When Sera Kanyua and Irene Abagi discovered they shared the mutual frustration of not finding unique, affordable, quality clothes in the Kenyan market, they decided to start an online fashion marketplaceâ€” Closet49.
Closet49 was started to offer a solution to many buyers in search of unique, affordable clothes and who want to shop from the comfort of their homes or offices.
After some time, Ms Kanyua and Ms Abagi met designers who also wanted to reach the growing online market. Now, their website has evolved into an online marketplace connecting buyers and sellers.
â€œUpcoming designers are constantly struggling with how to market their products, reach new customers, and maintain an online presence. Most are not necessarily business or tech savvy, and even if they are, not much time is left forÂ designing and producing their items. Closet49 provides them with an online marketing platform while giving them more free time to work on their products, turning hobbiesÂ intoÂ lucrative businesses,â€ says Ms Kanyua.
The absence of a physical shop which would require them to pay rent and other expenses allows Ms Kanyua and Ms Abagi to offer competitive prices while giving buyers a platform to order for clothes 24 hours a day, which is their winning formula.
From the humble beginnings in 2009, they have gained a loyal following of over 5,000 active buyers and organised four fashion events to reach over 300 customers daily. In the last two months, they have acquired 47 designers/traders and grown the inventory to 1,000 items.
The two met in high school and after they completed collegeâ€” Closet49 was born out of the union of two ideas.
â€œI had been selling clothes from my dorm room, and noted an overall frustration, and Abagi had just returned from studies abroad, and needed an outlet to sell her fashionable items that she could not wear anymore due to the nature of her job at the time,â€ says Ms Kanyua.
After a bit of research which included talking to friends, they realised that there were other women facing the same problem. The online business has grown over the years attracting a venture capitalist.
As part of the Accelerator programme from 88mphâ€”a venture capitalist companyâ€” the two have the capital and expertise that has enabled Ms Kanyua and Ms Abagi to revamp the website and hire an in-house web developedâ€” Timothy Ekiiru. The website revamp would have not come at a better time as the two seek to increase the number of online buyers.
Data from Euromonitor Internationalâ€”a UK-based consumer research companyâ€”shows that Kenyaâ€™s apparel internet retailing grew 13.7 per cent between 2007 and 2012; from Sh4 million to Sh7.6 million.
So what are some of the challenges they face?
â€œThe biggest thing [challenge] was that all shop management had to come through the Closet49 administration therefore sellers had no way of directly accessing their Closet49 shops,â€ says Ms Abagi.
To solve this, they are constantly improving user feedback. The revamped website has new features; a simple interface for the sellers to add products and manage their e-store; better keyword search; and buyers can customise their profile with information on what they are looking for to get alerts on when the items are listed and personalised recommendations of items they would like.
â€œThe biggest challenge is trader awareness. The word is still not out that there is a platform that you can easily do this. We are constantly teaching our community how easy it is to do; click, upload and trade,â€ says Ms Abagi.
The other challenges have been dealing with a slow and under-developed delivery logistics system in Kenya and working to educate buyers that online shopping is a more cost effective and convenient mode of transaction.
The two have also introduced an online magazine, where they feature looks put together by items from the different vendors on Closet49, so buyers can get inspiration on how to wear the different items they want to buy.
Closet49 unique trade service is helps one de-clutter his or her closet of used clothes and accessories and earn money. Most woman have this problem, closet full of clothes, but nothing to wear. Closets are overrun by clothes they are bored ofÂ or that special dress worn one too many times toÂ events and they cannot afford to be photographed or spotted in it.
The success of Closet 49 lies with the two taking on multiple roles based on their strengths and competencies. Ms Kanyua deals with trader/designer recruitment, social media and book keeping while Ms Abagi handles the website, blog and photography. They share the marketing duties and have a customer care and sales lady.
As the two grow their business, more and more similar websites are going up every week. For Closet49, growing number of new entrants into the online marketplace reassures them that they are on the right track.