Afi-Akos is an inspirational online marketplace inspired by the people of Ghana. Bringing unique products to the UK, owner, Richmond Osei-Akoto, works with selected designers, artists and crafters on the continent to create amazing products using responsibly sourced materials.
Modern Retail had the pleasure of speaking with Richmond about his experiences in the retail industry, as well as valuable advice that he would give to anybody looking to start their own retail business.
Here’s what Richmond had to say about social media, Inspired By Africa pop-up events, the importance of retail collaboration and much more:
What inspired you to start Afi-Akos?
“The business started from a trip to Ghana in 2017 when a cousin of mine found an african fabric leather brand. Me and my wife loved it so much that we were sure other people would like it too. The business started with me bringing back 100 fans in a suitcase and not doing too much with them at first.
“The idea was great, but I didn’t have a plan to execute it. A friend of mine makes belts, so I rocked up to Camden market with 80 of the fans. They were selling so fast that we pushed the price up and had an amazing day, completely selling out. It was then that I realised this could really work.
“Being from Ghana I have seen so many amazing items on my travels, that I’ve wanted people in the UK to be able to buy. We focused on fans for 7-8 months and the next step was to expand our product range.”
How did you find so many talented and creative people to collaborate with?
“Because our business is all about creating a platform for them, we wanted to have no middle men and deal with the source. In 2018, I used social media to reach out to different brands and influencers that were based in Ghana and said I’d love to connect with them, with the idea of bringing their products to the UK.”
What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on your business?
“Our outlook at Afi-Akos was always to build a platform online, but it wasn’t a priority as we did a lot of business face to face. It forced us to look online and use social media to drive traffic. Social media has been invaluable because it enables us to engage with customers. It was tough at first because I was relentlessly posting and wasn’t seeing the correlation between that and sales, but I’ve seen a huge improvement and it’s made such a difference!”
Tell us more about the Inspired By Africa pop-up event
“We wanted to do something in a physical space, so started collaborating with other brands whose products resonate with ours through social media and networking. There’s enough space for everybody in this industry. We did our first pop-up event for a week at Box Park Shoreditch in December last year and it was great for new people to find us. Imagine 10 brands all posting on social media, saying that we were going to be there. It really helped our customers to discover each others’ businesses that are all inspired by Africa in some way. The pop up scene allows you to connect with people and creates a network of brands that can help each other and collaborate. If all goes to plan, our next event is scheduled from 26th April until 23rd May at Box Park Shoreditch and we can’t wait to get back out there!”
What advice would you give somebody looking to start their own business?
“Try and understand why you’re doing it. Having a ‘why’ is really important. Knowing your purpose is much bigger than a profit margin. It helps to keep you going and it keeps you excited about the business. I’m excited about working with creatives and artisans in Ghana and seeing what they’re producing. Having these opportunities motivates me, so it’s a process that you feel inspired by and I look at other businesses and their journeys for inspiration.
“It’s also so important to get your finances organised, especially when as a small business you’re the sales, marketing and buying team all at once! I started banking with Starling Bank and my mind was blown compared to other banks. The features are incredible, so I can set goals and allocate money towards certain parts of the business, such as the Inspired By Africa events. Even with the basic version of the app, it helps me to stay so much more organised and it’s free. When I do a transaction, I get a notification to ask if I want a receipt, so things like this have helped me to remember as it can be so busy as a business owner.”
With so many unique products, how do you choose which items to sell?
“My wife is really into bags and accessories, so we thought that would be a great range that people would like. When we source, it’s all about how they look and the functionality of a product. We go for classic designs and try to avoid trends, so they are long-lasting items that can be used in any season and add value to our customers’ wardrobes. We’re keen to eradicate throwaway fashion, so we are intentional about that side of things.”
Afi-Akos has been giving away free face coverings. Tell us more.
“I’ve never been comfortable profiteering in situations that draw on emotional triggers such as fear. Because we have a lot of offcuts, I thought we could make use of these, so we came up with the idea to give face coverings away for free, charging only postage and packaging. Business doesn’t always have to be about profit. You can take something that would otherwise go to waste and help people at the same time.”
Have you noticed people becoming more ethically and environmentally conscious?
“We’ve noticed such a change since we began. Prior to the pandemic, we did a lot of pop up events where you have face to face interaction with your customer and they love to hear all about our products. I can tell them who made each item and they really enjoy this. When they buy from us, they love to know that it is responsibly sourced and materials are sustainable, which adds value.”