Last year, I started looking into the African luxury market, something I touched on in this post, especially with the launch of Alara by Reni Folawiyo in Lagos to bring foreign brands closer to Nigerians and also showcase beautiful African luxury products in their store.
Since then, I’ve seen a lot of excitement and entry by all sorts into the African luxury space, but none of them have excited me as the recently launched e-commerce company and website, ONYCHEK.COM. While they’re very very new, and will definitely be growing into their true potential, anyone who knows anything about the explosion of African luxury will immediately appreciate what they’re doing here: aggregating the best luxury products made in Africa, by Africans and making them available for purchase online to anyone, anywhere in the world. I was instantly sold on the idea, because I believe in the future of African brands making an entry onto the global retail scene and ONYCHEK.COM seems ready to become a leading portal for that. I caught up with the founder Chekwas Okafor to shed more light on it, below.
Chekwas, can you tell us more about yourself and your company?
I’m Chekwas Okafor, I’m Nigerian but currently living in Albany, New York which is also where our company is based. Our company is simple-we’re an online store for African luxury fashion.
Good deal. But I’m curious as to the why of it? Why is ‘African luxury’ something the world needs, as it’s own category?
Well, why not? On the global scene, there is this gap that exists when it comes to retail circles and African names, African brands. It’s almost like we don’t exist. It used to be like that with film, today Nollywood and several African film makers are on the scene. Back in the day, our music wasn’t fully a part of the global scene, except the Felas, KSAs and Miriam Makebas of the time. Today, we’re emerging strongly, Wizkid, Davido, a bunch of others are becoming global names in their own right. We feel like the same process has to happen for African products and brands. It’s all part of stamping our culture and presence on that global stage.
Sounds wonderful. So what is the unique thing that defines African luxury? What is captured in that category that a customer is purchasing, beyond just ‘here’s a beautiful item that is made in Africa’?
It’s the craftsmanship, the values that go into making the products. In the past, luxury might have been a matter of ostentation and attention grabbing flash, but in this era, people want to buy products that mean something. For instance, we carry products by Charmaine Taylor (of Legacy Collection), who uses pieces of fencing from Robben Island Prison where Nelson Mandela was held to make jewelry. That means something. Laduma Ngxokolo (of Maxhosa x Laduma) infuses Xhosa rites of passage into his knitwear. That’s something. And even where there is no direct cultural or historic connection, our brands source their materials locally, employ craftsmen and workers and invest in the communities that often don’t have a lot of opportunities. And since large scale manufacturing hasn’t become the norm in Africa, our products are reminiscent of the early days of luxury craftsmanship, most of the products are hand made, carefully constructed and unique. There’s a different level of authenticity and meaning that we bring to the table.
That is superb. I think I want a Legacy Collection piece now, matter of fact. But as far as the e-commerce proposition goes, what is the competitive landscape like and what makes ONYCHEK.COM different?
Competition exists, although it’s early enough that we’re not worried. ONYCHEK.COM is different because we focus exclusively on brands who make their products in Africa. There are many ostensibly “African” brands who outsource their production to Asia or who are based in the Diaspora. So for us, it’s important that every brand we carry makes everything, at home. It’s a bit more expensive in some cases, but when you consider the quality of the end product and the depth of the local supply chain they support, it’s more than worth it.
Also, we try to educate the customers about our brands and their processes through our blog THEINSIGHT as a way to showcase what’s unique about them and the African luxury category as a whole. For us, its just as equally about the culture and the authenticity as it is about the commerce.
Seems like you’re shunning the easier route, in a way. What are some of the challenges of the category as a whole, and your company in particular?
For a lot of our brands, there are challenges with manufacturing, with retail infrastructure and channels. That’s part of the reason we came in, to help bridge that gap between making these products and selling them effectively. For us, there’s a massive challenge with tapping into the right demand, and with educating the customer. A lot of our ideal customers don’t know of, or don’t see the value in luxury products made in Africa. The ones who do have nowhere to conveniently purchase the items. So our job is both to show them that value and be that space they can buy from.
Awesome. Let’s wrap up with your vision and where you see your company and the brands in the future?
We are very excited about the future. We really believe in the products coming out of the continent, and where they’re going to be in the next few years. We want to help them hit the global mainstream and become familiar names. And for our company, we want to become the number one destinations for all things luxury and fashion in Africa. We hope to sell enough that the question of whether African luxury is a viable category becomes completely a thing of the past. And our hope is to become the most compelling fashion retail and distribution company, working out of Africa.
Beautiful. I wish you all the best and look forward to what the future holds for ONYCHEK.COM
Thank you, man. Thanks for having me.
So there you have it guys. I really love the concept, and I’ll be bringing you updates about ONYCHEK.COM. I checked them out, the products are really superb and I honestly can’t wait to see where they go from here.
Check them out, pick up a thing or two and share the word to people who think nothing luxurious is coming out of Africa.