The afro-chic online entrepreneur, Lerato K Masha, is the visionary behind African luxury brand ecommerce retailer,
Lerato K Masha couldn’t escape the entrepreneurship bug. From an early age, he was shown the ropes of entrepreneurship by his mom, who quit her job as a nurse to sell fashion clothes and homeware.
An engineer by training, Masha gave up his high-paying job and position as a director at Nampak to start an ecommerce retailer called AmAfrikan that sells high-end fashion brands, art and décor. It’s a website aiming to be the go-to platform for luxury African art, crafts and fashion brands. “From an early age we used to help mom with her business. We travelled with her to Joburg to buy stock, sell the items and collect outstanding debt. We also used to discuss strategy with her, which was very important for me and that helped me a lot when I got to tertiary,” says Masha.
As an MBA graduate from the University of Stellenbosch – and a lover of fashion and all things classy – Masha saw the gap in the luxury goods industry and has set about demystifying the myth that luxury is only associated with the Western world. In a sector dominated by global companies such as Gucci, Prada and Louis Vuitton, he saw a space for Africans to create their own luxury fashion houses. “We want to change the narrative of luxury brands only being European or American.”
To this end, he is targeting a growing need for a commercial platform that connects local entrepreneurs with a global market. The online retailer houses exclusive art pieces, fashion such as clothes, shoes and accessories, and homeware and furniture from local creators.
AmAfrikan recently introduced brands such as Skinny Sbu Socks, Bathu, Ifreecan and Black Box Designs; the same has been done with new names in the art scene such as Themba Mashinini, Sabelo Mkhaliphi and Neo Mahlangu.
It’s not about growth for growth’s sake though. Masha emphasises that quality and professionalism always comes first at AmAfrikan. “There are many treasures created by designers, artists and entrepreneurs from our continent that don’t often have the platform to make their ideas commercially viable. We intend to create that for them and introduce them to the rest of the world.”
You need to look no further than his social media posts to see the man’s passion for his business… he even personally delivers items to clients.
There certainly have been some challenges on the way too, and he has learnt that perseverance in cultivating one’s market is a key enabler to success when building a brand – it takes time to build a strong brand: “When facing difficulties, it is the passion and purpose that will carry you, especially if one understands that ‘I am, because they are’. AmAfrikan’s role is to serve! Lastly, failure is the only teacher of success. A lot of what we tried did not work, however, it provided us with an opportunity to learn from our mistakes. You always have to stay optimistic about the future.”
And he has good reason to be very optimistic. The growing business has signed agreements with a range of designers, artists and entrepreneurs, including M-Net Shark Tank investment winner Native Décor and globally renowned artist Bianca Nguema. In the past few months, it has grown the number of suppliers by almost 300% – admittedly, says Masha, starting from a low base. “This was done with the intention of making sure that we do proof of concept before we go to market. It allows us to reduce errors before we go full-on to market and will ensure that our customers will get value for money.”
AmAfrikan is now officially a member of ProudlySA and, according to Masha, this will create more opportunities for suppliers as they are able to leverage on PSA’s marketing channels. “We will also assist our suppliers with the application process. We have also been accepted to the JCCI (Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry) as part of the export launch pad programme, thus helping us with our export programme.”
For the next five to ten years, the company’s long-term goal is to become a hub for African luxury brands in every category, effectively establishing a gallery of the best brands on the continent, available to the world.
HANGING OUT WITH LERATO
I love Pretoria because…
I was born there and I find it to be laid-back. It has a beautiful landscape and is rich in history. You can experience nature within a radius of 10kms and it has hidden treasures, and the only thing missing is the beach.
Favourite place for dinner
Blaque Wine Bar and Grill House in Rosebank
Portuguese takeaway – it’s not far from my house in Boksburg
… and breakfast
OR Tambo Slow Lounge. I can’t really explain it, but when I fly out of Joburg in the morning, I can’t wait to go there!
Favourite place for business meetings
Maslow Hotel in Sandton
Why I work where I work
My office space is at the Johannesburg Chamber of Commerce and Industry in Milpark because I am part of their incubation programme. I’m often also working from home as I enjoy seeing the kids when they get back from school.
A night out
Eish! In my old age, clubbing takes its toll. However, I enjoy live music so in between The Orbit and Blaque Wine Bar and Grill House (when they play live jazz music), I am at home.
Favourite place to shop
Irene Mall in Centurion… there is no pressure on the pocket!
… and to hang out
Maboneng Precinct on a Sunday after church
By Thabiso Mochiko