There has been increased calls for consumers to buy locally manufactured goods and to support African talent by buying African products from local businesses.
Seeing the tide begin to turn, South African, Tshiwela Ncube and Kenya-born Horesia Nyawade launched an online African emporium store, Vuuqa, that sells African products and brands with the goal of connecting African creators to customers.
Both founders hold MBA degrees from the Wits Business School and are advocates in the Afri-commerce space, passionate about helping African brands and creatives within Africa to reach a larger customer base by providing access to market, through digital platforms.
The goal was to provide a marketplace that was solely dedicated to selling African brands, says co-founder and COO, Ncube. The website sells everything from cosmetics and jewellery, to fashion items and food stuff.
“There’s has been a deliberate and active movement around the world focused on embracing diversity in all walks of life,” says Ncube.
“Africans are becoming original and true to their culture and [are] beginning to embrace and spearhead the “This is Africa’s Time” narrative,” she says.
Vuuqa launched in 2018 following nine months of development. The platform has been live for seven months.
“Vuuqa’s goal is to establish itself as an industry leader when it comes to African brands and access to market thereof,” Ncube adds.
The platform also helps local creators who have to contend with high manufacturing, distribution and logistics costs and who have to compete against “cheap” imports and “fast fashion”.
“Through our platform, brands can save on website and delivery costs, by capitalising on the power in numbers to see a growth in sales, and brand recognition,” says Ncube.
Unfortunately, society has conditioned us to believe that local is cheap, local is “poor quality”, local is “too traditional”, local is “only for foreigners”
Ncube shares on how they are building Africa’s Amazon and how they are working to change lingering negative attitudes about African-made products.
How important was it for you and your co-founder to support small businesses and creatives? Where does that motivation come from?
Vuuqa is a word we coined to mean “Africa rise up”. Small business and creatives are in a position to produce and innovate for the future through their African brands. We envision a continent with a self-sustained economic ecosystem.
We also believe this will be one of the most impactful ways Africans can rise up and show that they are truly a rich and loyal continent.
How customers can support African-made products?
African brands are starting to take their brands and the quality of their brands seriously. It is now up to the customers to support these brands, customers can do this by:
• Being open minded
• Reading labels/Asking questions
• Providing feedback
What are some of the biggest challenges that you face transporting goods across the African countries you operate in?
The biggest challenges we face are logistic costs and timelines. Fast and reliable delivery drives the costs up, while affordable/informal delivery poses a safety issue.
Another challenge is having a payment system that can’t accept most currencies within the continent. The solution we currently have can only be used by consumers who are banked; and as we all know, that’s only a small percentage of the population.
Why are some African consumers still averse to buying African-made products?
Unfortunately, society has conditioned us to believe that local is cheap, local is “poor quality”, local is “too traditional”, local is “only for foreigners”.
This mentality is also attributed to consumers’ lack of brand origin and knowledge.
Many of the products we’ve been consuming for years have been “localised” by international brands, misleading us to believe they are local; re: Unilever (Omo, Blue Band, Lifebuoy).
These two factors combined give birth to a non-conscious consumer who sometimes doesn’t realize that their loyalty to these brands, blocks them from trying out new and upcoming African brands.
These creatives are producing products that are just as good, or better, but have to fight the pre-established brand loyalties in order for customers to give their products a try. The local businesses and creatives therefore suffer from a lack of access to market within their own communities, and have to start by reaching out abroad where they encounter additional challenges such as logistics.
Which products have you discovered do well online?
The products that have done really well so far are natural beauty products such as shea butter, black soap and essential oils. Garments such as bomber jackets, and streetwear also do well.
A lack of packaging, branding and marketing expertise is often mentioned as some of the factors behind the lack of support for local products, how can local creators compete with their international counterparts in this regard?
Branding according to international standards gives you the opportunity to compete. Just because you have a product that works well, the visual and virtual branding play a big part on the end-consumer’s value perception of your offering.
For those who think of branding, packaging and marketing as extra costs, this is what I have to say: You are better off with a good quality with product with good branding and increasing your retail price to ensure it covers your costs. This way you can get several repeat sales rather than striking a one-time sale.
Branding and positioning also help people recognize and identify with your product. For example, when making a t-shirt, standard practices would be a tag indicating the size and brand. This is helpful because of the following reasons:
1. Other than the design, this is the one thing that states ownership and originality.
2. It will also help prevent copying or theft.
3. Lastly, it reminds the consumer where they can go back and get another awesome t-shirt!
How brands can join Vuuqa?
Brands who would like to join the Vuuqa family should visit the Vuuqa website and fill in the requested details under the “Sell on Vuuqa” tab. A member of our team will reach out to you and set up a meeting to check the quality and viability of your products.
There is a once-off membership fee to join the platform, and a monthly fee that gets you a unique branded website on the Vuuqa platform.
To sell on Vuuqa, your brand must be at least one, or all, of the following:
• Made in Africa
• Made by Africans
• Designed by Africans
• Designed in Africa
We have also signed a lot of brands through word-of-mouth from customers, networks and our very own family members. We introduced an incentive scheme where one can earn R100 for each successful referral.