“Be about it and let everybody see” was Akosua Opokua-Achampong’s advice as we spoke about the challenges of launching a brand during the pandemic and the chaos of the previous year.
Akosua O. Achampong and Araba Mantey are first-generation Ghanaian-Americans who launched their brand: The Perfit Shop in November 2020 in New York City. The inspiration for the brand came from a conversation between the two of them when Araba was researching how she could enhance a bra to wear. “It’s a variation of this bra Araba used to wear in college, she doesn’t have the biggest breasts, *laughs* and she wore the bra and it made a really big difference. Not a lot of people had it and she got it off this random website and we thought about what this bra could be if we could iterate on it to be something functional, not just for her but for women with larger breast sizes. We also wanted to offer something that came in nudes for Black girls.”
For these women they saw an opportunity in creating a product that could do exactly what they wanted but was inclusive and diverse for women of all shapes, colors and sizes.
While Perfit debuted with an intimate collection that caught the attention of many, the brand has aspirations to grow into so much more with the creation of their new releases in basics and athleisure. The aesthetically curated tones of brown and deep neutrals draw you into a minimalistic and delicate approach to outwear. It draws you in with a sense of relatability, truly embodying the ‘every woman’. When it came to starting the brand and taking a leap of faith Akosua got real about what it meant to transition, and to do so with people that would affirm and empower her to limits never before reached. “Araba works in banking – working with money- and we’d have all of these jokes as two women working in white corporate spaces. When we first began I was working as an eCommerce buyer for Walmart. Selling candy and building an online business with them was interesting but I wouldn’t say it was my passion or anything”. Oftentimes when we graduate from college we are faced with decisions of jobs that would allow us to survive. We consider whether it’s making money, doing something we’re good at, doing something the world needs, even something that we’re passionate about that matters most. For the co-founders of Perfit, passion was always on the frontline, but it was the journey to finding it that fueled them most.
Between February and April of 2020 Black-owned business declined by 41% compared to 17% of their white-owned counterparts. Black women are often underrepresented when it comes to finding products that match their diverse skin tones and body types. Due to the lack of industry-wide representation, finding an outcome that best fits everyone and maintaining reasonable margins as a small business is an uphill battle. “When we went to produce and customize our adhesive bra in nude tones for Black and brown women, ,the price increased upwards of 250% compared to the black and beige nude SKUs. We have to commit to 2-4,000 units just to make sure we were providing for the people we were setting out to make things and designs for”. Negotiating with suppliers and changing the status quo is ongoing within the fashion industry and a reality that many entrepreneurs have to face. “We had to believe [in our products’ ability to make a difference], we paid more, incurred higher costs and stepped out on faith to be able to stay true to the mission that we started with.” It is easy to believe in your dreams, but much harder to face the reality of what it costs. However for these young women, their commitment to delivering a high quality product has helped them to rise above all the challenges they have faced thus far.
Representation and inclusion remains at the center of Perfit’s mission. “I remember how much it meant to me when I opened up a magazine and saw Lupita Nyong’o wearing Lancome, I went to the local mall bought Lancome and have been wearing it ever since because of what that representation meant to me. As someone who was working in consumer goods I realized that we’re spending money at all these companies that are not prioritizing us -as people motivated by social justice and equity, we were like ‘what can we do to represent us’ how can we make our way there?” Referencing the initiatives and organization founded by Sharon Chuter, the founder and CEO of UOMA Beauty, the vision to product process for Perfit became difficult when figuring out how they could carve a space for themselves that literally didn’t exist. Regardless of adversity, the setbacks shaped an attitude for success. For Akosua it meant knowing that she had the foundational knowledge, and that outcome would always be better through trial and error and the lessons learned with practice.
It was Akosua’s Ghananian roots that molded the need to build community around her business and tackle the rollout of the brand with trusted advisors. “We’ve been bootstrapping the business ourselves and I’m grateful to say I’m funding my dreams with one of my best friends but that’s not always the case for a lot of business owners, the issue is capital. We started and we said if we’re going to do it we have to do it, be imaginative and be smart, don’t limit yourself.”
African culture often dictates values of community and collective action, to know that you don’t have to do it all on your own. “It was really beneficial to roll out our business in a very soft launch and testing different advertising platforms, it was a very different Perfit than the one you may see today. Getting feedback from women around us, getting consumer data to make sure that the next best version of our product, having a quality team where you’re bringing in other creative voices such as seasoned digital marketers Daisy Mungai and Toyin Lanade, was what helped us.” In a world of relentless self-promotion there is something refreshing about a brand that truly believes that community is the best way to move forward, where more ideas means more people being represented. For Perfit and their all Black women team, while they might be small in size, they are enormous and unlimited in creativity, and power that has made them a dynamic business as they continue to grow. “We really want to empower and instill confidence in our wearers, centering Black and brown women but saying everyone else can come too, rather than creating pieces or campaigns that center white people and say maybe Black and brown people can find something too. Our aim is to center the margins and make it clear that businesses can prioritize Black and brown women in their creation and still find success.”