Today I'm pleased to bring you an interview with Daphne Kasambala, CEO of UK-based, online ethical fashion and accessories store, Sapellé.
Sapellé is setting a new standard in curating and presenting elegant, high quality contemporary African fashion. Working with suppliers in the UK, Kenya, Zambia, Ghana, Uganda, South Africa, Rwanda, Malawi, Congo, Mozambique, Mali and Swaziland, Sapellé only features work by artisans, design labels and social enterprises that work to ethical production principles.
After an extensive and successful career in banking, Daphne decided to return to her original passion – fashion.
Her story demonstrates that you can return to your oldest dreams and use your new skills to facilitate their pursuit! In the end, nothing is lost and instead, a world of valuable experience is gained.
What is your passion?
Passion drives a lot of aspects of what I do, but mostly, I love the clothes and accessories we sell. I would wear each and every one of them but, that wouldn't be very good business practice! We've been very fortunate in finding amazingly talented designers and artisans who take traditional influences and inject a fresh new level of creativity for the modern woman. When we started out, I didn't envision that we'd have such a wide range of products to choose from for our platform. It makes my job easier that we have the range and scope that we do.
Secondly, I am passionate about the impact that economic empowerment has on people, which is why Sapellé's ethical ethos is grounded in fair and responsible employment and trade across our supply chain. We do not work with suppliers who are not committed to the fair and responsible treatment of their own employees and suppliers. Therefore, by selling our products, we are contributing to the employment of a machinist or a crafter – and that keeps my fires burning and makes all those difficult moments worthwhile.
In a nutshell, it was the answer to a calling I'd had as a teenager. I'd originally wanted to be a fashion designer and was even designing and making clothes for myself and some friends. Years later, I was still making odd things for myself, but I was frustrated at the lack of modern, off-the-shelf African-inspired clothing, that I could buy when I didn't have time to make something myself. Also, the international design houses have been featuring clothing 'inspired by Africa' for a while but, that seems to be where the connection with Africa ends for the vast majority of them. Yet when I looked, I found all these brands that were doing very well locally but had no route to the international market. So I decided to use the skills and insights I've gained in my career with my interest in African fashion to provide this platform, Sapellé.
What has been your greatest obstacle/challenge?
Overcoming pre-conceptions about 'African fashion'. On the one hand, we have to break the common myth that our products are exclusively for Africans. Our products are very modern and appeal to women of all backgrounds. The styles can be both bold and understated – we're not about the flamboyant gowns for special occasions. On the other hand, we have to demonstrate that our products are high quality and certainly just as well made, if not better, than what you'd find on the high street. And not only that – because they are made ethically, there's also a feelgood element to any purchase made.
How have you dealt with/overcome it?
Normally when people see our products, how well they're made and how relevant, stylish and modern they are, the penny drops. So we're on a mission to show people what we're about and let them touch and feel our products. We do this through our online presence and also with pop-ups and other such 'physical' appearances.
What has your greatest achievement been?
There are so many small wins and milestones we're seeing which I make sure to celebrate. I'd say being selected out of 500 applicants for the Pop-Up Britain tenancy in Victoria, London (between 16 and 28 April) was a huge boost. For two weeks, we'll have the opportunity to showcase our new Summer range in a proper retail setting. We're really looking forward to meeting our supporters, making new relationships and hearing everyone's feedback.
Where will you be in 10 years?
Sapellé will be the main online store for African-inspired fashion, accessories and home décor, serving Europe, North America and Africa. Our platform will feature many more than the 30 suppliers we currently cover.
How does Africa inspire you?
The resilience and creativity of people across the continent is humbling. The last few decades have thrown all kinds of challenges at Africa such as bad governance, civil war, natural disasters, international trade inequalities and exploitation by external bodies. But in spite of all these, the indicators across the continent are showing the signs of recovery, growth and even prosperity. The young generation seems determined to take charge and forge a future worth looking forward to, harnessing things like technology to speed along progress. I'm excited by what all of these developments will bring about.
Anything else you'd like to share?
We're always eager to hear what people think about our products, so we encourage visitors to our website and shoppers to feed back what they think we do well, what we could do bette and what they'd like to see in our range. They can always send us an email to [email protected].
Anything we should look out for in the coming weeks/months/year?
We're thrilled to have brought on board a few new brands that are gaining recognition on the international scene such as Ugandan Jose Hendo, South Africa's Thula Sindi, Mozambican Taibo Bacar and French-based label Tamboo Bamboo. They bring a fresh new perspective on African fashion that complements our existing brands – our customers will be able to find pieces for work, party and play. Exciting!
Obviously the pop-up in Victoria, London, at Eland House from 16th to 28th April. We have also secured another pop-up in Clerkenwell in July – watch this space for details!
Images courtesy of Daphne and Sapellé
- Buy African: Fashion on Sapellé
- Interview with Social Entrepreneur Laura Marano of Green-Safari
- Interview with Fashion Designer, Naana B.
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