Africa-inspired fashion designs are the real deal these days. Designs are regularly shown on the catwalks in Paris, London, and Milan fashion shows, and Wunmi Akinsola is in on this deal.
Wunmi Akinsola grew up in a world of fashion. As the last of five girls, she describes growing up as chaotic in a good way with fashion, laughter, and fights interspersed. Wunmi’s sisters ran a fashion brand in London and her work there marked the beginning of her path in the fashion industry.
Now the CEO of Fashtracker, a startup that deals in African fashion, she admits that seeing her sisters in the space was an influence on her current career path.
They gave me the boldness to go into it and also made it ok for me to establish myself in the fashion space as they already had a level of success in their careers in the industry.Wunmi Akinsola
The graduate of Fashion and Textile from the University of Kent, England, enjoyed the support of her family as her mother also encouraged her to study the course due to Wunmi’s evident passion for fashion.
During her time working with her sisters, she was the brand coordinator, where she was responsible for social media, communicating with manufacturers and buyers, and doing e-commerce functions. Wunmi had her hands in all the nitty-gritty that made the business move, and she was able to acquire knowledge that now serves her in her own business.
It helped me to learn so many things that i use today. I count myself lucky to have these sorts of people guiding me because I know that a lot of my peers do not have that.
Wunmi’s first business was Pearls and Portraits, a B2B African-inspired fashion print outlet where she designed clothing pieces and supplied other retailers after production. She started this business as a graduate, so it was a struggle for her then.
“It was a struggle because I was much younger and had limited experience within the industry. I made a lot of mistakes but I learned from them.”
Building ASOS of Africa
Wunmi worked as the head of the Women’s fashion category at Jumia, and it was here she was exposed to the intricacies of the fashion industry. She saw the gaps during her time there and decided to start her enterprise to provide better services.
I started the company because I wanted to focus on a niched fashion focus for e-commerce. I wanted to work in an african equivalent of ASOS but it didn’t exist so I decided to start one.
Fashtracker is an African marketplace that showcases African fashion in different forms – clothing and accessories. The mission for Wunmi, in the beginning, was to build ASOS, an online fashion and cosmetic retailer with over 850 brands, as well as its range of clothing and accessories that it ships to countries worldwide.
A particular realisation dawned on her quickly – that Africa is a different market, although she envies ASOS’ speed, efficiency, and innovation, a height she aspires to.
‘The core elements of ASOS are selling attainable fashion products to the average consumer, which is the core of Fashtracker, too, except that it is African fashion.’
Fashtracker started in August 2020 where they recorded 50% quarter on quarter growth. Almost two years on, she describes the journey as being fun and also a learning curve.
I think entrepreneurship is really a massive learning curve. You learn so much about yourself and I think Fashtracker has helped me to become a little bit more self aware.
As expected, running any business has its own challenges. Wunmi says Fashtracker’s most pressing challenge is logistics, especially as she is looking to bring delivery time to less than a week. Another challenge is ensuring standardisation of products with the about 50 brands that are listed on Fashtracker.
Future of Fashtracker and African fashion
While searching for a dress for her friend, Wunmi discovered that the foreign fashion scene lacked a fresh touch. Then, she discovered that African fashion is starting to become the first choice because of its uniqueness, high quality, and commercial viability.
“For a range of reasons, we discovered that we recently had a spike in traction from Saudi Arabia and just from speaking to people who made inquiries, we saw that they wanted what African fashion had to offer.”
On the question of funding, Wunmi answers that Fashtracker, which currently is a team of 5 women is being self funded using proceeds from her first company, Pearls and Portraits. Now that she is focused on being the CEO of Fashtracker, she has a team in place to manage the former.
On September 20, 2021, Akinsola’s fashion-tech startup, Fashtracker, won TechCabal’s Future of Commerce pitch contest. Wunmi was also recently a winner in the Standard Chartered Women in Technology Incubator programme (SC-WITI) in Nigeria, one that saw her receive up to $10, 000.
Wunmi is open to securing funding but first, she wants to build a sustainable company, one that she considers an important value.
Fashtracker is working on Skinntracker, a category where cosmetic and skincare brands are listed, an indication of its ambition to become a big retailer.
What I would like to see fashtracker become is sort of the same level globally as asos but for African fashion. I hope Fashtracker is able to globalise and commercialize its products.
Woman in tech
Wunmi has some measure of knowledge in the technical space. As a brand coordinator, she built websites for the business, having to create different pages for products, features and blog posts. She was able to accomplish all these as a self taught learner.
Every now and then, she does basic things especially with no code tools. She also adds that tech has greatly impacted her business because it has helped to get African brands and products to a lot more people. It has also allowed the startup to create economic empowerment in the fashion industry.
On the fashion scene in Africa, Wunmi is excited for the future and believes that African fashion is here to stay.
‘I think it is exciting and I am excited to be a part of it. There is so much talent in brands and designers. Everyone is looking to African fashion and brands for inspiration already. One thing about African fashion is that it is here to stay and different from what is available on the global market.’
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