Fashion e-commerce startup The Folklore Group today announced a shift from direct-to-consumer to B2B wholesale against the backdrop of a $1.7 million pre-seed funding, which the startup plans to use to fuel the growth of its new business.
The startup’s new wholesale business, dubbed The Folklore Connect, will link luxury fashion brands in emerging markets to bulk retailers in North America and, later, Europe.
The e-commerce company, which was founded in 2018 by Amira Rasool, previously sourced, shipped and handled last-mile delivery to customers in 20 countries including the U.S. — which, however, didn’t allow it to grow fast enough. A spike in demand for the fashion and lifestyle products they sold also hastened the startup’s shift to wholesale.
Rasool told TechCrunch that The Folklore has experienced over 100% year-on-year growth in sales since launch. She anticipates greater growth for the partner fashion brands and the group following the new business pathway and funding.
“The Folklore Connect is our primary product moving forward and it is where we’re going to be focusing up to 95% of our resources, energy and funds. We are developing our technology and building a sales team. We have brought in an amazing head of engineering and a brand and retail partnerships director to build our sales and customer success teams, both on the continent (Africa) and in the U.S.,” CEO Rasool said.
The startup is also rolling out a new marketplace to be an affiliate partner of fashion brands or platforms, as well as The Folklore Edit, an online media site that will carry stories on fashion.
The funding round was led by Slauson & Co., a Los Angeles-based VC firm focused on early-stage technology investments, with participation from the Fearless Fund alongside other notable Black angel investors, including WNBA star Nneka Ogwumike.
“The world is beginning to wake up to the untapped talent across Africa. The Folklore highlights the best design talent across the continent, and demand for these products that reflect the culture is exploding. Amira is uniquely qualified to lead this charge, and we’re excited to stand alongside her while she empowers brands across the continent,” Slauson & Co. managing partner Ajay Relan said.
The startup’s B2B wholesale platform launching (in beta) today will sell products of up to 30 fashion brands including Rich Mnisi and Suki Suki Naturals, both from South Africa, and Orange Culture from Nigeria to 15 retailers in the U.S.
The startup is working with modern fashion brands out of Africa that have a proven track record and can keep up with demand.
“We are looking at it from a global perspective. These brands produce products that can be worn by anybody anywhere in the world. They may have some sort of cultural significance, but they are remixed or remade to fit a global perspective,” said Rasool, who launched The Folklore out of her passion for fashion and Black literature leading her to visit South Africa, where the 26-year-old discovered “amazing and innovative” fashion brands.
The first trip led her to a journey of discovery that saw her enroll at the University of Cape Town, where she pursued a master’s degree in African studies for two years, a period she also used to learn more about the designers she encountered in South Africa and during her travels across the continent. Prior to this, she had worked at some of the world’s well-known fashion publications like Marie Claire and V Magazine.
“I had a lot of knowledge of the fashion industry, but mostly the mainstream, like the luxury industry that is dominated by North American and European brands. So going to South Africa and during my travels in the continent I discovered all these amazing brands that were innovative and designed from a global perspective,” said Rasool.
“I recognized that a lot of them did not have direct connections to consumer platforms, and those that had, lacked sales tools. Also, no retailers outside of their countries were stocking these brands. I launched The Folklore to change that,” she said.
The Folklore Group, Rasool said, is opening up new markets for luxury and emerging brands from Africa and around the world, while also fulfilling growing demand from retailers that are keen on diversity and inclusion.