How the Founder of Retailer Hamalie Is Bringing African-Made Goods to the World
Online e-commerce store Hamalie has carved out a distinct space for itself in the retail marketplace by offering a curation of apparel, home goods and beauty products sourced directly from African artisans and contemporary designers. Founded in 2018 by Theresa Olloh, Hamalie is dedicated to showcasing the vast diversity and craftsmanship of the continent to an international audience.
Hamalie’s shelves are stocked with unique, limited-edition pieces that are hard to find elsewhere. From hand-painted pots by Kenyan brand Endo Squared to natural skincare products by Arami Essentials and Suki Suki Naturals, the store seeks to offer diverse pieces that can be easily incorporated into daily life.
Hamalie works with more than 20 brands who in turn employ and train local artisans or skilled creatives to produce unique items using locally available materials, while promoting sustainable practices such as eco-friendly packaging and socially responsible production methods.
The Folklore Edit spoke to Theresa Olloh about creating a niche for her business, what she looks for in new brands, and how The Folklore Connect simplifies the business process.
How would you describe yourself and what you do?
I would describe myself as an optimistic lover of life who enjoys the simple luxuries in life like spending quality time with family and friends, exploring new places, and discovering and trying new things. A few friends say I’m quirky and in some sense eccentric. I guess that’s better than boring so that’s okay! I run a cool e-commerce hub called Hamalie. We’re a contemporary lifestyle e-retailer connecting global customers to independent African brands with an emphasis on design, craftsmanship, and storytelling.
How did you get your start in the retail industry? Did you always want to start your own e-commerce business?
During my final year studying Electronic Engineering with Communication Systems at the University of Surrey, I honestly began to contemplate my future in light of Nigeria’s economic struggles under the new president at the time. With only a few months left until graduation, I faced the daunting task of finding a job that would sponsor my work visa if I hoped to stay in the UK. The glamorous life of an immigrant, right? During this period of introspection, I realised I could offer something unique to the UK market by tapping into the growing demand for African-made products, such as accessories, skincare, and clothing. At the time, I’d always ask my family and friends to bring things over for me from Nigeria when traveling and it turns out I wasn’t alone. That’s how the idea for Hamalie was born.
I presented my idea and business model to my university, who then endorsed me for a graduate entrepreneurship visa and here we are. When I was young, I always wanted to start a business at some point. My circumstances made it happen sooner than I anticipated but I embraced it. Founding and running Hamalie has given me an incredible sense of fulfilment and purpose despite starting from scratch with no connections in the retail industry and no prior knowledge of how things work. I’m having to figure things out on the go, which can be challenging sometimes but also exciting.
What inspired you to start Hamalie? Tell us about the brand’s name: what does it mean?
I struggled to find and easily access both unique and everyday items from my home country in a way that was visually appealing to me and catered to my style. The shipping rates that came with shopping from different brands also didn’t help. It’s safe to say the discomfort inspired Hamalie. In regards to the name? That took a while because I wanted it to be meaningful and not random. I had to pray about it because I couldn’t come up with anything and funny enough, after that, it clicked. I was on my way home one day and the name “Porter” came to me. The idea of me helping to seamlessly bring amazing products from Africa to the world. I wanted to represent Africa in some way so I checked for the most widely spoken language on the continent and found it’s Swahili. I then checked the translation of porter in Swahili and viola, “Hamali”. Being a Nigerian, I have many names and one of them is Malieme, which I was always called growing up. So, I took out the “me” at the end of my name to coin Hamalie.
Hamalie specializes in contemporary items by independent makers and stocks a range of African beauty brands such as Arami Essentials and Suki Suki Naturals. How did you decide on this niche in the market? What is the appeal of these brands to your customer base?
I decided on the niche for many reasons, one being to reconnect members of the African diaspora community like me to brands they once had access to and were familiar with. The appeal of these brands to our wider customer base is that they get to discover and enjoy a diverse range of new products they ordinarily would not have access to. They enjoy clean beauty products from strong brands that utilise African grown ingredients and resources such as the shea nut from Western Africa and mongongo from Southern Africa and more. Also, these products are from small businesses so they’re not mass produced. There’s this nice feeling of rarity and goodwill that comes with knowing that your money is reaching and positively contributing to the lives of those in the production cycle.
How would you describe the fashion, beauty or lifestyle scene right now? What trends or brands excite you?
As the seasons change, it’s always exciting to see how colours play a huge role in our everyday lives and how they influence the works of designers and creatives across fashion, beauty and lifestyle. I’m such a huge fan of Marté Egele, her choice of fabrics and colours. If I could buy all her bags. I also love Abiola Olusola, her clothes have this very laid-back, elegant yet playful feel. I could wear every single Pichulik jewelry if you let me. I’m obsessed with their designs. I’ve built a skincare routine incorporating Suki Suki Naturals, Arami and Nokware products alternatively, as it gets warmer, you’ll spot me out and about with my Papaya Rose Mist. I recently discovered Éluwa Studio and I’m loving what I see. Those candles are stunning.
How do you discover new brands and designers to work with? Is there anything in particular you look out for with emerging brands?
I'm really thankful for social media because that’s how I scout and discover a lot of brands and designers I work with. But with social media also comes noise and I guess that is where it’s important to learn to filter the noise and find what’s true to Hamalie and our customers and if there’s a fit. Because we’re curated and not just an aggregator or marketplace, I tend to ask questions like “how will these items fit into my ideal customers” day-to-day life?” “What are they made of?” “What was the manufacturing process like?” “What inspired the designer?” I like to talk and engage with the founder, too, to get a feel for who they are and if we’re a good match. I think it’s important to always put your best foot forward and present yourself in the best possible way while also staying true to yourself. These can be hard to quantify but these are things I think about when looking to work with anyone.
Hamalie is one of the first independent retail partners on our wholesale platform The Folklore Connect. What would you say is the main reason for signing up to join the platform? How does The Folklore Connect meet the needs of your business?
I’ve been inspired by The Folklore’s journey since the start. It was lovely seeing the invitation to join, and I joined because I believe we share similar values and appreciation for the amazing brands coming out of Africa and we’re just bursting to connect people to them. I love that it simplifies the business process and brings everything together in regards to sourcing, communicating with brands and the shipping process. It makes life a lot easier and I’m loving it already.