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Kobia Strikes Again: AfricanTees

I’m beginning to think that this David Kobia fellow lives life on a caffeine drip, he must never sleep to be this productive. Okay, first two months of this year have seen: Ushahidi, IHaveNoTribe, and normal client work for Kobia Interactive. Today I just found out about his newest project, AfricanTees, a website where you can buy cool Kenya designed t-shirts.

Kenyan t-shirts at AfricanTees

From the name, you can tell that Kobia’s ambitions are to grow this outside of just the Kenyan market (thus the name “AfricanTees”, not “KenyanTees”). That’s a good idea, and it’s scalable. You see, he’s using a third party for actual manufacturing, printing and distribution of the shirts, so all he needs to worry about is designs.

The big question
The question I asked myself when I saw this site though was: Why has no one else done this who actually lives in Africa? (Kobia lives in the US).

After all, it seems like an easy, low barrier to entry model that could be done by good designers anywhere on the continent with access to a computer. Also, the margins are low, but very acceptable to people living in areas with lower costs of living.

I have two thoughts on that, though I’d love to hear yours.

    First, the eternal thorn in my digital Africa thoughts: payment. It’s difficult to buy anything like this from Africa, much less receive payment for it electronically. (I could blather on about this infinitum, but I’ll spare you for now. Just know that it irks me to know end and this is where it started and went here.)

    Second, it requires both design skill and web knowledge. I can think of many friends in Kenya and Sudan who are excellent artists, but don’t know how to translate that to a digital canvas. Those that do are usually busy enough doing their own web design work, so they don’t bother with a t-shirt shop online.

Some thoughts for AfricanTees
I had a chat with David after he sent me the link to AfricanTees, and had a couple of ideas immediately. First and foremost is the need for him to grow a community around this new site. There are a lot of great designers from Africa, and there are even more people with a good idea for an African t-shirt.

What about taking a page from the Threadless book and creating a way for people to submit ideas or designs? Everyone could then vote ideas up and down, comment and chat up what they like and don’t like. Go ahead a prizing system around the top designs and foster creative growth and community.

Another quick thought would be to really tap into the communities that are already out there for African diaspora and Africans still on the continent. There’s a little bit of marketing in that, but an even greater pent up capacity of creativity looking for an outlet. Let the community owners make an affiliate cut, and let the top design submitters get a free shirt and maybe even a cut of future sales.

Okay, just because I can’t stop, I’m going to give one more idea. Why not create sub-niche’s… Why not a “Kenyan Schools” section so you can proudly display your alma mater’s emblem? Why not an “African Web” section so I can buy an Amagama or MamaMikes shirt?

must. stop. writing. about. this.

[Update: Steve made a good point. When speaking of Kenyan T-shirts, I should have mentioned Jamhuri Wear, who have some of the best designs around.]

16 Comments

  1. Art, and the art you choose to identify with (i.e. t-shirts) is almost as powerful as the internet when it comes to voicing an opinion. But *with* the power of the internet, which gives millions of people access to new artists and their work, it takes on a whole new meaning. I have a feeling this is going to be huge.

  2. I love these! Have ordered one already 🙂

  3. The website is beyond cool, it’s da bomb and the designs are just spectacular. I hope he institutes your ideas surrounding submitting designs, affiliate programs and tapping into sub-niches. I know I and a lot of my fellow Kenyans ache for new Kenyan clothes. This could revolutionize Kenyan online business (no hyperbole, that’s how cool I think the t-shirts are)

  4. I thought that I should mention a couple of other people who have been doing this for a while including an old friend, Arnold, who runs Mshale Clothing from Nairobi (website seems to be down for some reason) and the, of course, there is Jamhuri Wear with its stratospheric prices.

  5. @Steve – Good point, I’ve added Jamhuri Wear, and will add Mshale once they get their website up. I think AfricanTees gets more interesting as they grow outside of just Kenya though. We’ll see if/when that happens.

  6. The designs are stunning. But I, for one, am at a lost for the meanings (Mashada, Pamoja, etc.). It’d be very cool if I knew what I was wearing before I bought one.

  7. If you want to know whatthe words mean check out http://www.kamusiproject.org/ for English to Kiswahili translations.
    Pamoja means together
    Shada is a bunch of something e.g. shada la maua is a bunch of flowers and mashada are bunches e.g. mashada ya maua is bunches of flowers

  8. The idea in it’s simplicity it absolutely brilliant! The project would be a great boost towards promoting African wear and tourism.

  9. Lovely shirts & designs & implementation by David – only the low margins on spreadshirt due to high costs have always kept me away from ordering a shirt.
    Erik, you were once also active in this industry, ama?

  10. That’s not true. I’m Nigerian, and I own Barcelagos.com which is an online Nigerian-inspired t-shirt line. It’s built on the same platform as African Tees, and I started and launched my t-shirt line long before African Tees in November 2007. Barcelagos Clothing Co.

  11. @ Steve… you forgot to mention AZMA Clothing… they have been around for a while too… check out azmaclothing.com and the facebook page http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=39255073506#/group.php?gid=6430226294

    the tees are not available online yet, they have a store @
    Tubman Road -Nairobi, Kenya … affordable prices too! 😉

  12. jamhuri wear designs are not authentic. His Kimathi and mandela designs are plagerized. The guy has no talent whatsoever. He is a great at marketing but thats about all. Over priced crap!! Lets see you design something original and not copy other peoples creativity. Shame!

  13. That’s sooo true Tony…..in terms of marketing and connections…he has it.
    When it comes to creativity and originality i wouldn’t give it to him.
    Came across this site that seems to have some thing to offer.
    http://www.azmaclothing.com/

  14. Hi James. Checked out Azma clothing and i must say, beautiful designs. Original and eye catching. Love the Shujaa and binti shirts. Good job.

  15. I agree that the Jamhuri guy has no talent whatsoever…just marketing. On the other hand i must give credit where its due…checked out the Azma Clothing website and i must admit there is something there….the Shujaa design is my favourite! I like the KLFA integration into the design, KENYA LAND FEDERATION ARMY…how many of you know about KLFA? that’s some truly kenyan stuff!

  16. @KM

    did some digging around about KLFA…u have half the info right, it Kenya Land Freedom Army…i was curious about all this Azma vibe floating and the KLFA so i had to look it up…i must admit…i am impressed with their designs

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