African inspiration has made its way into the collections of a number of prominent fashion brands over the past few seasons. Michael Kors, Suno and Edun come to mind (and the latter two actually produce some of their goods in Africa). And while it may be a trend now, it's not that kind that's going to suddenly disappear.
That's why we think the concept behind new ecommerce site Heritage 1960 is a really cool one. The name is derived from the year that 17 African nations gained independence and the site offers a well-curated assortment of apparel, accessories and lifestyle products from contemporary African and African-inspired brands. (A quick perusal of the site has uncovered some very cute stuff.)
Like a few other ecommerce sites, Heritage 1960 offers more than just online shopping--there's also editorial content meant to highlight the luxury lifestyle and retail market in Africa--something a lot of people may not know much about.
We spoke to the founder of Heritage 1960 Enyinne Owunwanne, who once worked in pharmaceuticals and then on Wall Street, about how the site works, what inspired her to start it and what we can expect in the future.
Can you give us a quick rundown of how the site works and what we can find on it? We tell the stories behind each brand that we sell and everything that we curate leads back to Africa. If you go on the site today you’ll see an accessory brand based in South Africa and the designer makes these beautiful leather bowties, belts, suspenders, scarves, but there's nothing South African about it. Ultimately, the brands and items that we curate are just as strong as any items desgined in America, Europe, Asia, but the beauty is they all relate back and tell a story about Africa. We’ve coined this term, "read it, love it, buy it." We’re putting forth items to discover and when you read about it you can love it and you can buy it all in the same platform.
What inspired you to start it? I’m African myself; I’m Nigerian but I was born in Rochester; I grew up in Kuwait in the Middle East and I’ve studied around the world between New York, Philadelphia, Paris and Hong Kong. Throughout my travels I’ve just always seen semblances of African culture, but in very different forms, so for me I was just so intrigued by how far-reaching African culture really is and I’ve noticed lately a lot of designers are drawing inspiration from African culture and a lot of consumers are following along. People are really just barely [skimming] the surface of what African fashion and design really entails, so I wanted to really push the boundary a little bit further and expose people to a whole different world and view of African fashion and design, but in a way that can also be globally appreciated.
How to find/decide what to sell? Nothing goes on the site without actually [us] seeing it and having our fit model try it. It can be very very difficult to purchase from a line sheet and really know and understand the quality, so I just spent the past year traveling and sourcing designers to help build my pipeline. Next week, I’ll be going to Vegas for Arise magazine’s fashion week. The following month I’ll be in Kenya, Ethiopia and Tanzania. There’s really a good mix of designers that also have a presence here. I’m working with Edun--they’re located here; A Peace Treaty, they’re located here and it’s really nice to be able to pit them against designers who are on the continent [of Africa] as well. Just to show that designers coming from Africa versus inspired by Africa--they’re really on the same level playing field once you start to curate what’s out there.
What is your background? My first degree was in neuroscience so I worked in the pharmeceutical industry for a few years and after [that] I worked on Wall Street at a hedge fund for a few years and it was while I was at the hedge fund that I sold vintage clothing in my apartment with a friend as a way to exercise creativity and just as a hobby; that’s what exposed me to the economics of retailing and that really piqued my interest. I earned my masters in global fashion management from FIT. I was going to launch an online startup but just to make sure I had the necessary tools and experience behind my belt, I worked for one year after graduating as the business development manager for the U.S. for a trend forecasting company called WGSN. That whole part of my job was to better understand different businesses so that we could better work with them. That all exposed me to other retailers and other designers and the inner workings of their brands, which was what allowed me to really seamlessly transition into my startup.
Where do you see Heritage 1960 five years from now? Online is just kind of one piece of the retailing portion, so I’m really interested in playing the whole online/offline juxtaposition because with many of these items you really just have to try it on and see it and feel it to really experience what it’s like, so we are looking into offline retail as well. It’s not just fashion coming from the continent, so you’ll see us expanding into other product categories and going much deeper into product categories as well.