African entrepreneurs take on the world with stylish D2C businesses — FaB Africa’s first meet up
The first African startup meetup event by the fashion and beauty community FaB was held on November 7th, hosted by Parisian incubator 50 Partners. The event featured a session with African entrepreneurs mainly involved in D2C brand businesses and an audience of 80 participants.
The reason FaB Africa chose Paris to hold their meetup was both down to a large number of African immigrants living in France and the way that businesses targeting people from Africa and the African market are emerging there one after the other.
FaB Africa organizer Haweya Mohamed is also the co-founder of Afrobytes, a company that connects African tech industries with overseas tech communities and that’s based in the Parisian incubation facility Station F . African countries are currently seeing a trend where outstanding tech personnel who have studied at overseas universities are returning back to their homeland in droves. Afrobytes holds African tech events in Europe, helps in business matchings and is building up an ecosystem to assist in the activities of these tech professionals.
Getting fair attention to the African beauty market
During the event, French journalist and TV-show host Rokhaya Diallo conveyed her view that “showing minority models in fashion shows is also an advantage for business”. Diallo has been active for the past 10 years in dealing with issues of equality in regards to race, gender, and religion, and looking back on her experience she mentioned: “there are a lot of African immigrants in France, but despite the potential market demand that we represent, we’ve been constantly ignored”.
An example pointed out was how most of the cosmetics found in major supermarkets are aimed at the fair-skinned majority and how it’s much harder to find a foundation that matches people with higher levels of melanin or shampoo that handles more distinct hair (strongly frizzy hair for example).
Diallo also mentioned that just before her TV appearances, she finds that in many cases the professionals who handle her makeup don’t keep enough dark-colored foundation or the type of eyeshadow that shows off her skin better, resulting in her having to bring her own makeup box for them to use.
These days, with the increased emphasis on diversity and inclusion, companies are finding themselves having to listen to the voices of all people and make sure customers feel that everyone is included within the market. Businesses that target African people have a lot of potentials even in the fashion and cosmetics industries and, as Diallo puts it, “companies can no longer afford to ignore our existence”. Pointing to changes in society, she said that there’s a high expectation for business development and investment that specializes in the African market.
A hair beauty app with huge potential
Ange Bouable co-founded the app NappyMe , which is a beautician dispatching service that launched in 2016. At the meetup, he explained that “Paris has an Africatown, and while there are many salons, a large percentage of their patrons are male. Also, people who live in more regional areas have fewer salon options.” From this situation, Bouable started a service that allows you to receive styling jobs that take more time than usual — such as unique braided hairstyles — in your home through a beautician-matching system.
Currently, the service has around 2,000 beauticians and freelancers registered, and fees can be freely set by the service providers. Interestingly, as long as a stylist has the proper skills, they’re able to register without the need for qualifications, allowing students and those already working to do styling as a side-job. Users can check the stylist’s previous work and ratings and set a booking time with them. The app has made a splash on social media, and it currently has over 150,000 users.
Bouable has his eyes set beyond the French market. In the USA, the African population represents a gigantic market of 42 million people (half of whom are female). Bouable highlighted that consumers there are prepared to pay suitable prices for good quality products and services and stated his ambition to “raise a million dollars in funds within a year, then expand to America in earnest”.
The emergence of skincare and makeup especially for skin with higher levels of melanin
Also contemplating the American market is the founder of Rys Cosmetiques, a company currently developing skincare products, Noelly Michoux. Its products focus on the skin with high levels of melanin — specifically, skin categorized into levels 4, 5 and 6 on the Phototype scale, a system which groups types of skin by the differences in reaction to ultraviolet rays. Rys Cosmetiques also personalizes to users with a unique algorithm.
Their landmark skincare methods and items came about through contact with Cosmetic Valley in Chartres, France, and currently, they’re receiving support from LVMH Research and Eurofins through the Cosmet’up support program as they continue development of their formulas. Once their current development period of two years is complete, they plan to launch in May 2020.
Democratic Republic of Congo-born Kindja Andjou is the co-founder of Andjou Cosmetics that sells liquid foundation for skin with high levels of melanin. With a formula that avoids alcohol, parabens and animal testing and that are dermatologically developed to not cause allergies, it suppresses sebum, restrains shine for 12 hours, and keeps a matte finish. Social media communication in Africa is currently flourishing via the likes of Facebook and WhatsApp, and these social media channels have been used in the company’s approach to users.
Promoting industrial enterprise through the power of design — African luxury goods
Also talking at the event were two African-born female entrepreneurs who are raising the value of African countries’ traditional craftwork and creative arts through design.
The Senegalese-French textile designer Aissa Dione produces interior textiles and furniture made using traditional West African handwoven techniques and that are transformed with contemporary designs.
Her objective is to help develop the economy of West Africa. “Senegal has high-quality cotton which is used as the raw material for cloth. Plus it has craftspeople with highly technical skills”, says Dione. With designs that bring together West African-style motifs and contemporary needs, she’s working to develop the luxury fabric industry there. Her ethical initiatives, which include employing locally, raising the value of local cotton, and aiming for long-term growth, are earning the company high praise.
Endorsing these activities, is Emmanuelle Courreges, founder of designer collection e-commerce site Lago54 , which sells works by African creators. Having lived in countries such as Cameroon, Senegal, and Côte d’Ivoire up until the age of 20, Courreges has come into contact with and refined her aesthetic sense in some of the best traditional arts and crafts of the continent. With the belief that “curation is key,” she’s involved in selecting local products of refined taste, buying them all up and selling them online.
Courreges says that through this business she hopes to change the way people see African style, and stresses that “in Africa, there are designers similar to Yves Saint Laurent”. She has her sights set on one day producing creative and inspirational African designers and looks forward to when cities in African countries can host Fashion Weeks, similar to Paris, New York, and Tokyo.
The desire to help turn around Africa’s image of poverty and underdevelopment with the power of tech businesses was also reiterated by event organizer Haweya Mohamed.
Text: Ching Li Tor
Original text (Japanese): Motoko Tani