The e-commerce platform bringing unique African designs to the world
Akojo Market, F-LANE alumni of 2020, was co-founded by Annie Rudnick and Natasha Buchler. It is a platform for sustainable fashion providing its artisans with a dignified income.
Akojo Market is the leading UK platform selling handmade accessories, jewellery, homeware and fashion from independent African designers. Meet the founders Annie Rudnick and Natasha Buchler who carefully select talented designers and brands who promote local culture and artisan craftsmanship. In this interview, we speak with Natasha about their commitment to a sustainable and transparent way of working.
Do you have any tips for starting a company?
“Any advice I can give is to test any theories that you’ve got, any assumptions, validate them and keep testing them. Sometimes you will fail, but the main thing to keep at the core of all your activities is your mission and purpose.”
Where did the idea for Akojo Market come from?
“I had travelled extensively in Africa as a due diligence and supply chain risk consultant. On the one hand, I was blown away by the skill and beautiful products, that were not available to me in the U.K., and on the other hand, I was shocked that most artisans – and predominantly female artisans – work in the informal sector with no recognition, ethical and safety standards, stable income or job protections. To build the platform, I joined forces with Annie, whose family is from Zimbabwe. She has a love of African art and a background in design, having worked at international art galleries.”
How has the increased use of internet services in Africa impacted Akojo Market?
“We would not be able to operate at all without widespread internet, WiFi and mobile phone use across Sub-Saharan Africa. Our business model depends on our brands and their artisans reaching us, answering our due diligence questions, being able to share footage, upload product imagery and descriptions, and liaise over deliveries. The more widespread phone and internet usage is in rural villages, the easier it will be for us to give artisan makers an opportunity to sell their crafts internationally.”
What challenges and obstacles have you experienced as a female founder?
“The main challenge or growth area is having the authority to execute what you are trying to do or what you are doing, I think that’s a big difference between male and female founders, but also your education, your history, your experience. In my opinion, that is what female founders need to learn and keep on learning: speaking with authority. Maybe that’s not only about being male or female but about being privileged enough to have experience in being confident.”
What has helped you to cope with these challenges, such as this struggle with authority?
“Programmes like F-LANE are really incredible because they allow you to feel confident in what you do know, and then confident in what you don’t know. And also that it’s ok to not know things, as long as you understand what you need to do in order to acquire that knowledge or to outsource it. I think experience is very helpful, also surrounding yourself with mentors and participating in programmes where you figure out what you know and what you don’t know, and then talk about it.”
Do you see any trends in the start-up ecosystem towards more inclusivity?
“There are definitely trends towards diversity, inclusion and female empowerment and they’re quite huge, I’m not sure if I see any results though. But the statistics of female-founded businesses that receive investment are still very low. Also, investment in black-owned businesses is still very woeful. So I think it will take a couple of years more to see if these trends have manifested in actual investment. I think this change will happen faster the more female investors there are.”
What brought Akojo Market to F-LANE?
“We were approached by Solène from the F-LANE team and were immediately excited to apply. The mission of F-LANE was exactly aligned to ours. We saw a great opportunity to grow stronger as a start-up, with the mentorship and backing of experts from around the world as well as an inspirational female cohort.”
What was your favourite part of F-LANE?
“We have absolutely loved the F-LANE journey, the programme has been phenomenal. A two-month learning experience extravaganza. The highlight was the mentoring sessions that we have really enjoyed. Our lead mentor guided us through and we had sessions on a variety of topics, such as HR, marketing, product-market fit and much more!”