After focusing on emerging European designers for the first year or so, the curated platform Clothia is now showcasing four designers from Africa.
Founder Elena Silenok said 80 designers from around the globe are spotlighted on Clothia. Part of the criteria requires that they “have a good style that isn’t just knocking off Gucci or Yeezy, and that they have responsible manufacturing,” she said. “Most of our designers have their own little ateliers and they manufacture locally. That is super important to us.”
Affordable pricing is also a matter of consideration — now more than ever due to the global pandemic, Silenok said. “We believe in the accessibility of fashion. Fashion can be such a wonderful outlet for people, who are creating normalcy and a little jolt of happiness.“
The featured designers from Africa include Cynthia Abila, whose collection is made in Nigeria and uses centuries-old techniques. Frank Aghuno operates his Fruche contemporary fashion brand from Lagos. Another newcomer to the platform is the designer Ohema Ohene whose signature label draws inspiration from Ghana, where the company has its own production base. The fourth designer, Akudo, creates the Shekudo brand in Lagos with a focus on footwear.
The decision to focus on African designers has been in the works for a while, according to Clothia’s founder. “We started with Europe, because it was a little bit easier logistically. I’m originally from Russia and I have been to a bunch of European places. I have friends from there,” she said. “Africa has such a richness of culture. Historically, the Western designers were using that for their own designs. It’s important that we showcase designs that are organically developing from the continent or country’s own culture.”
Clothia plans to add more designers from Africa, which will enable them to be showcased more prominently. Retail prices vary from $100 to about $800 for more labor-intensive items like styles with embroidery. Online shoppers will also find biographical and production information about all of the designers available on Clothia.
Giving access to “people, who might not otherwise have it” is one of Silenok’s missions. A few of her friends from Nigeria and Ghana had told her how it is “quite hard for designers to break through into the U.S. market,” due to a lack of connections and the complicated process of figuring things out online, she said.
“There are a lot of talented people everywhere but it is often about access,” she said. “We hope to focus on them ongoing and bring more designers to the platform.”