In the Fall of 2013, Shells Naija, a wife, mother of three, and Pharmcoeconomist took the first baby steps in actualizing and transforming her dreams of starting a children clothing line. The inception of this dream traces back to the 2005- 2009 period when Shells Naija increasingly found it difficult to find unique, eclectic and occasional wears for her two toddler daughters. Her unique inclination for tasteful wears goes back to her early days as a young girl growing up in Nigeria, West Africa where her mother took great pleasure and detail in dressing her and her sister up with customized and adorably cute wears for event occasion. These occasions were not exactly few and far in between. Back then in Nigeria, there was always a party or event to attend to every weekend. Needless to say, Nigerians were voted the happiest people on earth back in 2011, and they will indeed find any reason to celebrate and throw a party. Those days of dress up, tailors streaming in and out of Shells Naija’s family residence and flying stylistic opinions left an indelible mark on her stylistic instincts and acumen. So, it was no surprise that when she had her own daughters, she channeled those instincts in dressing them up.
It was not exactly easy for Shells Naija to find in the United States (U.S.) the kind of elegant, pomp and festive wears she was accustomed to growing up. After continuously hitting brick walls in trying to find unique occasion wears for her girls, Shells Naija resorted to practicing exactly what her mother did in the 80’s- custom make wears for her Shells Naija and her little sister. Defaulting to using ankara print fabrics was an easy choice for Shells Naija, because the Ankara print is the epitome of vibrancy, and according to her, no other fabric print in our time rivals the vibrancy and colorful burst of ankara prints. The ankara print although originated from Holland (popularly called dutch wax) found its home in Africa in the 18th century and has become a staple and recognizable emblem of African clothing since then.
The accolades and compliments flowed in incessantly from friends, families and strangers who came in contact with Shells Naija’s daughters’ customized ankara-inspired wears. There was always one common question asked: where can I buy this from? The frequency and urgency of the requests, questions and compliments led to the acknowledgement of a business need for an eclectic, unique and vibrant children occasion clothing line for girls. The business gap and opportunity according to Shells Naija extends beyond just the lack of an array of a classy, comfortable and elegant unique design offering to include the lack of an easily accessible ecommerce channel where moms can drag such specialized merchandise into shopping carts and check out. In Shells Naija’s words, “…out of reach in main street America”.
By the winter of 2013, Shells Naija launched full throttle effort to 1. Bring these designs to life; and 2. Create a superb ecommerce experience for the potential customer that delivers to main street America. Bringing her designs to life saw Shells Naija taking what we’ve come to know as cotton Ankara print to other more luxuriant fabrics such as taffeta, silk, satin and sequins. This transformation innovatively merges the more luxuriant fabrics of the West to the colorful ankara-inspired print of Africa. The fashion experts called this effort refreshing, and a much needed elevation of Ankara print. According to Shells Naija, it was a win-win and a crucial aspect of bringing to the customers a rich and occasion worthy designs that can go toe-to-toe with any global high-end kids wear.
By the spring of 2014, Shells Naija’s designs and e-commerce platform were ready to go live. As an astute business woman and an MBA graduate from a prestigious American university, Shells Naija knew that she needed the support and advise of the international fashion community, as well as, further market research in ways of focus group to make sure she’s got it right. A series of focus group meetings and surveys exposed more insights of who the potential customers were, where they lived and how they receive and perceive a brand like Shells Belles Kidz (SBKidz). The other aspect of this intermission led the SBKidz team to choosing the African Arts and Fashion Week DC (AAFWDC) as a platform to showcase their maiden collection and seek mentorship and encouragement, and hear the constructive criticism from the international fashion community and expert. The endeavor was worth the while for Shells Naija and her crew as they met many internationally acclaimed fashion icons such as Femi Fawaz who gave their first hand opinion. The free mentorship received from the coordinator of AAFWDC, Uche Ibezue of O’mak Designs was priceless- from vendor and logistics management, to the personal touch in the form of encouraging words and unrelenting support was the final push the brand needed to go bold and launch with confidence.
On June 16, 2014, SBKidz launched on its website (www.shellesbelleskidz.com) a diverse and eclectic summer collection that delivered on the promise of its brand-Unique, Modern & Ankara-Inspired. There was no doubt that the new brand has found its sweet spot. This was evident by the summer collection selling completely out by the end of August and Zulily a major US retailer requesting thousands of SBKidz pieces to offer its unique 2 million buyers who shop with them every day. The pick up by Zulily was further evidence to Shells Naija’s that her designs nailed the exact market segments it targeted: moms who will go any lengths to find unique fashionable wears for their tots, a special demographic typically referred to in the U.S. as the “Zulily Mom”. SBKidz makes its debut appearance in Zulily on Oct 28, 2014. There is no other bigger e-commerce platform in the U.S. to leverage the SBKidz brand than Zulily. A fulfillment of Shells Naija’s initial dual strategy of delivering on unique designs and capitalizing fully on e-commerce is emblematized in the Zulily pick up: a unique customer base and one of the largest kids wear e-commerce platform in the United States.
With the wind behind their back, Shells Naija and her team were emboldened to launch a Fall/Winter line and do something only a few children clothing designers have done in the U.S., launch a mother-daughter collection. According to Shells Naija, the launch of the mother-daughter collection geared toward young mom was not a knee-jerk reaction, but a result of customer requests and an insight from its summer sales analytics data which revealed that their demographic was younger than they anticipated- 25 to 35 years old, and not the 33 to 45 they had initially gunned for. For the two mother daughter collection this fall, Shells Naija’s vision for it is astute and thoughtful. The beautifully box-pleated floor length skirt serves a dual purpose for that mom who craves not only to match with their tot, but also for an outfit they can dress up (for example, with a lace or chiffon blouse) or dress down (for example, with a tank top or t-shirt). The second collection, a body clinging and flattering ¾ length dress with a peplum tutu bottom is a head turner and reeks of elegance and class, and works for any party or event occasion. Shells Naija has carefully paired these mom designs with a matching children wear that reflects a stylistic symmetry. For example, the mom box-pleat floor length skirt is paired with a girl box pleated waist flared dress, and the mom figure flattering tutu bottom dress is paired with a princess waist tutu girl dress.
The SBKidz crew is excited about the reception of the brand and wants to continue to bring to its customers the uniqueness they crave for by continuing to deliver on kids designs that are different, ankara-inspired, elegant and comfortable. And the promise of nimbleness and flexibility in responding to their style needs is a commitment they take to heart.