Based in Norristown, Pennsylvania, D’IYANU is an African-inspired clothing brand that evokes the beauty of the African diaspora thanks to vivacious colors and dynamic geometric prints. The brand’s creations are sourced and manufactured abroad, with a size range that goes from small to triple-extra large, which helps them meet the needs of broad coalition of customers. D’IYANU will hit the runaway at Philly Fashion Week on September 26th during the LUXE Streetwear Show in the Fashion District.
We spoke with D’IYANU’s chief executive officer, Addie Elabor, about her thriving brand that she founded in 2014, how African-inspired media like Afrobeats music and movies like Black Panther have resonated with customers, and how D’IYANU intends to expand in the future.
Growing up, did you always want to work in fashion?
Not necessarily. I always loved fashion and dressing and owning something that other people didn’t have. I didn’t like going somewhere where someone had the same outfit. I’m Nigerian-born and always appreciated bold fashion and bold prints. That’s the background tied into the fashion we’re doing now.
One thing I did want growing up was to start my own business. I didn’t know if it would be in fashion or clothing. Opportunities kind of opened up to me when I was at a point in my career when I was looking for a business to start. A Nigerian friend of mine and I were talking, I saw that [there] wasn’t any brand that was African-inspired or trendy that people could get into. I asked myself, “Why not me?” and set out to create this line in 2013. I was really excited to combine my love for fashion and heritage and to start this business.
How does your business get funded?
The business is self-funded.
What were some first-year challenges you encountered and since overcome with regards to launching your own business?
The biggest challenge in the beginning was finding a way to consistently reach the right audience that would be interested in D’IYANU products. Social media has been huge for us. Thankfully, I have a marketing background and understood how important it was. I learned how to use Facebook ads to reach my ideal audience and the business took off. It grew from there into our Instagram following and email marketing, and trying to connect with people who are interested in what we’re doing. It really drives our sales to be honest.
At the moment, finding the right talent for various roles in the company is challenging.
What advice would you give to other Black women looking to launch their own company?
Have a vision of what you’re ultimately trying to achieve and write out the steps on how to launch the idea. Make sure your product is meeting a big enough need in the market and find the right customers that are willing to pay you for that product. If you’re just starting out, you either have to learn the marketing and financial skills needed to make your business work or get the right people to help you. Either way, you have to be willing to invest in those things.
As a Black businesswoman, how important has it been to sell D’IYANU products at affordable prices?
That was one of my value propositions in the beginning when I launched the brand. I wanted to make sure it was affordable because I saw African-inspired fashion that was made-to-order or custom was pricey, so it made it unaffordable or inconvenient for people that wanted to represent their roots. I wanted to make it affordable for people that do. I think we’ve been doing a good job of it compared to other lines that have been almost twice the cost.
Can you talk about the importance of D’IYANU giving back to community-based nonprofits?
Absolutely. One of the biggest drivers or missions for the company that makes me excited is the ability to give back and help our community come up. [It’s important to] not just create fashion styles they can buy, but [also] be a source of positivity and good in the community. Since our second year I have made it a priority to give back to organizations making a positive impact in communities, especially of color.
D’IYANU gave back to an organization that provides clean water in Africa and reduces disease. It created a positive ripple effect and we have donated money to charities from 2015 through 2018. This year, we wanted to bring it home since we’re based outside of Philly and many of our customers are here. We wanted to help the community we’re in and give back to our customers. We sent out an email asking customers what organization or program made a positive impact in our community so we could donate to it. From that initiative, we selected the Boys and Girls Club of Philadelphia and Women’s Safe House in St. Louis. We just want to be as impactful as possible, that’s been our heart and goal for this year.
In what ways do you believe D’IYANU is benefitting from the current wave of mainstream support for African culture?
Big time. We saw the prominent exposure that Black Panther brought about last year. Last year overall it kind of elevated our brand awareness and people became more in tune with representing their roots. They were more on the lookout for what we’re making. As a result, sales doubled last year from the previous year; that has passed over into this year.
We have hugely benefited from the wave of respect for African-inspired anything. Black Panther, Lion King and Afrobeat music are all really helping to increase the desire for our product. I’m really excited for where it’s going and believe it will continue to increase because it has not nearly reached its peak.
Moving forward, how would you like to see D’IYANU expand on the success that the brand has had since starting in 2014?
From my standpoint, I feel like the sky’s the limit and that we are just getting started. We have a really exciting athleisure collection for October. With our current line we’ve been able to cover a lot of aspects of people’s lives. We’ve done this in the past but I believe this is the most exciting collection yet.
Expanding our product offerings to cover people’s lifestyles [is important]. We want to provide different products for people if they want to rep their roots. [That includes] different categories like home goods, shoes and bags. There are so many categories that we can further expand to and know that customers are already asking about. It’s just a matter of making those products.
[We plan on] expanding to offline locations into retailers so people who don’t feel comfortable shopping online can shop in person and later shop with us online. There’s a few things we’ve been thinking about moving forward to get more brand awareness. There are still a lot of people who haven’t heard about us that would buy our products if they knew we existed. I think that’s what motivates us to keep going. I don’t think we will ever get complacent. Especially since I have such a big vision for the company for what we can do for the fashion industry and feel like we’re just getting started.