Goods and products manufactured in Africa are often perceived to be of inferior quality compared to those from other countries.
According to Birame Sock, founder and CEO of African B2B marketplace Kwely, that negative perception is mainly caused by poor packaging, and over the years, it has hindered exports and negatively impacted the bottom lines of small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) in the region.
“When you see ‘Made in Africa’ products [in retail stores], they are at the bottom of the shelf or poorly positioned, and the packaging is not so good,” Sock told PYMNTS in an interview. “That perception of ‘Made in Africa’ just needs to change.”
Redefining that image is key to increasing the competitiveness of African suppliers both locally and internationally, she added, and the motivation behind the launch of the Kwely, which is giving local producers the necessary tools and support to succeed in the global marketplace.
She said the goal is to replicate the successful impact Chinese tech company Alibaba has had on the informal industrial sector in that country by enabling more businesses to move into the formal sector and access the global market more easily.
“I don’t want to say that we’re an ‘Alibaba’ for Africa, [but] we are building a company that we hope will do the same for our local producers and have the same impact Alibaba has had on the industrial sector,” she said.
Last month, the company raised $1 million in seed funding, which has been earmarked for supporting the marketing and distribution efforts of the 200-plus stock-keeping units (SKUs) it represents exclusively, as well as the launch of its B2B wholesale digital platform and packaging services facility.
An All-inclusive Export Solution
From brand development to payments to logistics, the Dakar-based firm works closely with suppliers, performing a full diagnostic of their production capacity and providing a tailored service to help them grow to meet the demand and make their products export-ready.
As the exclusive distributor for their clients, the Senegalese firm also offers brands end-to-end support to ensure a seamless transition of goods from local markets to the global marketplace. And although working capital is not a solution it currently provides, Sock said it facilitates connections with banks and can act as a guarantor to help increase the chances of an SMB client getting access to loans.
On the payments side, the main difficulty the company faces stems from its strategy of targeting B2B firms worldwide and as a result, being able to power payments and offer a broad range of payment methods, such as wire transfers and credit card payments.
There’s also the issue of high fees when making and receiving bank transfers on the continent, she noted, which is why Kwely has set up a corporate bank account in the U.S. to handle such transactions.
Kwely is currently operational in Senegal and has plans to expand into Cote d’Ivoire and other African countries, while extending its products line beyond cosmetics, food, textiles, fashion and home accessories.
Developing its private-label business will also be a key focus moving forward, Sock said, adding that it’s one of the main reasons why the packaging center was set up to enable brands that want to personalize their products.
“When you look at a platform like Alibaba, over 50% of their orders are personalized orders with suppliers’ own logos on them,” she said.
That personalization is especially more important now, she added, as SMBs take up a more prominent role on the global stage and are increasingly looking for ways to source new and different products under their own brand.
As Sock said, “for a salon owner who wants Moringa-based hair care products, they should be able to order through our platform, select the type of products and packaging they want, and then work with us so that we can ship it to them under their [own] brand.”
With this digital service providing local businesses with the resources and support they need to be competitive on the global market, Kwely is helping to redefine the perception of ‘Made in Africa’ products one brand at a time, Sock added.
Sign up here for daily updates on all of PYMNTS’ Europe, Middle East and Africa (EMEA) coverage.