Western retailers and manufacturers now understand the world is small. Indeed, there has been unprecedented global sourcing of retail goods from the Far East, Asia and Latin America into market centers like New York, Los Angeles, London and more. Pop into a retail store at any of these market centers and you are bound to see “Made in China,” “Indonesia” or “India” fashion goods. Africa, however, has had a difficult time partaking in the global sourcing festivities, especially since it can’t seem to attract the buyers that get fashion products into these retail stores across the globe.
In Part I of Ladybrille’s exclusive interview with Chioma Amegashie, a Liberian-American based fashion buyer, she explained what it means to be a fashion buyer. In this segment, Part II, Amegashie continues the discussion about her work as a buyer, African fashions and designers, tips to attract buyers and she lets us in on her new e-retail store MOSAIC distinctive global chic. Amegashie is also offering you 25% off any MOSAIC products when you shop at www.shopmosaiconline.com. The offer expires on Janury 21st, 2007. Visit the site and be sure to type the code “Ladybrille” to obtain your discount.
LADYBRILLE.com: How much time do you spend in a day interacting with suppliers?
Chioma: I spend every day interacting in some way with a vendor partner as it relates to the business. It could be a phone conversation, depending on where they live. I usually make vendor appointments two to three days per week. Whether it is to research potential new vendors per market trends, or to drive sales goals with current vendors and their management or to secure additional product, there is never a dull moment.
LADYBRILLE.com: Is a fashion buyer ever involved in production? In what way?
Chioma: Yes, the buyer owns the entire owned or proprietary brand process within their area. I drive each item’s development and build the product selection. I am responsible for all price positioning. I work with our packaging team to create the right brand aesthetic and offer solutions for photography and other artwork. I work with my sourcing and production team to find the right factories to make items at the best cost. I also travel overseas to meet face-to-face with factories to build relationships and review product with potential new players. Again, I am the ultimate decision-maker; I select the factory that produces an item.
LADYBRILLE.com: Do you ever have to deal with letters of credits? What are they and in what way do you have to deal with letters of credit?
Chioma:Yes, vendor letters of credit are an integral part of the retail process. Letters of credit are essentially financing document with timelines. They are the monies paid to drive product production. Vendors receive through their banks or other financiers to gain the fiscal backing to manufacture product. Every retailer and vendor has their own standards for how they handle LCs. Factors vary depending on the size of the vendor, the size of the order and the nature of the strategic partnership between both parties.
LADYBRILLE.com: How much traveling do you do to see your suppliers or gather trends? Give us a list of places you have traveled to?Chioma: Travel really depends on your product category. Buyers refer to trade shows as “market” and markets vary. Markets typically last for three to seven days. Time is always carved out to shop the competition as a team to keep an active pulse on the market.
In home, there are usually only two major annual markets, where vendors, designers and retailers interact to review product and discuss existing and new strategies to drive sales. For categories such as footwear, there are four major US markets annually. Apparel is the fastest changing industry so depending on your category, you could literally travel every few months to maybe once a month, like junior apparel buyers, who have to keep up with the fickle young consumer. We also plan “shopping” trips, which is travel to other cities domestically or internationally to find inspiration for new product and to spot new trends. Remember this represents only 10-25% of the time. [Smiles]
LADYBRILLE.com: Let’s talk about Africa. Why do you think high fashion or ready to wear African designs are non-existent in retail shops across the USA & Europe?
Chioma: As an industry insider, the consistent perception is that Africa offers inferior product. That we lack the adequate infrastructure, business acumen and “speed is life” mentality to do business. Retail is solely driven by how inspiration translates into sales. Major multi-billion dollar companies only pull “global” product together as seasonal trend statements, not as a permanent lifestyle.
That does not reflect their targeted customer. Who understands the African aesthetic more than we do? The lack of access, capital and influence in the Western fashion industry excludes us from having these conversations with the majors.
Across all the categories I have bought over the years, domestic travel is typically New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Las Vegas. Internationally, I have travelled to Taiwan, Hong Kong, across Southern China to visit factories and Shanghai for my categories. Soft home (textiles) buyers also go to India and Turkey. Apparel buyers typically travel to Los Angeles, New York and Miami domestically. Internationally they frequent Paris, Milan, London and sometimes Dusseldorf. Spain is hot! Many flock to Barcelona to spot trends and Morocco is the hub for North Africa.
Africa continues to have a persistent branding problem and it is not only in the fashion industry. We see and hear of it every day of our lives. As Africans in the diaspora, we are our best advocates and can use our careers and experiences to develop niche businesses and strategic platforms that give voice and drive change. Western “packaging” of our African products continues to rob us of opportunities to change that perception. No coffee grows in the West but others have profited in the multi billions. No cocoa grows in the West but it is marketed as “Swiss or Belgian chocolates”. No diamonds grow in the West but Belgium is “the diamond capital of the world”. It is really a pervasive problem.
The global consumer market has changed the scope of Chinese and Indian economies, whereas Africa (excluding South Africa) has been largely excluded. It kills me that we are not active players in global sourcing and production opportunities. I recently read an article that is mind-boggling. More than 1.3 million people in India now earn $100,000 or more. There are now over 300,000 millionaires-plus in China. Russia is positioned to be next driving force. Where is Africa in this equation? Opportunity knocks but unfortunately most African countries are plagued with the lack of infrastructure and strategic business partnerships, denying us access to significantly change the lives of our people with training and employment.
LADYBRILLE.com: What can African designers do to get their work noticed by buyers?
Chioma: Access is the key. Get through the door! The best way for African designers to gain influence in the West is to create our own unique platforms, form strategic collectives and partner with major retailers, marketing firms, other vendors, the media, organizations and financiers. There is strength in numbers. Mass retailers like Wal-Mart and Target offer diversity supplier programs. JCPenney and Nordstrom each have one. Research them and get connected to the right players.
Couture African designers need to form collectives to create a voice and partner with Saks, Neiman Marcus, Nordstrom’s and Macys. It has been really inspiring to read about various African countries creating their own fashion weeks and I will be attending some for MOSAIC. “Catwalk the World [Fashion] for Food” is another wonderful platform. There needs to be [m]any more. We need to drive our unique sense of style and validate that we can compete in the fashion industry.
Africans have the highest levels of education in the U.S.A, black consumerism drives the fashion industry, yet we are barely represented. The picture I have painted is the truth. In most retail buying offices, with only a handful of blacks, I have been the only African buyer throughout my career. We need to get through the door to affect change. Those with a passion for the fashion industry need to actively explore retail careers across merchandising, production and sourcing, logistics, advertising and design. Gaining access is the only way to change the game and become players.
If you take one point away from today’s discussion, remember NO product gets into ANY retailer without a buyer or another senior level merchant. We are paid to place product. That is the bottom line. Recognizing the need for a voice to highlight exceptional global talent in the marketplace was the fuel for founding [my company] MOSAIC distinctive global chic.
LADYBRILLE.com: A lot of fashion show producers in Africa do not even think about having buyers at their fashion events. How do we change that mentality so the designers they showcase can benefit from having buyers at these shows?
Chioma: I repeat. NO product gets into ANY retailer without a buyer or another senior level merchant. The fact that buyers are not invited should change immediately. Buyers have the “multi-million dollar pen”! I commend us for creating our own Fashion Week events across various countries. I am aware that some European buyers attend Senegal Fashion Week and assume some may attend South Africa’s.
Free business advice: partnerships and collectives are the ONLY way to win in today’s fast-paced global economy. We need to stop the African mentality of a lack of partnership with each other. No one can effectively do everything by themselves. It is impossible in this information-laden world, both fiscally and time-wise. If your business model is to be your own island and you want to grow, change it now. Form complimentary strategic partnerships with others. It is the only way to thrive in this industry, if not you will fail.
Another key point: I have mentioned that buyers spend 75-90% of their time in their offices! We are inundated with information and cannot get to every event across the world, as it is physically impossible.The retail adage of “if you build it, they will come…but location, location, location” holds true. This is a golden opportunity for African designers to organize, form complimentary collectives in the US and Europe to showcase talent and create sensational African Fashion Weeks/Market in New York and Los Angeles, London and Paris. This provides a platform to really gain access to key industry players, to get orders (the ultimate goal), build influence and drive press efforts.
Travel to a particular African destination may seem exotic and sexy and it may come later. Initially bring it to them, produced with the sophisticated flair that only we can do.Remember we own the “multi-million dollar pen”!
LADYBRILLE.com: Tell us about your new business?
Chioma: I am extremely passionate about MOSAIC distinctive global chic! I founded MOSAIC to celebrate exceptional global artistry and give these “masters” a voice in the marketplace. MOSAIC brands my own sense of style, inspired by my career and journeys across Africa, Europe, Asia, the Caribbean and North America. I wanted a unique shopping experience that combined individual, signature style with elements of my own African heritage, but also exposed unexpected treasures across the world. A one-stop destination that emotional connects product with the global lifestyle.
MOSAIC distinctive global chic www.shopmosaiconline.com is the premier lifestyle destination for the contemporary global sophisticate, borne from the love of travel and a strong appreciation for unexpected treasures across all cultures. MOSAIC is the passport to the world. We scour vibrant international meccas to hand-pick unique items of unparalleled quality, decadent materials and modern design across your wardrobe, your home and for gift-giving. We focus on the strength of an international destination’s artisans to offer the best in global chic from unique brands and emerging talent.
The MOSAIC sophisticate beats to one’s drum but sets her own standards…a global tastemaster. Our niche is professional, travelled and conscious women, interested in crafting their own sense of style. From beautiful hand-crafted footwear, bags and jewelry, to unique home accents and gifts of distinction for those you cherish, everything is bought with the global lifestyle in mind.My commitment is to masterfully highlight the talent of my selected artisans, and MOSAIC seeks to celebrate, to connect and to inspire.
LADYBRILLE.com: What African countries do you intend to travel to?
Chioma: My first major trip is this spring across Europe and North and West Africa initially. My itinerary includes Morocco, Tunisia (the new North African destination per trend reports), Senegal, Ghana, Nigeria and [L]iberia, for the first time since 1990. Later itineraries to South and East Africa include stops to South Africa, Tanzania, Kenya and Mozambique (this is considered sub-Saharan Africa’s next tourist hot spot). My travels will be ongoing.
My long-term goal is that my passion for discovery takes me to every African country. Each nation is so unique, with its own distinctive artistry, style and culture. MOSAIC is positioned as the premier platform to highlight that in the US.
LADYBRILLE.com:Can our African designers patronize you to have their work showcased in your e-retail store?
Chioma: My mission in 2008 is to actively scout distinctive African designers across my product category needs for www.shopmosaiconline.com.
MOSAIC evolved from conception to launch starting late September 2007. I had three months to go live and generate some holiday buzz. In the interest of time, readily available product was a must, as my focus was branding and organization, raising capital, and building strategic partnerships. I am now looking for vendors who share my commitment to meticulous craftsmanship, exceptional quality and creative design, who offer sophisticated, signature style that embodies the MOSAIC concept.
Uduak, I must commend you. Ladybrille has really been a God-send resource! It is extremely difficult to find information about potential African vendors through the internet. You really have to spend numerous hours digging. Kudos to you for providing a voice and access to Africa’s fashion scene.
LADYBRILLE.com: [T]hank you and thank you for your time. Keep up the good work!
Chioma:Uduak, it has truly been my pleasure. I am always thrilled to discuss my passion for retail and how it has honed the skills to successfully launch MOSAIC. Take care and God bless. Good things to all in 2008!
~by Uduak Oduok
Founded in 2007, Ladybrille® Magazine is a California based pioneer digital publication demystifying the image of Africans in the west through contemporary African fashion and celebrating the brilliant woman in business and leadership, with an emphasis on the African woman in the diaspora. Our coverage includes stories on capital, access to markets, expertise, hiring and retention, sales, marketing, and promotions.