For Amira Rasool, fashion is a lifelong passion.
“I was always the person that laid out my first day of school outfit, like, two weeks before school,” she says. The South Orange, New Jersey, native ultimately started a fashion blog in high school and took on internships at magazines like Marie Claire and Women’s Wear Daily while studying at Rutgers University. She landed a role as a fashion assistant at V Magazine her final semester of college.
That same year, she also traveled to South Africa, discovering local clothing brands she’d never heard of in the States. When she got back, she realized there was no way to get them abroad. And “it wasn’t just a South African problem,” she says she realized. “It’s a problem with all of Africa.” Many brands didn’t have the technology, infrastructure to ship internationally or access to U.S. retailers to get their apparel outside of African borders.
The trip planted the seed of an idea for a company that would enable just that, and Rasool ultimately founded The Folklore Group. It includes a business-to-business platform connecting global retailers with brands from emerging markets such as Africa, South America, Asia and the Caribbean, a marketplace where consumers can discover these brands and a newsroom that writes about them.
“We’re specifically targeting brands that have been geographically or racially marginalized from being able to have this access to retailers,” she says. Rasool, now 27, raised $1.7 million in pre seed investments in July 2021 alone.
Here’s how she’s built her fashion empire.
After that initial visit to South Africa, Rasool sought out ways to return to the country to found her company. She decided to get a Masters in African Studies at the University of Cape Town and from there, she traveled to Ghana, Nigeria and Kenya to learn about other brands and to start building connections with business owners.
Rasool officially launched The Folklore in September 2018, a direct-to-consumer business selling men’s and women’s apparel and accessories as well as homeware brands from all over Africa. She also sold items from Black business owners in the diaspora.
She had $30,000 to begin with: $20,000 that she’d saved up working at V Magazine and doing some freelance writing and $10,000 from her father. She ran the site herself with the help of interns and “my mom would just ship the products from her place to customers,” she says. “It was very much a community effort.”
Rasool lived in Cape Town through her degree then moved back to the States in February 2020, first to New Jersey, then to Atlanta. As the company’s found investors, it’s been able to expand. The Folklore now employs 12 people altogether.
Instead of competing with Nordstrom, they would ‘collaborate with them’
After the murder of George Floyd in 2020, Rasool realized retailers were actively looking for Black-owned brands to start stocking and selling.
The Folklore didn’t quite have the reach of big retailers and could end up competing with them for the same clientele. But if the company was the connective tissue between brands and big retailers, “instead of competing with the Nordstroms and Saks that were now interested in these brands,” she says, they could “collaborate with them.”
She also “saw that we would be able to make a bigger impact on the brands if we are able to get them stocked in more stores than just The Folklore,” she says.
Rasool decided to put her efforts behind building a B2B version of the site and launched The Folklore Connect in 2022. The wholesale platform enables brands to sell their products in bulk to larger retailers.
‘We know our problems better than anybody else’
Going forward, the goal is growth.
“We imagine being able to have thousands of brands from around the world using the platform,” she says, and “having hundreds of thousands of retailers.” They also want to expand their categories to hygiene and kids, for example, and expand their price points so they work for many types of retailers.
As far as advice for other Black entrepreneurs goes, “I would say to look at issues that we have within our community, like problems that we face, and create solutions,” she says.
Ultimately, she says, “we know our stories and we know our problems better than anybody else.”