration/thought process behind Fashpa?
I started Fashpa (meaning Fashion Parade), out of frustration of not being able to access quality fashion following my move back to Nigeria after several years living abroad. Africans have the same modern sophisticated fashion tastes and love for fashion when compared to consumers elsewhere in the world. The only difference between us and a consumer in London is access to that fashion. I wanted to bridge that gap using technology, by creating an online fashion platform targeted at style conscious consumers who wanted quality, variety and convenience, at affordable prices.
Fashpa has gone through a transition and rebranding process. What led to this decision, and how is your target market responding to this change?
What began as a simple idea to solve a problem with access to fashion has evolved into a powerful business model and a renewed focus on solving the problem. Fashpa began as a marketplace retailer, carrying foreign brands such as Zara, H&M, Steve Madden, Topshop and a few others. In addition to the brands we previously carried, we also produced our own Fashpa line.
A year ago, at Fashpa, we started something called the Fit Project, a small project using big data to analyse our customer measurement data and using that data to manufacture better fitting garments and also to offer a more personalised service to the customer, the customer feedback from that was amazing. Our customer’s wanted high quality clothes that fit well and also that catered both to local trends as well as international. We already started doing that, but we decided to focus on this strength going forward. As part of this reorganization, we vertically integrated and today the whole value chain is done by Fashpa. We refreshed our external brand assets including our logo to reflect our renewed focus on combining, technology, modern design, and African craftsmanship to produce beautifully made, ready to wear fashion & accessories.
Since your rebrand, how much sales revenue have you recorded from Fashpa and what key strategies led to this path?
Fasha’s design ethos all about rich textures, fabulous fabrics and modern femininity; each collection is inspired by the everyday woman with a global outlook, she’s the working Mum, the bosschick, the graduate in her first job, the high powered executive. Our key strategy is to focus on the customer, our obsession is to make sure that we provide and cater to her fashion need. We don’t publicly share our sales data. However since the Fashpa rebrand and by focusing exclusively on our own brand, we have continued to see double digit growth month on month and an increase in our international orders.
What are the major challenges you have encountered while building a business in Nigeria and how have you overcome them?
One of the major challenges is access to capital. Technology investments are seen as quite bold and the wild card option for many Nigerian investors, because just 10 years ago, we did not have mobile phone technology in Nigeria, so it is quite a leap to be able to say to someone- I am going to revolutionise fashion commerce in Nigeria and Africa using the internet. Mostly because no one has built an online fashion brand at scale before in Nigeria or even Africa. We do not have a well developed angel investor ecosystem or venture capitalists with a history of investing in technology in Nigeria.
There are also no incentives to encourage more investment in technology. So whilst there is a growing interest in Nigeria’s technology scene, it remains very difficult to access funding for technology startups especially for companies like Fashpa, who need growth funds to scale.
Another one is poor physical infrastructure. Strong Infrastructure is necessary for the growth of e-commerce in Africa. In Nigeria and across most of Africa, infrastructural challenges such as lack of power, high cost of internet and quality of internet, lack of good road network/access, low penetration of online payments and lack of logistics network makes it more expensive for ecommerce companies to operate and compete with global counterparts.
How’s the Fashpa brand being perceived by the international audience? What measures do you use to track the success of your brand, and what cities have shown the highest demand for your products?
Our primary focus as a business is Nigeria, and secondary Africa. However I believe it is extremely important to build your business as a global one from the start, so we have been international from day one. Our international business, by revenues, site visitor number and social followership is growing well, especially since we now focus on our own brand. There is clearly a global market that appreciates the beauty and detail that goes into quality fashion regardless of its design location.
From conception to retail purchase, please give us an insight into the production, design and general planning process of each collection.
Most fashion from fashion designer brands gets designed 12-18 months before it’s released, but at Fashpa a sketch becomes a dress in about two weeks. The design process starts with the design team thinking about what we really want to wear or whose style we are obsessed with. Our focus is on designing and making what you want to wear right now. The collection is broken down into technical packs and goes to our factory to be made into a sample. Once the sample is ready, we spend hours fitting our moulds on different bodies. We have a meticulous approach to ensure that the sizing reflects the customer’s body type. Once the fit test is complete, the sample heads to the studio to be photographed for our website. Once produced, we quality test, checking again for fit, fabric, and finish. Our aim is to make sure the finishing on the inside, is just as good as the outside. We operate a fast fashion model, so each piece is made in small run with new styles hitting the website weekly.
What’s unique about Fashpa?
As a company we are disrupting one of the largest and most profitable markets in Africa and indeed in the world, fast fashion. Fashpa has a super clear vision on how to solve the problem, using data and vertical integration, we are building the fashion retail company of the future right here from Africa.
Our fashion products, designed in house are adapted to better serve local market needs and we are using data in transformative ways, from gathering data on real women’s measurements to develop better fitting clothes for all body types, to using data to understand consumer demands and making clothes suited to local trends, we are able to deliver a much more personalised shopping experience than they get offline.
Finally due to our vertical integration and location, we are able to offer the customer fast fashion turnaround times and a unique shopping experience.
How is your company helping to empower the local artisans you work with?
We are a new type of Fashion Company using the power of technology and retail to solve social and economic problem within our community.
Anywhere you go in Africa, tailoring is a major activity; local artisans are social agents in the development of African Fashion. They have such an important role and impact upon clothing production and local trends as they preserve traditional know-how, for that reason it was super important for us to harness that in our business model. We do that in two ways: The first one is through job creation in that we provide jobs and training to local craftsmen and artisans and reduce unemployment in our communities. And then there’s empowerment, in the sense that we focus on empowering youth and women especially within the apparel manufacturing teams. Our major focus is to provide continuous training to upskill our craftsmen to be able to produce world-class products and increase their employability.
What sets Fashpa apart from other fashion tech companies in Nigeria and what should we expect from your company in 5-10 years’ time?
The vision is to build a global fashion tech company. In 5 years, our goal is to establish Fashpa as Africa’s premier online fashion retailer, serving a global customer base, offering a wider product assortment and category offering and have further built out our technology capabilities to provide exceptional customer experience, the best. The success of our business will be enabled by big data, mobile commerce and facilitating fast-growing cross-Africa and global commerce.
Fashpa is at the forefront of transformative retail in Africa, the more scale and data we have, the more sophisticated and accurate we can become across all areas of application – fit and product development to understanding and predicting consumer wants, to delivery efficiency
Leveraging on our first mover advantage and our innovative business model and our relentless focus on the customer experience, with the access to the right funding, I believe we will have a majority market share in African retail, making us market leaders in global online fashion and the first fashion unicorn to emerge from Africa.
As a wife, mother, entrepreneur and advocate, how do you find balance and unwind despite your busy schedule?
Entrepreneurism is a journey and you learn a lot about yourself, business, team work, the fine art of balance. I spend the time when am not working with my family. I also think it’s important to keep some ME time to still make time for things I enjoy, such as a good hard workout and a nice glass of white wine!
What drives you in life to keep pushing boundaries?
I am driven by the desire to leave an impact to contribute to growth and development of the fash-tech industry in Africa. When I launched Fashpa, one of the first online retailers, we changed the Nigerian Fashion Industry, we built a truly unique brand and a community that I am super proud of. However it is still day one, and there is still a lot of work and innovating to be done to truly transform the sector. To change the way African’s shop for fashion is my mission, my passion and life’s work.
What are your three tips for running a successful online marketplace?
Know the customer, build for the customer, Win the customers love!
With your knowledge and practice of entrepreneurship, what would you do differently if you had the chance to start all over again, and what advice do you have for young aspiring entrepreneurs venturing into the same industry?
Probably too many things to document here, but am chronicling those lessons on my blog and through my video blogs on youtube.
The African Fashion Industry is said to be worth over $50bn and we haven’t even scratched the surface yet. What needs to be in place for Africa to actually experience a major boom and break into the global market, in the fashion space?
I asked myself that question too, at a time when the African Fashion is making global headlines, why do we in Nigeria spend $3 billion dollars annually importing foreign brands? The answer was around distribution and scale but most importantly the quality and fit of the clothes that are made in Africa. These are some of the issues we are solving at Fashpa, looking at how we can use technology to make Made in Africa Fashion successful at scale both at home and abroad and make it accessible for all. With $50 billion fashion retail market in Africa, the major growth driver is going to be online, and more specifically, mobile. There is an undeniably huge opportunity for the market leader in online fashion retail in Africa.