Looking for African-inspired stationery, greeting card and gifts, well Afrotouch Design made history after teaming up with retail giant Waterstones. Mum-of-three Georgina Fihosy, becomes the first black-owned greeting cards publisher to be stocked by a major bookshop chain, nine of AfroTouchs’s best-selling greeting card designs are now on sale. All the cards are individually hand-finished with African print fabric making a unique addition to the greeting cards market.
Georgina who launched the business in 2015 is a vocal force behind the campaign to urge mainstream greeting card shops to stock more products aimed at people of colour. It was an article on industry website PG Buzz about that very topic that brought Afrotouch Design to the attention of Waterstones.
Senior Buyer Hazel Walker approached Georgina to enquire about Afrotouch Design’s cards and, after reviewing the firm’s best-selling designs, agreed a deal to stock them at 12 Waterstones outlets across London.
Georgina said: “I am delighted that my African-inspired greeting cards will be stocked in some of the biggest book shops in the country. This is a real step in the right direction when it comes to the representation of the black community in the industry. Thirteen percent of the UK population identifies as black and yet it is impossible to find cards specifically designed for people of colour in mainstream shops.”
“As well as allowing them to offer a more diverse shopping experience to their customers, Waterstones also said how much they like the handmade finish of the cards, something that is particularly on-trend and which will really stand out on their shelves.”
Alt Africa spoke to the entrepreneur to get an insight into her business model and about how it all began.
ALT: When you started Afrotouch in 2015 what was the inspiration?
GF: I started what was known at first as Special Touch Designs whilst I was on maternity leave with my middle child Josiah… as I was breastfeeding him! With a baby on one side and a laptop on the other, I was searching for a greetings card for a friend that truly represented African culture. I didn’t find anything, so I went to my local High Street and there was nothing suitable there either. Driven to fill that gap in the market, I decided to get some African fabric, a piece of card and put something together myself. My friend loved it. At my son’s 1st birthday party, I set a small table at the back of the hall and sold Valentine’s day cards to our friends and family – they were a huge hit and I just kept going from there
ALT: What led you to do greeting cards: do you have a background in design?
GF: I’ve always been really creative and loved making all types of things when I was younger. I’m not technically trained, I’ve learned how to do most things through google and online courses. I have to say my first card designs were terrible, glad to say I’ve perfected over the years. I had thought about doing wedding invitations after I designed and made all the invitations for my wedding, but I loved the idea of greeting cards and the personal nature of them. Even in this digital era, people still like to receive a greeting card.
ALT: Before Afrotouch what were you doing?
GF: I worked as a pharmacist for the NHS and still work full time for a Pharmaceutical company. I love being a pharmacist and I love the impact I am able to have on people’s health. I couldn’t imagine not doing it in some shape or form, but as the brand grows, I know I’ll have to step back a little.
ALT: What is your USP?
GF: All my cards are hand finished with African print fabric. As a British born Nigerian, I have grown up around different types of African fabrics and designs. What’s great about my cards is that no two cards are ever the same because of the nature of the fabric cut and so even if you buy the same design twice it will always be different and unique.
ALT: When starting out what were some of the main challenges?
GF: For me it was challenging trying to juggle motherhood, family life, fulltime work, and a growing business. Over the years I have learnt how to harmonise my life so that I don’t feel to overwhelmed. I often I only have 3 hours a day to run the business and so time management is a key. Knowing what to do and how to do it was also a challenge. You don’t know what you don’t know! So right at the start I joined the Greeting Card Association as they had a lot of resources from how to source printers to what should go on the back of a card – this was so useful. I always encourage individuals starting out to joint the relevant association that supports their industry.
ALT: How does it feel to be the first black greeting cards/gift brand to sell in Waterstones?
GF: It exciting to be selected to partner with Waterstones. It is all so surreal! At the start of the year I had a plan to be in 20 independent retail stores by the end of the year – I called it operation 20:20. I am already in 4 and so I need another 16. So, when Waterstones reached out it was a welcomed surprise. I hope that this partnership opens up more doors for other amazing black greeting card publishers.
ALT: How did Waterstones approach you and when can we start buying it in store?
GF: The senior buyer sent me an email mid- June to say that she had read an article in Progressive greetings magazine which I was featured in. She liked the cards and wanted me to send through some of my best sellers, she loved them – here’s a quote from the senior buyer
“We’re really excited to have Georgina’s designs in store,” Hazel told PG Buzz. “I think the simplicity of the designs, combined with the bold prints gives the range a contemporary feel that will really appeal to Waterstones’ customers.”
They are in instore and available online as we speak!
ALT: What have you learnt during lockdown about your business did you have to make any drastic changes?
GF: To be honest the lockdown period hasn’t negatively affected my business really, I guess that’s the beauty of selling online. The main issue has been related to extended delivery times but being transparent with customers is key in managing expectations. I have started to produce more digital stationery products during this time which have been doing well.
ALT: How big is your team?
GF: It’s just me! Although I have taken on a virtual assistant and she has been a massive help and support to me in terms of administrative tasks. I tend to contract people in as and when I need support, I have recently taken on a production assistant to support the manufacturing process, especially for the Waterstones orders.
ALT: Routes to finance for Black women are a lot harder has that been your experience and are you optimistic that with BLM it will start to get better?
GF: It is really hard to source funding, I am fortunate enough to be able to self-fund, but as the business grows self-funding is not going to be a viable option. A lot of funding opportunity are aimed at start-up or there’s often an age restriction which I don’t often meet the criteria for. I wouldn’t know where to start to source funding outside the traditional bank loan, but I do feel that BLM has and will bring about opportunities for larger organisation to release money to invest in black owned businesses or projects.
ALT: Where do you call home?
GF: Britain is my home; I have lived here all my life. I was born and bread in Bristol and raised in a traditional Nigerian household by my Mum. I love being Nigerian and I love my Nigerian values and culture it’s amazing to experience the best of both worlds.
ALT: What advice would you give to anyone starting out in business that you have learnt along the way?
GF: It’s a really hard thing to do, but a colleague of mine recently shared this quote with me – “You can’t choose your first thought, but you can choose your second” I really feel it’s important to have a positive mindset and always go back to why you want to do what you do. It should never really be about you! But about who you want to serve with your idea or craft.
I would also say, in terms of building a customer base, I would say start with one social platform and be consistent with your messaging, it’s best to keep it simple and always bring in your personality. If you show up every day and add value, you’ll begin to build your community that know, like and trust you and once you have a loyal customer base you are good to go.
ALT: What are your best-selling lines and where else can we buy?
GF: My best-selling cards are my birthday card collection – there are 32 designs to choose from of which 9 will be sold in Waterstones. The full collection is available through my online store www.afrotouch.design.
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