D’IYANU’s CEO, Addie Elabor on the Shop Black Movement and Cultural Appropriation vs Cultural Appreciation

D’IYANU’s CEO, Addie Elabor on the Shop Black Movement and Cultural Appropriation vs Cultural Appreciation

Addie Elabor and her brother were born in Nigeria and moved to the U.S. at the age of 9 and 6 respectively. Being close to both continents has always been a part of their story. It’s what makes them unique, and gives them the ability to connect with people from all walks of life. “We can celebrate our Nigerian heritage while learning new customs that make us globalized citizens. This inspired me to create D’IYANU, because I saw a need in the market for clothing that allowed people such as myself to express their culture in a modern and cross-dimensional way,” Addie told Fashionomics Africa.

Addie first launched the D’IYANU brand at the beginning of 2014, which was a struggle considering she was still working full time and running the business on the side. “I decided to quit my job in May of 2014 to focus on D’IYANU full time. I knew that I needed to invest all of my energy and attention into the brand in order to get things off the ground. With the goal of gaining more customers, I would set up at various festivals and even managed to get some products into two boutiques in Philadelphia PA, but I wasn’t really gaining much traction,” she explains looking back on the brand’s beginnings. Knowing the best place to find customers was online, Addie enrolled in a course on creating Facebook ads at the end of September that same year. “That course was quite an investment,” she admits, “but it transformed my business practically overnight. With the help of FB ads and email marketing, we were able to hit 1 million in sales by the middle of 2016 which took 2.5 years from the launch date. Currently we’ve served close to 110k customers throughout the U.S. and in over 80 countries with Canada, UK and Australia being our biggest international markets.”

african print tube face mask

D’IYANU – which literally translates into “of/from (something) wonderful” – continues to grow with a loyal customer based and an attractive product line ranging from urban-inspired Kente joggers, to uniquely cut dresses and even matching family fits. And, like many other fashion brands, D’IYANU also offers a great selection of face masks such as the Tikib African print tube masks and the 2-layer Uzo African print face masks, all of which are reusable. The rise in Black Lives Matters protests in the U.S. and all over the world this summer, also reignited the Shop Black movement, and Addie recognizes that there is something different about the 2020 wave. “The main difference between this years’ Shop Black movement and previous efforts is the interest we’re seeing from other ethnicities in creating long lasting change.  All over the world people are showing interest in understanding the disparities that face the larger black community and are also joining the movement to support black-owned businesses. I’d like to believe that the movement is here to stay, but may not be as popularized in the media as it is now. D’IYANU experienced the impact of the movement most in the summer months of May to July as we saw an incredible spike in sales across different demographics. We understand now more than ever before that the brand is bigger than us.” 

As a brand that reflects both African and Western cultures, Fashionomics Africa wanted to know whether the same counts for their target audience. “Our mission statement is to empower people to express themselves in a unique way. My vision for D’IYANU was to create a line of products that wouldn’t limit African expression to those of us who identify as African, but would also encourage people of other ethnicities to join in the celebration and appreciation of African culture.  The majority of our customers are of African descent, but we also have white, Hispanic and other ethnic groups that shop with us. We’re hoping to expand all the more as an African brand,” she told us. “I welcome all ethnicities to wear African clothing as long as it’s in celebration of and appreciation for the culture and it is purchased from someone of African descent. I do not condone wearing our pieces of clothing as caricature costuming but I always welcome the opportunity for our collections to be worn as a means of showcasing the beauty and authenticity of Africa. In order for black businesses to continue to grow and expand, we can’t hoard our products for Black customers only. It’s quite limiting for a black business to only cater to the black community without considering other ways to benefit our businesses by opening our brands to more opportunities.”

There has been a lot of debate as to where to distinguish between cultural appropriation and cultural admiration. Addie’s stance on the discussion is simple: “To me, cultural appropriation is when a person outside of the culture takes a piece of someone else’s heritage without acknowledging them or paying homage to its origin. They simply take it as their own. For instance, when a white designer uses African print in their garments without paying homage or acknowledging the people and culture of those garments I would associate that with cultural appropriation. Other ethnicities should never profit off of another race’s culture. They can support but they should be the main beneficiary. I’m in support of anyone wearing African print as long as it gives honor to whom honor is due. D’IYANU will continue to create garments that allow diverse cultures to embrace and share in the African experience. We recognize this starts with us and will continue to grow our team and marketing as a reflection of our universal customer base.”

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D’IYANU’s CEO, Addie Elabor on the Shop Black Movement and Cultural Appropriation vs Cultural Appreciation

Sep 21, 2020
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