When Amira Rasool returned from a tour of South Africa as a college senior, she came back with more than just a memento.
Admiration for the clothing and accessories she bought while abroad recognized her as both a problem and an opportunity: many African brands and designers do not offer e-commerce, selling their items much less to international retailers. A few years after that unfortunate journey, he startedFolklore, an e-commerce distribution company aimed at bringing African fashion designers and brands to a global market. Today, he announced a pre-seed funding round – totaling 1.7 million, led by Los Angeles-based start-up venture capital firm Slauson & Co.
Investing in black women entrepreneurs is a key, albeit modest, reason to win, as it makes Rasul one of the less than 200 black women entrepreneurs who can raise at least $ 1 million in venture funding. Although he is humbled by the milestone, he sees it as a jumping off point for further growth.
For Intelligence, the entrepreneur today also announced the launch of The Folklore Connect, a business expansion that allows retailers around the world (some department stores, but initially small boutiques) to purchase inventory from The Folklore’s growing database of about 30 African designers. Going forward, this B2B approach will be the main focus of the business, although Rasul said The Folklore will still allow consumers to find products on its site and direct purchases to the brand’s own e-commerce platform or retail partners, such as Lyst and ShopStyle.
“We’ve unlocked access to the next frontier of fashion brands, and we’ve made it easy for them to connect with consumers,” Rasul said. “Now, we’re doing the same thing with retailers.”
The 26-year-old New York City-based entrepreneur started his company in 2017, bootstrapping and running the business on his own for almost two years. He credits Texter’s Accelerator program, which he joined in 2021, for giving investors the confidence and perspective to know which investors need to pitch and how to do it successfully. “At first, I was asking investors to be part of my company,” he says. “Then I realized, wait – this is an opportunity for them. I came up with data points that show the potential of this huge market and said, ‘This is something I’m going to give you,’ “he says.
Although Rasul always wanted The Folklore to serve as a platform to bring African designers to a global market, he started with consumer-centric e-commerce to create brand awareness and learn how to navigate the retail ecosystem. “It was a natural evolution,” he says, but building his business means learning how to fly and solve.
At first, there were countless logistical challenges. Since Rasul was working with brands in different countries, he had to come up with different payment systems because there was no single payment system available in each country; The Folklore has paid for most of its brands through Bill.com, but that service is not available in both Morocco and Nigeria, where several brands are based. With The Folklore Connect, the company is launching its own card payment processing system, which the company hopes will facilitate payment processes for brands.
Shipping was a huge problem. Regardless of its affiliation with UPS or DHL, Folklore has worked with its designers to plan for more affordable shipping, which sometimes means ordering in small batches. “There were times when we tried to send something that was probably 10 pounds, and it cost $ 600,” Rasul said. Now, the company has secured an exclusive shipping partner এবং and may benefit from discount rates.
The Folklore Connect is currently launching with 15 retail partners, whose names it has denied, but plans to expand in August. The company will offer retailers a tiered membership model: a free version of The Folklore will pay a commission on every purchase, and a subscription with a flat annual fee will give retailers a lower commission fee and access to data collected by The Folklore, such as data customer purchases. Its own is collected directly from the consumer’s hand. Rasul refused to share the company’s annual revenue.
African brands and designers can sign up for the free platform and The Folklore will work with them to create their own business. This could mean finding third-party logistics vendors, verifying their production facilities, or helping photographers secure product photographs.
After all, Rasul sees his company as a vehicle through which African designers can achieve greater global success, and in this regard, he sees no immediate competition. When the Paris-based fashion conglomerate While Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey (LVMH) and Milan’s Luxottica Group exist in other parts of the world, designers across Africa have not yet come together as Rasul hopes – and he believes it has the potential to make a big impact. “What I’m really looking for is going to a boutique in Atlanta, and finding one of the brands we work with there,” he says. “I want to be able to check in with one of our brands and hear them say, ‘We’ve sold so much we’ve only hired an operations manager.'”