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Web boutiques brings African fashion to global market

From Aja Harris, CNN
October 28, 2011 -- Updated 1451 GMT (2251 HKT)
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • My Asho is an online store that carries the work of established and aspiring African designers
  • It stocks clothes and accessories from over 30 African designers
  • Founder Dolapo Shobanjo aims to support local communities where the clothes are produced

(CNN) -- From color-popping dresses to bold prints and shapes, Afro-centric designs have been storming catwalks in recent years, catching the eye of fashionistas across the world.

But for many international consumers, especially those with no access to shops dedicated to African brands, it can often be hard to get their hands on designer garments from the continent.

As a result, more and more African designers are taking their lines to the web in a bid to reach out to a larger market. And while many are setting up their own websites, others rely on internet boutiques which have more experience navigating the online market.

One such store is My Asho -- launched in June 2009, this UK-based web boutique carries the work of established and up-and-coming African designers, giving them a chance to showcase their creations to a wider audience.

Founder Dolapo Shobanjo says she started My Asho -- taken from the Yoruba word "aso" which means cloth -- when she realized that African designers were not getting the promotion they deserved.

"I contacted the top designers, I spoke to them and asked them about their struggle and how difficult it is for them," says Shobanjo. "That's really how it got started, so to create that credible infrastructure is to show the global demand for the products and that will kick start the productions."

UK-based web fashion store My Asho carries the work of established and up-and-coming African designers. Pictured here is a dress from Nigerian designer Tiffany Amber. UK-based web fashion store My Asho carries the work of established and up-and-coming African designers. Pictured here is a dress from Nigerian designer Tiffany Amber.
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My Asho brings Afro flavor to fashion market My Asho brings Afro flavor to fashion market

Today, My Asho stocks a variety of womenswear, children's clothes and accessories from more than 30 African designers. Shobanjo says she is very careful when it comes to selecting new designers, making sure they have high professional standards.

"We're very happy to add new people in the site but we have to ensure that the designers we add are serious," she says.

"There are a lot of people out there who claim to be African designers but it's more like 'oh, I have a tailor who can sew very well and who can copy items,' so we have to distinguish between copy-cats and people doing this as a hobby."

We're very happy to add new people in the site but we have to ensure that the designers we add are serious.
Dolapo Shobanjo, My Asho founder

One of the designers featured on the site is Erzumah Ackerson who runs clothing label Bestow Elan. She says My Asho is an ideal platform for her work, helping her to make her creations more visible as well as boost demand.

"I think there's still an element of investment that still needs to be done so we are recognized on an international as well as mainstream platform but I think My Asho is a perfect platform because since I've been on there, I've had a lot of international buyers and got into mainstream magazines."

And as this digital expansion is helping create more demand, many African designers are now having to keep up in their supply.

Titi Ademola, a Ghana-based designer who is the founder of the KIKI Clothing brand, says the biggest challenge for many fashion designers is manufacturing.

"You get a lot of excitement from so many places but once you get an order, how do you manufacture in large quantities?" says Ademola.

"So, that's the issue that I'm facing, trying to focus on quality control and trying to ensure that you consistently provide quality and appealing garments to other companies and other markets," she adds.

With clients in more than 50 countries, Shobanjo's goal is to create a sustainable business model for My Asho. At the same time, she also wants her company to help her continent by supporting local African communities where the clothes are manufactured.

As a result, Shobanjo's prioritized working with ethical brands that show a commitment to fair labor practices and create opportunities for their communities.

"I'm supporting Africa, helping it grow and creating jobs but it's not to say that a certain percentage of x is going to here because I don't think that is a sustainable business model," says Shobanjo.

"I think it is better to create from the start ethical principles and work with designers who pay their tailors well, who are investing in helping their communities grow and then once you grow as a business then you know that they will also grow as well."

Teo Kermeliotis contributed to this article

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