For our third episode of In The Spotlight we interviewed Mark Agyakwa, founder of the fast growing premium sportswear brand, Y-Fit Wear. He spoke to us about growing to 100k followers in 18 months, Gymshark’s growth and trick to BME founders achieving similar success and how he’s dealing with COVID-19. Keep reading to check out what he had to say when we put him in the spotlight .
Lendoe: Could you start with telling us a bit about yourself?
Mark: I’m an entrepreneur with experience in sports & football business management. I studied this at university before going to work as a football analyst and launching Y-Fit Wear which I’ve now been running for three and a half years.
Lendoe: We can see you have a clear love for sports, football in particular. How did this lead to you taking the entrepreneur path and embarking on a journey to start Y-Fit Wear?
Mark: It all started in 2016 when I was working for a football analytics company and playing football semi-professionally. I got injured and found myself with a lot of time on my hands. By this time I had gone on trails to professional clubs all over the world but never found any luck — so I began thinking what else could I see myself doing? What could I do long term? And that’s when I came with an idea for starting Y-Fit Wear.
I spent about nine months learning all I could about fashion brands, I had a business background but no fashion background in terms of how you actually design and manufacture garments. Being active in sports helped me create garments which I knew athletes would appreciate. I got the hang of things pretty quickly and ended up creating custom pieces for other athletes which helped me with the initial cash flow I needed to keep the business going.
Roughly a year later, I left my job and alongside Y-Fit Wear, I started a fitness platform on Instagram called Fit For The Culture*, which came about because I used to get loads of direct messages from ethnic minorities influencers and personal trainers who wanted to become a brand ambassador. I realised after a while that influencers in this space weren’t getting the attention they deserved from big brands and were not being highlighted.
The page grew rapidly and within 18 months we had over 100K followers. Initially, nobody knew that Fit For The Culture and Y-Fit Wear were being run by the same person, that is, me. Even now, not many people know it. But now, I look at influencers looking to get featured on Fit For The Culture page by tagging the page, and if there’s a fit with the Y-Fit brand then I reach out to them revealing that I run both pages and float the idea of collaborating with Y-Fit Wear merchandise. This has helped me secure contracts to design clothes for celebrities like fitness influencer Ulysses, who has about 6 million followers on Instagram.
Lendoe: Working with Ulysses and reaching 100k followers is an amazing achievement. But what were your challenges and how did you get around them?
Mark: The biggest challenge for me was understanding the power of branding and marketing. Getting the product right wasn’t hard but understanding why people buy what they buy was. I had to realise that I’m not necessarily the consumer so the way I think about buying cloths i.e. looking at the quality over brand, wasn’t how others looked at buying clothes. I had to get to grips with the fact that my target audience bought clothes based on brand rather than the quality of the product. This created a huge shift in my thinking and led me to focusing more on brand building.
This created other challenges such as securing the partnerships to help with sales. When I first started reaching out to influencers to market our initial product we had just under 2K followers. When influencers saw this, they never responded. I managed to overcome this when I leverage Fit For The Culture and now it’s the other way around; most of the influencers I reached out to at the inception of Y-Fit Wear, are the ones reaching out to me. A great example of how Fit For The Culture helped secure influencers is when we got R&B superstar @Cassie to wear Y-Fit Wear through striking a deal with her personal trainer.
Lendoe: Interesting, so what about more recent challenges like COVID — what problems has this created?
Mark: Shipping problems. There have been a lot of delays in shipping and delivery. So I need to inform my customers accordingly. At one stage my Chinese supplier wasn’t allowed to ship items to the UK this was a big issue even though I doubt I would have been able to get goods through customs. Everything was locked down by then.
Interestingly, I’ve been looking for UK manufacturers since the beginning of this year. When I started I didn’t know there was going to be a lockdown. I just wanted that flexibility to have multiple suppliers and manufacturers. With that being said, It hasn’t all been bad. Our brand has grown significantly during COVID: our engagement on social media is up and our online revenues are up. This time has really taught me that it’s so crucial to have an online business.
Lendoe: Your tweet regarding the need for more people in the UK to support black and ethnic minority founders was mentioned in an article on Black Young Professional’s platform. Tell us what needs to be done to create billion-pound brands like Gymshark in BME communities?
Mark: As BME entrepreneurs we need to support each other more. We all know what it’s like to start a business and how critical having a support network is. We need to come together and leverage our resources, network and skills for the betterment of us as a community.
I do see a real shift happening though: I feel that things are getting better. A lot of brands led by ethnic minorities are in a position to create something really special including us. The benefits of coming from a less represented entrepreneur group is we get to be the first in our community to reach certain heights. That’s where comparisons like the one I got to Gymshark come in. It’s a compliment I guess because Gymshark is a great brand, however I understand that our journey and their journey are different. So, I must find my own path and pave my own way.
Lendoe: We’re coming to an end of this interview, so can you give a few tips for entrepreneurs who plan on going down the same business path as you?
Mark: Love the process and do something you’re passionate about. Don’t overvalue the result because things never go according to plan. It always takes a while until you make it.
Understand your audience and provide value. Understand what they want. Get to the point where you are always putting their needs first.
Lastly, don’t take it too seriously. At the end of the day life is more than just work. Try and find a balance.
Lendoe: Thank you, Mark, it has been lovely chatting with you. We’re sure our readers will enjoy learning about your story.
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