The virtual 3D fashion show by US-based Congolese designer Anifa Mvuemba, for her brand Hanifa, left everyone mesmerized. The digital show, executed with finesse, not only sent ripples across the fashion-tech circuit but also sparked enthusiasm amongst the Black community, widely underrepresented in this space.
In fashion, the number of Black-owned independent designer brands is on the rise, but the tally of Black founder-led tech startups lags far behind. It is common knowledge that setting up a fashion-tech business (whether an e-commerce or a SaaS solution) is harder as one needs tech expertise and capital. But Black founders end up chasing not only money and skill support but also face systemic racism at every step of their entrepreneurial journey.
However, in the wake of recent Black Lives Matter protests, the diversity agenda has come to the fore, giving rise to more candid and uncomfortable discussions. And Black founders have a singular message for investors and companies that want to breed fashion-tech innovation— “give us a level playing field.”
Funding To Get Off The Ground
Raising money for a fashion-tech startup is hard enough because the fashion industry has been slow to embrace technology. Unfortunately, the Black founders have it harder because they often find themselves judged on the colour of their skin rather than the strength of their business plan.
Urenna Okonkwo, the founder of Cashmere, a fashion fintech app, admits to being racially discriminated against on several occasions. A senior investor at a networking dinner refused to share his business card with her but readily handed it out to a white entrepreneur. During a product pitch earlier in the year, she admitted to being undermined with condescending feedback while her white peer presenting a similar point was held in high regard.
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