Style

Afropreneurs: This Company Is Bringing Luxury African Fashion Under One Roof Online

Meet the brain behind ONYCHEK—an ecommerce company using African fashion to foster job creation and culture preservation through fashion.

For 26-year-old health and safety expert turned tech entrepreneur Chekwas Okafor, fashion is a family business. “To a certain extent, I’ve always been running away from fashion,” he explains. “When I was younger, my father imported textiles from China. At the time, I didn’t want to get into the business, which I didn’t think of as fashion—just as something that paid the bills.”


As a biology student at Voorhees College, a historically black institution in South Carolina, Okafor chose practicality over passion. Although his well-tailored, bespoke suits garnered the attention of classmates and led to a short stint in modeling, he cast aside the idea of a career in fashion until a friend introduced him to the work of up-and-coming Nigerian designers.

“I began to wonder about how the fashion industry at home was changing, and how I could leverage that growth to expand opportunities,” he says. “I spent the next two years learning more about the industry, and diving into the world of luxury.”

Chekwas Okafor. Photo courtesy of ONYCHEK.

Okafor’s newly launched e-commerce website, ONYCHEK, is the result of that intensive research period. The site, which stocks a range of clothing and accessories for men and women, aims to foster job creation and cultural preservation in Africa through fashion.

But developing relationships with designers hasn’t been easy. As a new concept, ONYCHEK initially struggled to bring designers on board. Designers protective of their brands were initially hesitant to collaborate, so Okafor adopted a guerrilla approach to making a pitch.

“Because I prefer to show instead of just tell, I bought products from all the prospective brands I was targeting,” he says. “I made an editorial with high-quality images and a mock-up of the company and the website. Based on that, some of them reached out because they were able to visualize what I was building.”

[oka-gallery]

ONYCHEK, which now stocks seven brands including Kenya’s Adele Dejak and South Africa’s MaXhosa by Laduma, focuses exclusively on brands based in Africa. “There are many African designers based in the diaspora who make their products around the world because the continent’s fashion infrastructure is still underdeveloped,” he explains. “However, our focus is on companies that maximize value addition in the region by boosting employment of local suppliers, craftsmen, and manufacturers.”

In 2017, Okafor hopes to expand ONYCHEK’s offerings and has his eye on leading designers like Deola Sagoe and Lisa Folawiyo, favorites among Nigeria’s jet setting elite.

African luxury may be a foreign concept to a fashion industry dominated by western brands, but ONYCHEK hopes to educate consumers on Africa’s diverse cultures and the history behind textiles from batik to adire and imigwegwe through its “African Fashion Dictionary.” The site’s blog, THEINSIGHT, walks customers through traditions around head attire to the new attempts to repurpose the sacred Ankole cow horn.

Through ONYCHEK, Okafor aims to offer consumers something more than just click-to-buy. Through its products, editorials, and social media, the platform hopes to inspire a wave of conscious consumption that inspires consumers to consider the origins of their clothing and accessories.

“In the same way, consumers look to France or Italy for high-quality goods,” Okafor tells OkayAfrica, “I hope they begin to look to Africa.”

Akinyi Ochieng is a writer and researcher of Gambian and Kenyan origin who studies the culture and politics of emerging markets. You can follow her on Twitter @kikiochieng and her blog.

News Brief

Stormzy Snags His First TV Lead Role in BBC Drama 'Noughts & Crosses'

The series is set in a world where black people are the ruling class, while white people deal with discrimination and prejudice.

Stormzy has landed a lead role in a drama developed by BBC and Roc Nation, Variety reports.

He's set to play Kolawale in Noughts & Crosses, an adaptation of novels from Bajan-British author Malorie Blackman. His character is a newspaper editor and was created solely for the TV series.

Keep reading... Show less
popular

Listen to Ibibio Sound Machine's New Album 'Doko Mien'

A blend of electronic sounds and '70s West African disco.

Ibibio Sound Machine are back with their latest album, Doko Mien.

The UK-based group, fronted by Nigerian singer Eno Williams, expertly blend electronic sounds with West African influences, taking cues from '70s West African disco.

They just dropped their latest single, "Wanna Come Down," which the band describes as an "infectious jam from the album that mixes disco, '80s electro with English and Ibibio language lyrics." Doko Mien, the title of the group's new album. means "tell me" in Ibibio.

"Music is a universal language, but spoken language can help you think about what makes you emotional, what makes you feel certain feelings, what you want to see in the world," mentions Eno Williams.

Listen to Doko Mien below and catch Ibibio Sound Machine on their North American tour (dates below).

Keep reading... Show less
popular

At Least 60 People Killed In Fatal Bus Collision In Ghana

Several people are mourning the victims as well as the tragic loss of life that has occurred throughout the continent this month.

A head on collision of two buses early Friday morning in the Bono East region of Ghana has killed at least 60 people, according to the AFP.

The fatal accident took place on the Kintampo-Techiman highway in Kintampo—an area just under 300 miles north of Accra—after which one of the buses caught on fire.

The devastating accident has left several others with serious injuries. "Most of the passengers in both vehicles died at the spot. A number of them with varying degrees of injuries have been rushed to hospital," a police spokesperson told BBC Africa.

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

news.