Obituaries

Fashion startup Closet49 succumbs after a long-fought battle with cheap new imports

Closet49 was one time Kenya’s only online marketplace for trendy, fashionable, unique and eclectic items but seems to have succumbed to cheap new imports after a long-fought battle, sustained for nearly five years.

Launched in 2012 by Serah Kanyua and Irene Abagi with seed funding from 88mph, the fashion marketplace connected upcoming designers, boutique stores, and pieces straight from individual consumer closets and had over 9,500 active buyers via its site and social media pages at its peak.

The startup had at one time signed up 58 traders and designers and even opened its API for anyone to use their platform to sell their wares minus.

If we say the girls were not devoted we lie. At one time, Kanyua arduously ran the platform on her own showing up for interviews, sourcing for trendy clothes from designers around town and did recruiting, PR and probably customer care and firefighting alone and deserves a hug.

However, the time for Closet49 had just come and every entrepreneurs knows when to give in to mounting pressure to move on to new things and avoid depression.

With the entry of cheap imports into town from the likes of Mr. Price, Jumia Fashion, among others, it was no  longer trendy to swap or buy a secondhand outfit, especially from people you might meet at  social function tomorrow. Clothes are so personal even siblings in most families rarely share clothes.

Though mentally agonizing, Kanyua didn’t give up easily. She remembers her campus days when she was inspired to start the online fashion site.

“I began selling clothes to friends while at University,” she told CNN. “My friends and I merged ideas to sell affordable fashion to people that didn’t want to pay too much and also give opportunity for people to sell clothes they do not want in their closet, that are still in good condition. They were able to get extra cash for their old clothes and find new cloths through this system.”

After graduating with a marketing degree, Kanyua knew that was what she wanted to do and passed over jobs to pursue her dream but after raising seed from 88mph, no one was willing to fuel the woman-led startup to grow. If the women and youth fund had been led by sensible leaders, Closet49 would be here today and a household fashion name for both kids and grownups.

After operating from her living room to save money, Kanyua expected Closet 49 to make a million shillings in annual profits in a year or two but like all the marketplaces out there, Closet49 does not own the clothes and the commissions earned depend on the inventory and the number of sales.

To increase the sales, one needs to have a variety of assorted clothing and to sell more, one needs to market more; and that is capital intensive.

Only connecting buyers and sellers when you have less traffic means you grow slowly. To move fast, Closet49 tried having its own inventory to maintain high quality as there’s a bit of control. However, setting up a good online and updating your inventory daily means spending more.Closet49 didn’t have the money for a word-class developer or for trendy inventory.

At the end of the day, we all tire, learn what we had to learn and launch something new.

Even if it dies forever, Closet49 will be remembered for helping customers looking for convenience, variety and affordability of online shopping by helping the avoid exorbitantly priced clothes in physical stores as well as opening up careers for young fashion designers and boutique traders to earn a living as well as grow their careers. Instagram might have been a plus to Closet49 had it been used heavily, but its also doing the same for everyone now.

Closet49 could still rebrand into a fashion blog to keep its members informed on the latest fashion news, events happening around them, and DIY beauty guides.

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