RONKOS recently came to my attention and it’s a really interesting business and I though we should talk to Lorcan, the founder. You can find RONKOS at http://www.ronkos.rw, email them at firstname.lastname@example.org, or find them on Facebook.
Tell us a bit about yourself.
I’m Irish! I’ve been living in Rwanda for one year but coming back and forth for two years now. Prior to that I spent some time working in Ethiopia, the Philippines and Washington. My background is an economist.
What is RONKOS and where did you get the idea for it?
RONKOS is East Africa’s first fashion focused online market place, offering both bespoke and standard retail drop shipping solutions. Unlike traditional fashion-related portals, our focus is on supporting local fashion houses to map their service offering into online businesses. The portal in itself is the front-end of a comprehensive designer support package that involves support with fabric sourcing, marketing, and even production. We’ve been amazed by the level of talent we have seen in Rwandan fashion and are passionate about helping small fashion houses scale.
Who are your target customers and how can they benefit from RONKOS?
Our target customer is everyone! We want to make high quality, everyday fashion available for all of Rwanda. Through our partnerships with large fabric manufacturers and growing production capacity we are able to help designers drive down their costs and provide fashion at affordable prices.
We have a team of trained tailors that means nearly everything you see on RONKOS can be made to fit. In our first two months we’ve fulfilled close to 200 orders.
How does the website work?
The website is very easy. For customers there are a few separate options. You can either shop by designer, or product category and if you see something you like you can either choose a standard retail size or you can choose ‘custom’ as the size. If you chose custom and it’s your first order, our tailor will come to take your measurements. If you don’t see something you like we have a separate ‘Custom & Alterations’ tab where you can just let us know what you would like made and our team of trained tailors will produce.
For designers, it is also a very simple process. We do everything for the brands we work with. On the website front we provide photo shoots, marketing campaigns, customer service, and logistics support. On the production side, we help source fabric and support production when brands during periods of peak demand.
We want to bring brands together on online marketplace but in a way that allows them to maintain their individuality. That’s why every designer has their own page on RONKOS!
What sorts of designers does the site feature and how do you choose them?
We work with a mix of established high end brands and young designers just starting out. Our designers are across nearly every product range and we have an ever growing inventory. We currently work with 15 brands and are adding 2-3 new brands every two weeks- so every time you come back to RONKOS there should be something new. We originally started with just Rwandan brands but we now have brands from Uganda, Ghana, and across West Africa.
We have strict quality criteria for choosing the brands we work with but for the younger designers our back end fulfillment chain means we can help them produce in the quality and quantity needed to ensure no customer is disappointed. We recently took on an in-house designer too to start producing own-branded clothes between the Rwf 5,000 and 15,000 range.
What are some challenges you’ve faced so far? What lessons have you learned?
Having a fancy website backed by advanced proprietary technology matters less than reliability and service. Your machine learning, block chain powered A.I. might sound cool in an investor deck but it’s unlikely to get you orders – picking up the phone will.
We assumed we would struggle with getting people used to ordering clothes online however we have been really pleasantly surprised at the uptake we have had so far. Sure not everyone makes it through the order funnel but we still get the orders whether through Facebook, Whatsapp or SMS. Our biggest challenge has been ensuring that brands can consistently fulfill every order and that’s why we’ve put so much work into the additional services mentioned above.
Kigali Fashion Week just wrapped up. What was RONKOS’ role and how did the event go?
KFW had a special focus this year on helping designers sell online through a special partnership with RONKOS. We taught brands about what is required to sell online and helped tell the story of individual brands taking part in the event. Beyond that we were also the largest distributor of tickets for the event. The KFW team are really passionate about promoting Rwandan fashion and open minded to new ideas so it was a real pleasure to be able to work with them.
How do you feel the fashion industry in Rwanda has grown over the years?
I think fashion in Rwanda, and across the region, is growing at a phenomenal speed. The level of talent and creativity is immense and bigger brands like Dokmai, Uzi Collections, and Hakym Reagan are starting to achieve the international attention they deserve. However major bottlenecks still exist in terms of fabric and production quality that are preventing the industry from really taking-off.
What do you see in the future for RONKOS?
For now we’re focused on improving our service offering in Rwanda, expanding our inventory and ensuring both our customers and designers are happy. In the medium-term I see us helping brands from across Africa scale and enter prominent export markets.