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Home Startups Heva Fund-backed ZikoAfrica taking contemporary African accessories international

Heva Fund-backed ZikoAfrica taking contemporary African accessories international

by Sam Wakoba
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Founded in 2014 by Sisi King and Eleanor Mulindi-King sisters of Kenyan and British heritage, ZikoAfrika is a contemporary African accessories brand with a focus on minimalism designed and produced in Nairobi.

While studying at the School of Oriental and African Studies, the sisters saw a gap which they quickly by carefully moved to fill.

“We spotted a gap in the international market for affordable, ethical and design-led pieces,” Sisi told TechMoran. “Locally there was also a gap for fashion-forward pieces that were affordable and made in Kenya. We therefore design ethical, accessible design-led pieces made right here in Nairobi for both markets.”

The sisters come up with the designs together and work really well together as they have a similar aesthetic so it’s a very positive creative process.

“We get a lot of inspiration from Tuareg, Ndebele and Swahili design. The pieces are then sketched by hand or on the computer and added to a spec sheet which gives all the details about the materials to be used, sizes, colours,” says Sisi. “The spec sheets then go to the workshop and a prototype is made. Once we have a sample we’re happy with, we sign off and the piece goes into production.”

ZikoAfrika’s target market is 20 to 40 year old predominantly female consumers who are fashion-forward, outward looking and socially conscious. The sisters produce jewellery, bags and interiors focusing more on the contemporary African minimalism that can scale. They utilize modern machinery and materials alongside skilled artisan labour to ensure they have quick turnaround times, consistent quality and as little waste a possible.

While describing the design and production processes, Sisi makes ZikoAfrika as she as possible but like any other startup, ZikoAfrika is not child’s play.

“As a start-up there are so many challenges and barriers. They range from production capacity, to limited human resources, networks and capital. But challenges also bring the opportunity to look at a problem from a fresh angle and come up with a local solution,” says Sisi adding that it’s not all bad!

Sisi is part of Creative Media and Technology Accelerator Program organized by Africa Digital Media Institute in Nairobi where around 8 startups from the creative industry took classes for a week to refine their products in readiness to pitch to investors to raise funds for scaling.

Wilfred Kiumi, founder and Director of Africa Digital Media Institute said the program aims to impart participants with practical skills which they may have learnt in class but never put in practice. Kiumi added that the program fills those gaps and provides mentorship to creative entrepreneurs to help them scale.

ZikoAfrika recently raised from HEVA Fund where it received a lot of valuable business support and mentorship. Sisi is also an ACUMEN EA Fellow for 2016 and a Harambe Associate – both these organisations will help make them investor ready as a business and give them incredible networks.

ZikoAfrika’s competition locally is Soko, Mr Price, Woolworths, YoungFreddie among others while internationally it would be mid-range high-street stores that have made public ethical production commitments. For the local market the big plus is that the product is made right here in Nairobi, matches on price and is better quality.

Internationally, ZikoAfrika’s clean aesthetic combined with a completely transparent supply chain and direct access to them as the creators sets them apart from the competition. Some of the partners include Soko and London Nairobi among others.

In five years, ZikoAfrika aims to be the leading provider of affordable, design-led online fashion in Kenya. Internationally its vision is be recognised as a brand delivering boutique, fashion-forward and socially conscious design to leading retailers.

On the program Ziko says the week was so incredible and they would never have had access to this level of knowledge and expertise on their own – as they simply couldn’t afford it.

“We were also able to learn critical theories in relation to our actual businesses not removed examples, we got peer-to-peer feedback and insight into the issues that challenge us. We’ve been able to refine our pitches and business models while meeting some seriously inspiring people. The number one take-away? Systems scale, not products,” she concludes.

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