Interview

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.

Featured
Supplied

Ugandan Sports Maven Usher Komugisha Is Preparing To Spread Her Wings

After successfully commentating at the recent Basketball Africa League held in Kigali, award-winning sports journalist and analyst Usher Komughisha is dead set on pursuing a new challenge.

Most times, when we think of sports industry personalities, especially in Africa, the first name that springs to mind is usually that of a male. Women, however, are increasingly breaking barriers and taking up their rightful positions everywhere in society. And it's so inspiring to watch!


Usher Komugisha continues to defy the odds, and she is rising to become a household name in the sports industry in Africa. If you followed the inaugural Basketball Africa League (BAL) competition that kicked off on May 16, 2021 in Kigali, Rwanda, then you definitely know who we are talking about. With great power, control and a unique voice, Usher commanded the attention of basketball lovers in the 215 countries it was broadcasted to.

Usher's bubbly personality, which shone through when I first contacted her telephonically, brought warmth, a sense of comfort and for a minute it felt like we'd been friends for eternity. Below, she fills us in on her sports career and (near) future plans...

Keep reading... Show less

get okayafrica in your inbox

popular.

Interview: Lady Du, Amapiano’s Sultry-Voiced Superstar, Is Smashing The Glass Ceiling

In conversation with amapiano star Lady Du about her rise, spirituality and considering herself a kwaito queen.