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North Bay artist overcomes misconceptions by co-launching luxury clothing line

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Black fashion designer Andrew Akufo is said to be the first to say he’s colorblind about creating a clothing line for a run.

On the contrary, his Gapelii brand is a new style designed for anyone who wants to appear luxurious and comfortable. He shudders that consumers expect his style to be synonymous with street wear.

The 32-year-old Gapelii chief operating officer co-launched his fashion line in August with a focus on handcrafted designs with a touch of luxury.

Were trying and wanted to break the stereotype, said the man from Santa Rosa.

Beyond luxury, Akufo designed the clothing line to be comfortable.

It’s a major component of our branding, and we saw remote working as part of it. These are different circumstances in our world today, said Akufo, originally from Oklahoma City, which is quite the departure from the streets of fashion capitals like Milan or New York.

The Santa Rosa designer also balks at the idea that luxury fashion looks like clothes on models off the catwalks.

It’s not the kind of fashion either, he says.

In creating the company, he drew on his experience working with textiles. From there, he called on a manufacturer in Los Angeles to develop a unique and enduring style of clothing for men, women and children. The range includes T-shirts, hats, shoes, sweatshirts, leggings, shorts, tank tops, pants and other loungewear as well as accessories such as sunglasses, watches and masks. Prices range from $ 20 to $ 200, and the company’s target audience is 25 to 40 years old. Gapelii has also launched a winter collection.

When asked if this was a risky time to start a business during the COVID-19 crisis, Akufo called the era of the pandemic the best time to start a business. And why not? Many entrepreneurs are now using their own skills to start their own businesses instead of relying on the corporate world.

And Chef Gapelii has the advantage of offering products online at a time when more and more shoppers are stranded primarily at home.

It was just meant to be, he said.

Operating with few resources, Akufo collected approximately $ 15,000 in sales in the first five months from more than 200 customers. His goal for 2021 is to generate at least $ 25,000 in sales.

His final goal is to find investors and open a store in Healdsburg. For now, Akufo is expanding the business while doing some sub-contracting work. His experience is in arts administration. That’s how he met his business partner, CEO Toja Hodge, in Hobbs, New Mexico, where Akufo ran the arts center. Hodge, 31, is a music producer.

The two men coined the name Gapelii, which represents growth, ambition, convenience, elevation, lifestyle, influence and innovation seven qualities that embody the new fashion brand.

The Gapelii brand was created to inspire young people and other young entrepreneurs to pursue their goals, dreams and passions, in addition to proving that a small black-owned town can evolve to have an impact on our fashion industry. and the world. , reads the duos mission.

For example, Akufo is working on earmarking profits for worthy causes such as donating 10% of their funds to the National Association for the Advancement of People of Color.

In the meantime, the designer wants to take up the financial challenge of getting a startup off the ground.

I am always interested in what he offers. I really feel like this brand has great potential, said Greg Brooks, a loyal customer and friend of Akufos.

Brooks, who bought a jacket and hats, believes Gapelii could excel in the luxury and comfort arena of clothing, especially during a pandemic that has made remote working flourish.

I think a lot of people want to be comfortable and do their business, especially if your job doesn’t require you to be there, he says.

Like Akufo, Brooks is also enamored with the idea of ​​comfort with style without falling into the old preconceptions that a black fashion company caters exclusively to a certain race.

These stereotypes are so difficult to break, he said, echoing a sentiment shared by Akufo.

Okay, said Carla Nelson, president of the Black Fashion World Foundation, the New York-based startup created in February to support other black-owned businesses in the fashion industry. Over the past 10 months, Nelson has donated $ 7,000 to these companies.

Does black fashion exist?

No, we don’t design for black people. Like everyone else, we design for our culture, Nelson said, making a specific distinction between targeting a certain demographic and using their environmental influences.

Yet purchasing power has increased in recent years among blacks for businesses targeting the population. According to a recent study by Nielsen, black people accounted for $ 1.9 million in purchasing power for consumer goods.

But that doesn’t mean it’s easy for black-owned businesses like Gapelii to get started. Nelson insists that lending practices do not give black entrepreneurs a head start in advancing their business ideas.

Loans have been difficult for many black entrepreneurs to obtain.

If they’re turned down, they just want to know why, she says. Even with the (Paycheque Protection Program) I heard that a lot of them have had huge problems getting enough funding. It is difficult for these people to start a business.

The U.S. Small Business Administration, which manages the federal PPP program, on Jan.7 issued new guidelines on access to capital specifically for underserved minority businesses. There, the SBA commits to fully and promptly review (minority) applications, including in cases where lenders do not meet all of the requirements listed on the updated SBA 3507 form.

Already in the books, the federal government also addresses fair lending practices in its Equal Credit Opportunity Act, which prohibits discrimination in any aspect of a commercial credit transaction as well as consumer credit. on the basis of race, color, national origin, sex, religion. , age and marital status.

Susan Wood covers law, cannabis, production and transportation as well as banking and finance. For 25 years, Susan worked for a variety of publications including the North County Times of San Diego County, Tahoe Daily Tribune, and Lake Tahoe News. She graduated from Fullerton College. Contact her at 530-545-8662 or [email protected]

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