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.
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.]