Afrisocks: Adding a splash of colour to footwear

If you are looking for colourful socks representing the vibrancy of West Africa, look no further than Afrisocks – a new venture established by two entrepreneurs at the beginning of the year that aims to promote African culture and design.

The Tro-tro is a Kente-inspired sock design from Afrisocks’ new collection. Tro-tro is the Ghanaian slang (now official word) for the mini buses that ferries people around the city. It is derived from Ga word for three-penny piece – the old fee for riding on the bus © Afrisocks

Established by CEO Huzaif AlHassan from Ghana and his business partner Michael, the socks are inspired by West African designs, including the Kente cloth of the Akan people of Ghana and Cote d’Ivoire. Interest in the socks was boosted by a video, showcasing some of their designs, that went viral recently. I spoke to Huzaif to find out what business challenges the team has faced; why they are not manufacturing on home soil and who tends to be their target market…

MisBeee Writes: When was Afrisocks established?

Huzaif: Afrisocks, as an idea, started in January 2018. We made our first samples in April, and opened the store for business in June. Since then we’ve sold thousands of socks to 40 countries.

MBW: Why was it established – did you feel like there was a gap in the market or you just like the idea of socks?

H: We love African culture and design. And we love cool socks. We wanted to represent African styles, and change perceptions. As Ghanaians, our posting system is costly, so we also were looking for something light we can export. Socks are cool.

In Ghana this design looks similar to the ‘Sika Wo Antaban’ or money has wings. But as part of Afrisocks’ new collection inspired by Ghanaian-Nigerian slang, it is called ‘No Gidigidi’ – a Hausa expression that means ‘no rush’ ‘take it easy.’ © Afrisocks

MBW: If I were to hazard a guess at your customer base – I would give the stereotypical answer that they are male, from a cooler climate who are less conservative? How wrong or right am I?

H: We’d say there are two customer types: The first is the African diaspora, who likes to bring African flavour to their everyday life. Especially if they have to wear a boring suit to work. The second is, for lack of a better word, ‘hipsters’, who like stylish socks, and experimenting with new styles. We love both!

MBW: You manufacture in Turkey – why there and not the standard destination (China)? Do you have connections in Turkey?

H: First we are looking to manufacture locally. However, currently there are no sock factories in Ghana or all of ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States). Perhaps one day, we’ll start one. We talked to manufacturers in Turkey, Korea, and China. Because of the complex patterns of African fabrics few of them could technically execute. Some of the first samples looked awful! We finally found one, who happened to be Turkish. We don’t want to compromise on quality – so until we’re certain we can deliver an equal or better quality sock we’ll keep our production in internationally recognised factories.

MisBeee with Afrisocks CEO Huzaif at an independent crafts market at the W.E.B du Bois Centre, Cantonments © Maria Haensch

MBW: What are the three challenges to doing business in Ghana and how have/are you overcoming them?

H: 1. Duty – importing products is very expensive for no reason. Even when there’s no local industry to protect! We’re not competing with Ghanaian sock manufactures, because there are none! And yet we have to pay almost 50% import taxes, making our socks more expensive.

2. Online payments – Ghanaian customers don’t like using online payments. Luckily our customer base is largely international, but we have real issues selling to Ghanaians who prefer to pay in cash, and on delivery. It’s just no viable for a small e-commerce business.

3. Postage system – It’s pretty expensive to send anything from Ghana to Europe or the US. While we’re very happy with Ghana Post service, it takes time. DHL, FedEx and others, are prohibitively expensive from Ghana to anywhere. Even for something as small and light as socks. So, our customers cannot enjoy faster delivery.

In Ghana this design looks similar to a design called the Nsubra, which is an Akan word for well. In the original design, the dots are believed to represent the ripples that come when water is disturbed. Afrisocks has renamed it IJGB (I Just Got Back) a Nigerian slang that signifies rich Nigerians hat show off their wealth © Afrisocks

MBW: Are you any closer to finding an African factory to manufacture on the Continent?

H: Right now, we can’t find one. We’re thinking of starting one ourselves when we have the capital. For now, our bags are locally made, and we’re planning on introducing more products, beyond socks which will be made in Ghana.

MBW: What new designs can we expect and when?

H: We just came out with them! We used some pretty cool West African terms used in Ghanaian and Nigerian slang for names too. I think our customers would appreciate it. In total, we have 10 new designs that include ‘Oga’ meaning ‘boss’ in the Yoruba language in Nigeria and ‘Burkina’ meaning honest and upright in the Mossi language spoken in Mali, Togo and Burkina Faso.

MBW: Any last words?

H: We’re very thankful for the love we’re getting from our customers. We recently went viral (see below), and are overwhelmed with the support. Thanks to everyone who loves our socks, and there are way more coming up.

It find out more about Afrisocks, check them out on Instagram @afrisocks or on their website https://afrisocks.com/

If you like posts like this, check out All Hail the Trotro and Adinkra: More Than Just a Pretty Face.

by Kirsty Osei-Bempong.

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