Interview with Oliver Twagirayezu… The African entrepreneur behind Luksmart.com.
In recent years, African fashion has seen an exponential increase in popularity across the world. These days, it’s common to spot celebrities wearing clothes and accessories with an African touch. This sort of publicity and an increasingly diversified industry full of talent and promise has ignited demand for everything African fashion and young entrepreneurs have wasted no time getting into this industry. In fact, various business institutions have valued African fashion industry to be worth $15-31 Billion by 2020. This, among other reasons, were the main drive behind the grooming of a business idea that later gave birth to an online market place that strive to connect African fashion Designers and Artist to the rest of the world, and vice versa.
Introduce yourself to the TAP audience! Names, where you were born, what was your favorite memories growing up?
My name is Olivier Twagirayezu and I was born and raised in Rwanda. My favorite memories as a child were the times spent chatting, joking and playing sports with my friends. Connecting with people has always been my source of inspiration.
What is your education background?
I’m a university (college) graduate in engineering and applied sciences, a certified engineering technologist with a focus (major) on Electronics engineering technology (Electrical). I’m experienced in telecoms, critical communications engineering and public transit fare collections systems
How did you get into entrepreneurship?
I grew up in an environment that stimulated my entrepreneur senses. My father was an entrepreneur himself and at the earliest age I learned that working for yourself provided both financial and life flexibility. At the age of 6 with a bicycle given to me as a gift, I started my first money generating venture. Whenever I was not using the bicycle, I was renting it to other kids in my neighborhood and I could make and save some money. Since then, I’ve build my life toward an entrepreneurship lifestyle.
Tell us about LukSmart! How did you come up with the idea? What is LukSmart mission and exactly what gap are you looking to fill!
After living and working in Canada for almost ten years, I learnt the importance of bringing a positive impact to the communities we live in as well as the ones we come from. I realized that most people only know bad stories about Africa. I thought of creating something that will positively impact the economy of Africa and change the perception of Africa on the long run. I noticed that African fashion and arts products were not reaching the global market. The only way to find them was to buy them while you visited their local market. From there, I decided to create a platform that connects African fashion designers and artist to the global market. LUKSMART was born to be the online marketplace for African fashion and arts.
Why did you decide to name the platform “LukSmart”? What is the thinking behind the name?
LUKSMART has a double meaning.
- A combination of “looks” or LUKS (Fashion, arts work or décor items) and MART (Market).
- The second meaning is that we want our customers to look smart by having African products
What has been your experience dealing with African fashion designers and artists?
It’s been easy and challenging at the same time. Most of them want to grow their market and access the global market but only a few of them (thus far) are ready to learn what it takes and start doing the job required to break into the global market. By dealing with them, we realized that many are working without a long term vision.
This has forced us to adopt an educational angle to our business model. We are now showing them the importance of producing products with a customer in mind and building brands with a reputation.
What would you say are the main challenges facing African designers today?
Unfortunately, most Africans do not believe that quality products can be produced by their fellow Africans. Most designers rely on getting revenue from tourist shoppers or Business to Business contracts. In some countries, access to fabrics is still a challenge and that results in having designers producing products that are hardly affordable by an average African in their local market. Second hand clothes from the west is more trusted and affordable by local people.
African fashion has been criticized where quality is concerned, what is your position on this and how do you ensure that your customers receive the best quality?
Quality African fashion products are being produced now and people need to believe in them. I personally believe that once we set up expectations, we have higher chances of getting good results. At LUKSMART we emphasize on distributing quality African fashion and arts item. We help designers and artist to raise the standards of their products before they can sell on LUKSMART and we have a rigorous quality control process since we are the ones who take care of the product packaging and warehousing.
What is the average cost of an item on LukSmart?
Since we are a marketplace, we advise our partners on pricing but we do not take full control of the pricing. With $20 a customer can find something on luksmart but the prices goes up to more than $200 depending on the item.
How long does it take for someone buying a product in North America to receive them?
Once the order is completed, the customer receives the order within 3 to 5 business days and we offer free shipping in North American for any order of $35+ USD.
Africans are not known to be big online spenders! Has this been a challenge and how do you plan to change this behavior?
The mentality is progressively changing, people have started to understand the convenience of shopping online and our job is to ensure the best experience when one is shopping or dealing with LUKSMART.
Do you offer your potential customers any assurances on the products they buy?
Yes, apart from getting quality and affordable products most of the products can be returned for full refund or exchange within 14 days.
What is the best part about running an online African shop?
The best part is learning every day and having the privilege of changing lives using technology.
In the future, should we expect to see LukSmart operating in Africa?
Yes, we are committed to distributing African products to the global market but we also have our eyes on the African market.
If am a designer and I want to get my products on LukSmart! What do I do? What’s the process involved?
The first step is to visit www.luksmart.com. Check out the “sell with us” tab and get in touch with our team. From there we explain the process and once we reach a common ground, we get you activated on the market.
Where do you see LukSmart in the next five years?
In the next 5 years, LUKSMART should be the leading online marketplace that distributes outside and inside Africa.
Initial interview published in TAP ISSUE 5