DOKU | Making Fashion Global

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A New Global Marketplace To Shop The World’s Most Influential, Emerging Fashion Designers Has Arrived

The world is filled with millions of talented, hard-working and creative young women whose brilliance is often left undiscovered or difficult to access. With so many various platforms catering to specific labels or fashion houses, it is often challenging for one to get their hands on a beautifully crafted item by a young, emerging designer based in Africa or Asia when you reside on the other side of the world –well,  up until now!

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Ameyo Skirt/ Kyu Melange Bag/Bello Edu Top

Co-founded by Washington DC-based Tomara Watkins and Akila Hunte, ShopDOKU.com was created to provide fashionistas a passport to global style and allows customers to shop Indie designers from all over the world! DOKU retails emerging, independent designers from Europe, Asia, Africa, the Caribbean, South America, and the U.S. Keeping the global aesthetic of customers in mind, DOKU presents products from a carefully curated list of acclaimed designers that offer a variety of styles, flirty silhouettes, and colourful prints.

The new online retailer offers unprecedented access to apparel (dresses, skirts, jumpers, shirts, and swimwear) and accessories from emerging designers around the globe such as Season 12 Project Runway Winner Dom Streater (Philadelphia), LaQuan Smith (New York), Ame’yo (Ghana), Triologie (Singapore), Birdie Num Num (Chile), ZAAF Handbags (Ethiopia), Bello|Edu (Ghana), and Lorraine West Jewelry (New York). Many of the designers currently boast a list of celebrity clients such as Kim KardashianWest, Erykah Badu, and Beyoncé.

Every piece is produced in the designer’s country of origin, enabling shoppers to support local markets from Asia to Africa. Customers can shop the designers’ collections through DOKU’s ecommerce website at www.shopDOKU.com and can expect to interact with the brand and designers at Pop-up shops in major markets, such as New York, Los Angeles, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. DOKU expects to continue its designer recruitment efforts to offer customers the most influential, emerging designers from around the globe. DOKU is a personal endeavor of the founders of the company, Tomara and Akila. Traveling the world and interacting with designers ignited their desire to bring awareness to the talent of independent designers everywhere. The birth of DOKU as an online marketplace is a result of the challenges that exist when trying to support designers abroad. “After returning to the states, we found it extremely frustrating to place orders for the amazing designs we discovered around the world. The shipping costs were outrageous and fulfilment times very slow. DOKU was born out of the desire to support global talent and an attempt to stay ahead of fashion trends. It’s exciting to know that our customers can now be a part of that!” say DOKU’s founders.

ZAAF Weekender Bag
ZAAF Weekender Bag

Impressed by the amazing work that Tomara and Akila have put into not only supporting up and coming designers around the world, but also creating a platform for these designers’ work to be recognised and purchased, The Corporate Canvas simply could not pass up an opportunity to get to know these amazing women! We love women who decide to stand up and make a difference in the lives of others, so please do read on as Tomara and Akila give us a glimpse into how they came to find DOKU…

Full Name: Tomara Watkins + Akila Hunte

Age: 30 + 29

Educational Background: B.S, Chemistry (professional background = e-commerce marketing) + B.A, Health Care Management (professional background = apparel buyer for small boutiques)

Both graduates of Howard University

Current Title/Company: CoFounders of ShopDoku.com

Current City: Washington, D.C. + San Francisco, CA

Tomara and Akila, you are the co-founders of shopDOKU.com, an e-commerce platform that retails apparel and accessories from emerging, independent designers across the world, could you take us through the journey to creating DOKU?

Akila and I decided to build DOKU after doing some traveling and falling in love with the fashion design talent we discovered while abroad. When we returned to the States, it was very difficult to support the designers/purchase their items (communication issues, high shipping costs to the U.S, and lack of online distribution). It was really frustrating! I [Tomara] had the idea and approached Akila, because of her background as a buyer for small boutiques. With my background in e-commerce marketing and web design/develop project management, we both had professional skills that the other lacked. Together, we refined the idea and launched the platform in November 2014 using money from our personal savings.

Tomara Watkins - Co-founder of DOKU
Tomara Watkins – Co-founder of DOKU

Many of the African brands as can be seen on the hit You-Tube series “An African City” were retailed by your platform. What would you say is the main factor that has contributed towards DOKU’s success so far?

I’m not sure we consider DOKU to be a “success” yet. Key emphasis on yet….LOL. We were successful in launching the platform, but now the real work has begun. There are so many things that we want to do with our designers and the overall platform, but we have to continue to increase our brand profile and grow our top and bottom line revenue, which is difficult when you are the new kid online. Month over month, we are seeing our traffic and sales increase, and we are excited about that. But, we are far from where we want to be.

However, social partnerships that make sense have contributed to increasing brand awareness thus far. For example, Angela Simmons and her stylist Kanayo are big supporters of  emerging designers, so partnering with influencers who have great style and love to wear new designers makes sense. Angela was recently seen “twirling” around the streets of New York City in a DOKU designer (Ame’yo).

DOKU’s goal is to give emerging designers a platform to access customers beyond their local markets. Why is it important to you personally that emerging businesses/designers are given the opportunity to flourish?

Akila and I are products of entrepreneurship. Both of our families owned small businesses growing up, so we understand the hardships that small business owners have to endure. I guess you can say that due to personal experiences, we root for the underdog. Meeting with emerging, indie designers is very inspirational. We are able to see first-hand how hard they work at their craft – sometimes in unfavourable conditions. It is hard not to want to see them succeed and to contribute to the success in some way. Larger brands that most consumers support have financial backing by private equity firms or fashion conglomerates and are able to produce beautiful collections season after season, but the designers that DOKU retails have limited resources, and are also able to construct garments that are just as beautiful. That’s inspiring!

There is also the element of changing the view of what global fashion is. We have designers from all over the world (Mozambique, Hungary, Australia, Spain, Ethiopia, Ghana, many more) with various aesthetics, but they all have a unique contribution to fashion that is infused with their cultural identity and interpretation of what the modern woman wants. For example, the average consumer considers African fashion to be heavy use of Ankara fabric, but it is so much more than that. DOKU retails designers that expose the depth that exists in fashion globally.

As online entrepreneurs, what would you say are the main advantages to starting an online business or e-commerce platform?

We live in a global world and the internet allows us to reach customers in our targeted geographic areas (U.S, U.K and Canada). When you have a brick and mortar location, you are limited to customers in your local market. Online, your operations can be in City A, but you can reach customers beyond the borders of your own country. The internet makes the world much smaller.

There is also the ability to test and act quickly on these learnings. For example, we can run a Facebook campaign testing two images against each other. In a matter of a few days, we have access to data that informs us of what image resonates best with customers and make the change quickly.

What advice would you give aspiring female entrepreneurs?

  • Seek guidance from people who are where you want to be. If you want to be a creative director, seek out a director that can possibly mentor you.
  • Don’t get caught up in what Tim Ferriss calls “Analysis Paralysis.” If you fail, it’s OK. Learn from it! Don’t allow over analysis, to prevent execution.
  • Don’t be so rigid in your ideas that you can’t adapt or be flexible to what your market wants.

Please follow shopDOKU on Instagram (@shopDOKU), as we take you on the travels of a fashion nomad eager to create her own global closet with apparel  from around the world.

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