How Afrobeats Celebs Are Driving Fashion on the Continent

It is no rarity to see Tiwa Savage and Yemi Alade credit their red carpet gowns and performance looks to African designers on their social platforms. In fact, it is near expected as no doubt thousands of fans will leave inquiring comments about the look of the day. 

The impact of celebrity endorsement for emerging and established designers is no small feat as a mere mention can drive hundreds to follow a presently unheard of brand. In addition, the sales can make an designer's annual revenue projections skyrocket. Operative word: can. In the US, brands like House of CB founded in 2010 by Conna Walker have been able to develop from its Instagram shop connotations to opening its first US flagship in Los Angeles due to early mentions from Khloe Kardashian and stylist Monica Rose.

 Laquan Smith Year of Celebrity Dressing (2016) / Photo Courtesy of Laquan Smith

Laquan Smith Year of Celebrity Dressing (2016) / Photo Courtesy of Laquan Smith

Another success story can be found in LaQuan Smith whose social media popularity exponentiated with dressing Rihanna, Chanel Iman, and Serena Williams among others. Since launching his self-named brand also in 2010, Smith has since achieved annual sales of over $500,000, established a diverse private client base from Lagos to London, and received commissions from the likes of Heineken to create custom editions of his designs. However, for brands without the proper manufacturing capabilities, the 'instant' social recognition can lead to a sales burst that ultimately fades given operational challenges fulfilling orders and maintaining the celebrity buzz.

Within an African context, how have brands found similar successes with celebrity social media endorsements? We connected with Nigerian designer Wana Sambo to learn more about how her eponymous label has leveraged social media fame (with over 53K Instagram followers!) into a substantial business.

PROTOChic: How has social media endorsement from Afrobeat celebrities such as Yemi Alade changed your business?

Wana Sambo: Yemi Alade and celebrities like Tiwa Savage and Simi have been seen wearing Wana Sambo and we absolutely love and respect their personalities and their craft. Their wearing Wana Sambo pieces has gotten Afrobeat lovers to see that a woman can be multiple personalities at the same time -- performers and businesswomen. As brands outside the fact that they are celebrities, their off-the-stage meetings, maternity looks, or presence at events require them to look 'strong, sexy and exotic,' such is the Wana Sambo brand. When certain celebrities wear clothes, people want what they have on. You get more buyers of the same garment they wore. In most cases, it improves sales and this helps the business side.

PROTOChic: What are the benefits and the challenges of celebrity endorsement?

Wana Sambo: The Wana Sambo brand decided in 2016, after the launch of our store in 2015, to begin collaborations with real people through our Wana Sambo Edit #WSEdit shoots. We tell stories with the garments with emphasis on the personalities we collaborate with and they have varied from fashion and style bloggers to actors, filmmakers, and TV personalities. Celebrities, as we know, influence the market and often dictate what the 'next best thing is' consciously or subconsciously. When a celebrity puts on a garment, they let their followers see that 'they believe in that garment' just by putting it on. They bring the consumer’s attention to said brand and eventually get them buying products if it is their style and they can afford it. I've experienced no challenges so far.

PROTOChic: How important is it for African celebrities to promote domestic fashion labels?

Wana Sambo: I believe it’s just a way to support one another and it’s also a stamp of approval from the bigger brand (either the celebrity or the fashion house) saying 'job well done!'

PROTOChic: As a brand, how does Wana Sambo utilize social media to engage with its customers?

Wana Sambo: The Wana Sambo brand is known for our unique style of lookbooks (#WSEdit) as every look book is a visual story reminding the Wana Sambo Woman that she is strong, sexy and exotic. These visually stimulating images enable us connect with the Wana Sambo Woman’s soul even before she even reads our captions. We also tell stories about the Wana Sambo Woman’s Lifestyle with each #WSEdit and this helps her see herself in each Wana Sambo piece. Depending on what platform your brand is on social media, we have learned that visually stimulating images appeal to the consumer first before she cares about what you are saying about that product, so we ensure we never miss a chance to stand out from the crowd in a sea of millions of images on social media.

This interview has been condensed and edited.