The Soulhaus
Category: Art & Design

The Folklore Connect's NYFW Showroom: Celebrating 5 Years of Catalytic Partnerships

Returning to Shopify for their autumn showroom, The Folklore Connect celebrated their five-year milestone, solidifying their venerated role as nurturers of the next generation of fashion talent from the Black Diaspora. The centerpiece of opening night was a panel conversation, “Unlocking Retail: Captivating Buyers’ Interest” featuring a dialogue between the organization’s stakeholders, buyers (Sharmaine Harrison, Saks, and Chrissy Kim, Bergdorf Goodman) and emerging designers (Sade Mims, Edas, and Emefa Kuadey, Israella Kobla). 

Getting into retailers is often framed as the holy grail for budding brands, and yet the process can feel arbitrary. Bringing the two groups together shed light on the vital strategies and approaches that can spur success. The conversation revealed the necessary symbiotic relationship between buyers and designers, both heavily committed to each other’s successes. And as with most relationships, transparency and engagement foster the trust and longevity needed for growth.

Conversation Highlights:

Designers are encouraged to invite buyers into your spaces (studios, distribution centers, etc.) to build a closer relationship and provide insights into the development process.

DTC (Direct-to-Consumer) retail models play a valuable role in the wholesale partnership; designers learn and gather insights about their customers that can inform buyer decisions, and buyers look to designer copy and branding to inspire their selling strategies.

In-store education is key. Designers should visit retail stores and talk to the associates about their brands and provide feedback to sellers who see customers daily.

The event stood as a testament to the vibrant,collaborative spirit that characterizes the relationship between emerging designers and retailers. From highlighting the role of buyers in nurturing new talent to emphasizing the power of the designers’ self-advocacy, the dialogue advanced The Folklore’s five-year old premise: BIPOC designers will flourish with the right support, guidance and investment.

After the panel, we caught up with a few of the style stars on and off the panel stage: 

Frilancy Hoyle

“I’m here tonight because I genuinely adore everything that Folklore stands for and more. I stock some of the designers they represent in my boutique and I even wear them personally. Representation really matters to me. It’s not often you find a platform showcasing diverse African designers like this, and it lets people globally access these unique pieces. I utilize their app and website for my shop’s collection. Now being here at this event, it’s just amazing to reflect on the positive impact it’s had on my business, especially being based in Seattle where there isn’t a huge community of people of color, particularly in retail. Folklore allows me to introduce people in Seattle to these beautiful and diverse pieces, especially the vibrant prints and cultures they represent.” Frilancy Hoyle, Owner, Rabecca Onassis Boutique

Sade Mims

“As a designer, you can sometimes get caught up in following market trends. The panel reiterated that I’m on the right track. I’m listening to my own voice, not external perspectives or consumerism. I’m making the rules.” – Sade Mims, Founder & Designer, Edas 

Mike Tombashe

“For a brand like ours, stepping into wholesaling kinda adds to our credibility, you know? It sort of makes our operation feel a bit more legit. It also sparks a bit of fire in us, because now, instead of just doing things when we feel like it, we’ve gotta sync up with another organization’s schedule, right? So, it’s all about finding that sweet spot where both of us can win and do well together.” – Mike Tombashe, Founder, CEO & Designer, POOR DAD

Emefa Kuadey

“Here’s what I’d tell my 2019 self: be patient, go slow, and be strategic. When we first kicked off in 2019, our approach was, “You order one, we make one.” But we’ve since moved away from that on-demand production approach. We’ve shifted to creating small batches and only replenish when a good portion has been sold. It’s about balancing our core values while finding a more scalable way to operate. That, I’d say, is the key shift — adopting a more strategic stance on scaling.” – Emefa Kuadey, Founder & Creative Director, Israella Kobla

Daniel Wiley

“I came here with Jacques Agbobly, an emerging designer I’m fortunate enough to assist with in terms of brand production. Listening to the panel and hearing from the buyers, particularly the representative from Bergdorf discussing their approach to collaborating with emerging brands, has been really enlightening. It’s given me a clearer picture of what is expected and what we need to bring to the table to successfully launch this brand with a wholesale partner.” – Daniel Wiley, Consultant, Jacques Agbobly

“It’s essential for designers to strike a balance. You should craft commercial pieces specifically tailored for retail, while also freely expressing your creativity through your runway collection. You have to understand that not every runway item needs to be a hit in sales, but having a retail-focused collection is vital. Many runway pieces aren’t practical for daily wear, so always keep your customer in mind. Engage with them, understand their lifestyle, and design pieces that cater to their needs.” – Amira Rasool, Founder & CEO, The Folklore Group

The Folklore Connect NYFW Showroom at Shopify, November 7-10 included: Chee Lee, EDAS, Elexiay, Israella Kobla, Kadiju, Oríré, Rendoll, RP New York, Selfi, Shekudo, Tejhan Burnett, The Lulo Project, V. Bellan, Wisdom Eyewear