What inspired you to start your business?
My undergraduate experience inspired me to start The Folklore. While attending Rutgers, I majored in African American and African Studies. Before I started the program, I had not been exposed to that much Black literature, art, and innovation. Many of the people I studied the most during college—James Baldwin, W.E.B. Du Bois, Zora Neale Hurston—all produced work that was impactful and pushed Black social, economic, and political agendas forward. I decided then that I would dedicate all of my career pursuits to serve the same purpose.
Having had experience in the fashion media space and in e-commerce, I knew I could build a platform that would provide African designers with the ability to further monetize their brands through capturing the attention of global audiences. Fashion is a major revenue driver in countries around the world—it employs so many people. I wanted to start a business that could leave that type of impact in black and brown communities.
How have social distancing and stay-at-home orders affected your business? How have your priorities shifted?
Social distancing and stay-at-home orders affected my business a great deal. I was in the middle of raising our pre-seed round right when the orders were put in place. Many of the investors I was speaking to told me they had to focus their attention on their current portfolio companies before they could return to having conversations with me. That was hard because I was confident that I would raise the money by spring.
Instead of being discouraged, I decided to shift my efforts to restructure our finances and business model to fit our current financial position and our deep decline in sales. I moved our products out of our space in NYC and brought them home to New Jersey so I could ship orders without leaving my home. I cut over a dozen $10- and $15-a-month subscriptions and brought my expenses down to the bare minimum.
After figuring out our new financial plan, we connected with the 30-plus designer brands that we work with. We checked to see how they were doing, how COVID-19 affected their business, and how we could help. We shifted from being just an e-commerce channel to being a source of support almost immediately. We hosted a virtual fashion conference alongside a number of our designers and fashion editors from Condé Nast to raise funds for African-based brands impacted by COVID-19.
We are now making plans to offer more business services that will allow brands to create online direct-to-consumer businesses of their own instead of relying solely on multi-brand retailers. We are also partnering with other people in the industry to build a nonprofit that could continue to help these brands long after the orders are lifted.