The Folklore Connect and RAISEfashion Advance the Next Generation of Black Designers
Published On: February 21, 2023 Contributor: Chana Ginelle Ewing, Beauty and Culture Editor Creative Credits: Onalaja, a Lagos-based womenswear brand bringing traditional African design aesthetics into the contemporary world of fashion
Conceived in Australia and materialized in Nigeria over four years ago, Shekudo, the artisanal footwear and accessories brand from Akudo Iheakanwa, made its debut at the New York office of its third origin point, Shopify, during New York Fashion Week (NYFW). Energized and inspired by the fusion of operational and marketing support underpinning her brand’s moment in the spotlight, Iheakanwa stated, “I have always experienced a lot of impostor syndrome, particularly growing up biracial in Australia. So, saying, ‘I am a designer and I am participating in New York Fashion Week’ doesn’t come off the tongue easily because you don’t fit that description. Being a part of this event validates my work. It’s an opportunity to connect, network, develop, and remind ourselves [as Black designers] that we, too, are integral; we are a part of this industry.”
Upstart brand, Shekudo’s NYFW debut reveals how The Folklore Connect and RAISEfashion are a powerful resource exchange, uniting two organizations intentionally focused on advancing BIPOC designers, from New York, London, Nigeria, Ghana, and around the world.
Amidst the hustle and bustle of the The Folklore Connect x RAISEfashion NYFW Showroom launch at Shopify NY, Shekudo Founder and Creative Director Iheakanwa joined a cohort of 15 Black designers hailing from various global Black fashion hubs, including New York, London, Nigeria, and Ghana, to unveil their fall/winter 2023 collections.
“We’re hoping to gain visibility for BIPOC designers,” said Felita Harris, RAISEfashion founding member and executive director. “It’s very important that retailers take advantage of this incredible opportunity to carry these designers. And also that consumers here tonight understand that when a product is on the [retail] shelves, they must support and actually buy the product to ensure success. Those are our goals tonight.” RAISEfashion is a 501(c)(3) non-profit advisory network of fashion industry leaders providing pro bono business consulting to BIPOC-owned brands.
A celebratory cocktail party welcomed retail buyers, fashion creatives, media and industry trailblazers
EVENT RECAP | FROM LEFT TO RIGHT: IMAGE 1 – AMIRA RASOOL, FELITA HARRIS, APRIL HENNIG KARAS, ALEXA GEOVANOS, ANDREW TAYLOR | IMAGE 2 – SHERRI MCMULLEN AND APRIL HENNIG KARAS | IMAGE 3 – LIVE DJ
The Shopify showroom —the in-person “entrepreneurial hub” for a global digital community of small businesses — provided an ideal backdrop for small fashion brands to showcase their work, generate interest among retailers, and ultimately, move their business forward.
“I’ve been with Shopify since the beginning and I found it’s just been the best thing,” shared Iheakanwa. “It’s helped us move faster by just keeping it simple. The flat monthly fee is great since we don’t have the capacity to spend thousands of dollars to build a website. And we were able to ship worldwide from the beginning because they made it so simple. So just having the Shopify logo up there, it’s like we’ve been a fan since day one…I’m really feeling quite overwhelmed [by the experience].”
Iheakanwa also partnered with Folklore as one of her first retail partners, valuing their focus on brand storytelling and innovation. In Folklore, she found a retail partnership rooted in a shared commitment to sustainability, economic empowerment, and preserving the cultural heritage of her Nigerian roots. Together, they explored new ways to showcase her innovative designs and reimagined 500-year-old prints and weaves for a global audience.
The collaboration between The Folklore Connect and RAISEfashion is a powerful resource exchange that unites two organizations intentionally focused on advancing BIPOC designers.
“After four years of running Folklore as a direct-to-consumer business, we learned that our brands needed a lot more help regarding the technology and knowledge necessary to work with retailers,” said Amira Rasool, founder and CEO of The Folklore Group. “At the time, 80% of our brands were only stocked with us, and we had difficulties placing orders, sending them money, and getting proper line sheets. There was technology in the U.S. and Europe that helped U.S. and European brands, but there was nothing that really served these African brands or U.S./European-based designers from diverse backgrounds with limited resources. So we launched The Folklore Connect in September 2022 to address those issues.”
Today, The Folklore Connect wholesale platform, connecting brands and global retailers, sits within The Folklore Group, a conglomerate of B2B, consumer, and media products that enable the global ecosystem to seamlessly discover, connect with, and shop African and diasporic designer brands.
The collaboration between The Folklore Connect and RAISEfashion is a powerful resource exchange that unites two organizations intentionally focused on advancing BIPOC designers. As part of this partnership, The Folklore Connect will provide a free six-month membership for its platform to 17 brands from the RAISEfashion network, with a new group of brands onboarded every six months. In exchange, RAISEfashion will provide mentorship opportunities to 10 brands from The Folklore Connect. Furthermore, RAISEfashion will select two brands for a fellowship program that includes ongoing mentorship and financial grants. This partnership also grants The Folklore brands access to a global network of advisors across five continents, spanning North America, Africa, the United Kingdom, Europe, and Oceania. This collaboration seeks to promote innovation, sustainability, and economic empowerment for BIPOC-owned brands.
Shekudo, a brand that prioritizes sisterhood and sustainability, has found joining the RAISEfashion mentorship program through The Folklore Connect to be an affirmation. Iheakanwa commented on the impact of the opportunity, emphasizing the importance of knowing that people like her who come from Lagos and Australia, or an overall “random” background can also become a part of something as big as NYFW. “What they’re doing is amazing,” she said.
The Folklore Connect x RAISEfashion NYFW Showroom Brands: