Beauty and fashion brands seek out new markets at Afrochella

Skincare brand Topicals was among many companies angling for the Afrochella audience to get better acquainted with its products.

The designs of popular African fashion brands such as Hanifa and Andrea Iyamah were easily spotted during the two-day Afrochella festival held in Accra, Ghana, during the last week of December. Throughout El Wak Stadium, attendees’ attire gave the impression of a crowd conscious of patronizing Black-owned businesses and brands.

So it’s natural that African designers would try to capitalize on the crowd’s interests by presenting their brands to a more global audience.

Awurama Mankatah, a 26-year-old entrepreneur from the eastern region of Ghana, founded the sustainable fashion brand Threaded Tribes. Her focus is on using traditional fabrics to create closet staples for young Africans.

Awurama Mankatah, the founder of fashion brand Threaded Tribes, sits in her booth at the 2022 Afrochella Festival at El Wak Stadium in the greater Accra region of Ghana on Dec. 28, 2022. (theGrio Photo/Chinekwu Osakwe)

“We realized that there was a big gap in our generation and using traditional textiles,” said Mankatah. She said all the fabric used by the brand to create dresses, tunics, and more comes from West African artisans, most of whom are women. The Accra-based brand ensures that money doesn’t flow through big companies, but goes directly to creators in various parts of Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire and Mali.

More established Ghanaian ready-to-wear brands such as Royal Couture were also on site, selling high-quality traditional clothing with various types of fabrics. However, standing out among the apparel for sale were dashikis bearing historically African American fraternity and sorority — or Divine Nine — logos.

A collage of two photos of shirts on sale at the 2022 Afrochella Festival in Ghana last month. Clothing representing the Divine Nine fraternities and sororities stood out at this booth. (theGrio Photo/Chinekwu Osakwe)

Proprietor Morris S. Biggers, 53, a self-described “pan-African” originally from Los Angeles, said he had a sort of spiritual awakening and decided to move to Ghana in 2020.

Biggers’ business partner, Kwab Asamoah, is purportedly the first Africa-made Omega Psi Phi member. Asamoah now runs the Divine Nine part of their apparel business, while Biggers sells custom leather slippers made and sourced from Ghana.

But Biggers notes Divine Nine ties run deep in Ghana. Former Ghanaian president Kwame Nkrumah was a member of Phi Beta Sigma Fraternity Inc., and Biggers says more fraternities, including Omega Psi Phi, are growing in the country.

Along with fashion comes the beauty that elevates it. In addition to a few lesser-known brands, several high-profile companies set up activations during the two-day culture fest.

Local beauty brands looked to forge deeper connections with Ghanaian audiences while also promoting their products on a world stage. Skin Gourmet, founded in 2014, is a beauty brand that handmakes all of its products in Accra, sourcing all of its materials from Ghana, according to a sales operations manager working at the booth.

“Everything here is edible because we believe that anything you put on your skin, it enters the body and anything that you can’t eat, you shouldn’t put it on your skin,” she explained.

Skin Gourmet products, sourced and made in Ghana, were on sale at the 2022 Afrochella Festival. “Everything here is edible,” a sales operations manager at the booth said. (theGrio Photo/Chinekwu Osakwe)

Topicals, the U.S.-based skincare brand founded by 26-year-old Nigerian Olamide Olowe, has no immediate public plans to enter the African market, according to a representative on site. Nevertheless, getting to know the region’s potential clientele and introducing them to the brand is a top priority for any future expansion, she said.

Representatives from Topicals, a U.S.-based skincare brand founded by Nigerian Olamide Olowe, were at the 2022 Afrochella Festival to get to know potential clientele, one representative said. (theGrio Photo/Chinekwu Osakwe)

“It’s not something you can find here right now, but at least you can order it and get the product,” the representative explained, noting the products are already in high demand in the area. The Topicals activation gave out free samples of its bestselling Like Butter Hydrating Mask and Ingrown Hair Tonic while providing an Instagram-worthy space to showcase its products and branding.

An activation for Rihanna’s Fenty Beauty at the 2022 Afrochella Festival was larger than those of other brands. Among other things, it allowed visitors to be skin-matched for the correct foundation. (theGrio Photo/Chinekwu Osakwe)

As might be expected, the Afrochella activation for Fenty Beauty was larger than that of other beauty brands. Visitors were able to be skin-matched with their proper foundation shade and take a seat and snaps for social media on a large Gloss Bomb swing activation.

Rihanna’s flagship brand has only recently tapped into the African market, stocking its products in select brick-and-mortar stores. In early spring 2022, the brand began selling makeup and skincare products in Nigeria, and is now also available in Botswana, Ghana, Kenya, Namibia, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe. In a statement, Rihanna said her experiences and memories made on the African continent will never leave her. 

“Now, being able to bring Fenty Beauty and Fenty Skin to eight African countries and then hopefully more in the future — means so much to me.”

Chinekwu Osakwe is a weekend editor for theGrio. She is a graduate of NYU and Columbia University and has written for Rolling Stone and Reuters.

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