Why Supporting Diverse-Led and Emerging Brands Is Essential to Concept Store NKASIOBI

Why Supporting Diverse-Led and Emerging Brands Is Essential to Concept Store NKASIOBI

Founded in 2021 by Johnny Nwankwo in Los Angeles, NKASIOBI is an online concept store for designer fashion with a focus on emerging brands from around the world. On a stated mission to provide a curated selection of designer pieces from leading emerging brands while alongside a private collection of fashion apparel, NKASIOBI’s vision is to represent all women through its assortment and create visual content that influences a positive shopping experience.

Drawing from his Nigerian heritage and the women in his life, Nwankwo curates a colorful assortment of stylish pieces that reflect ever-changing fashion trends but with a classic sensibility. In particular, Nwankwo sources from diverse-led and emerging brands from the African continent, which he considers “essential”.

“Supporting diversity-led and emerging brands is completely essential to my brand,” he says. “I am catering to shoppers who are seeking labels with a unique point of view while also introducing African talent to the world; I feel it is my responsibility… to show women the unique styles that come from the African continent.”

The Folklore Edit spoke to owner and fashion director Johnny Nwankwo about the inspiration behind NKASIOBI, the appeal of diverse-led brands for his customers, and why supporting emerging brands is essential.


Johnny Nwankwo, founder and fashion director of NKASIOBI

Johnny Nwankwo, founder and fashion director of NKASIOBI


How would you describe yourself and what you do?

My name is John Nwankwo, I am the founder and fashion director of NKASIOBI, based in sunny Los Angeles.

How did you get your start in the fashion retail industry?

In my third year of college, I was at a pivotal moment where I felt pressured to choose a career path. I was a biology major with a pre-med emphasis, but I didn’t feel passionate about going into the medical field or becoming a doctor. At the time, I felt pressured into that field because I come from a family of doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Over time, I didn’t feel that career choice was right for me, so as my college graduation approached, I switched paths and decided I wanted a career in fashion.

I loved styling and was inspired by the looks that showed on the runway or graced the red carpet. After graduating, I began working as a marketing assistant for a fashion startup for about two years then transitioned to becoming a stylist assistant for a celebrity stylist while also working as a personal shopper at Neiman Marcus. In those roles and numerous roles after, I learned a lot about consumer behavior, spotting fashion trends, analyzing sales reports, and having the mindset of fashion being a business. Those skillsets were very impactful in helping me develop the confidence to pursue my entrepreneurial career.

Did you always want to create your own e-commerce business and work as a buyer?

I’ve always had an entrepreneurial mindset, but I never thought of owning an e-commerce business. I enjoyed marketing and public relations, so I thought I would own a marketing agency or work in PR for any of the mega luxury brands in the industry. However, in 2017, I decided to get my Master’s (MFA) in Fashion Merchandising & Management at the Academy of Art University, and through that program, my idea for NKASIOBI started to develop.

Tell us about the name “Nkasiobi”. What does it mean?

The name “Nkasiobi” is very personal to me because it’s the name of my sister, my mom and a few other women in my family. It’s personal because I’m grateful to have these women in my life because they inspired me on my journey. I named my business after them to show that they inspired and encouraged me on this venture. It’s a way to have a piece of them with me. I think their take on fashion is very unique, especially coming from Nigeria – having color, different silhouettes and styles – I wanted to create a store that mirrored that but also is unique to my brand aesthetic and what I’m looking for as a store owner.



NKASIOBI curates its collections from emerging brands around the world, including diverse-led and women-owned labels. How did you decide on this niche in the market? What is the appeal of these brands to your customer base?

I was inspired by the creativity coming from these emerging, niche brands; my customer base comes from all over, and they appreciate the discovery aspect and looking for emerging brands, discovering these brands and incorporating the styles into their wardrobe. One of the best things about fashion is that you can find designers or labels that meet your aesthetic, and you may have never heard of them before but you’re willing to incorporate them into your personal style. That’s what inspires me the most and got me started; I wanted to work with these niche brands.

How would you describe the fashion scene right now? What trends or brands excite you?  

I think the fashion scene is changing every day; there’s a new trend almost every day. One of the trends that I’m really inspired by is quiet luxury, where I’m seeing a lot of brands creating a more minimal aesthetic, very refined and tailored looks. One of the brands that I love is Bianca Saunders, which is a Black-owned, woman-owned brand; I just love how refined and tasteful the collections are. 

How do you discover new brands and designers to work with? Is there anything in particular you look out for with emerging brands?

I’ve been discovering new brands through Instagram and TikTok.  When it comes to partnering with new brands, I tend to find them mostly on Instagram and add their information to an Excel sheet so I can contact them when the time is right. I look for new brands on wholesale platforms such as Joor, Le New Black, 247, Tomorrow LTD, and, of course, The Folklore Connect, so I discover new brands through their Brand Discovery Search Tool.

I have a different approach to stocking new brands. I first look at their aesthetic — will this brand’s collection pair well with existing styles in my inventory? Can we create a wardrobe or look with this brand? And will their brand story resonate with my customer? Consumers want to resonate with the brands they buy into. They want to have a connection before spending their hard-earned money on a $400 dress. Additionally, I will just have this gut feeling about a new collection and will buy into the brand. Nine times out of 10, my gut feeling is always right, but I try to make sure each new brand meets the specific criteria, I have for all brands, before placing orders each season.

Johnny Nwankwo, founder and fashion director of NKASIOBI

What do you think is the key to increasing the visibility of designers from diverse backgrounds to a wider audience?

I believe having a brand story that’s authentic is key to increasing visibility. So many brands have a huge community of women that buy into their collections each season because their brand messaging is authentic, it’s relatable, and shoppers want to be a part of a cool community of fashion “It” girls these brands cultivate. As new emerging designers build a brand that’s authentic and genuine while also coupling that with marketable designs, then I feel more people will take notice and the wider audience will follow.

As a fashion buyer, you must get pitches from brands all the time. What is the best way to grab your attention?

I love reading the brand story or the inspiration for starting their label. What problems were they trying to solve, what makes their design aesthetic different from other established brands. As a small business, I am very specific about the brands I partner with because my goal is to offer a uniquely curated assortment of pieces that are both statement-worthy and essential for building a person’s wardrobe.

After learning about the designer and the brand, I then look at their lookbooks, their best sellers, and core collections to sort of imagine stylistically how it will look on the site, which styles pair best with other styles in my inventory, and just the overall vibe I’m leaning towards for the season. However, mostly what grabs my attention is the brand story.

NKASIOBI Private Collection Long Bow Dress

Since you started in 2021, the global fashion industry has changed a lot: more support for diversity, sustainability as well as economic challenges. How has NKASIOBI adapted to the current landscape?

Supporting diversity-led and emerging brands is completely essential to my brand. I am catering to shoppers who are seeking labels with a unique point of view while also introducing African talent to the Westernized world; I feel it is my responsibility as an African living in the United States, to represent my country and show women the unique styles that come from the African continent.

Discovering brands on a platform like The Folklore Connect has bridged the gap of B2B interaction with businesses in Africa and has allowed me to support them in their business. Sustainability is extremely important to me because I hope to lower our carbon footprint as a brand and not contribute to the huge amount of waste that has plagued our industry. So, to do my part, I try to consolidate orders in single packages as much as possible, and I use biodegradable packing tissue paper with the hope of investing in biodegradable custom box packaging for shipping orders.

NKASIOBI is one of the independent boutique 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 the business?

My goal was to support brands and designers coming from Africa. When I wanted to work with African designers, outside of The Folklore, I found it quite difficult to navigate on my own. Joining The Folklore Connect was a no-brainer for me because I needed assistance to connect with these brands while also making the transactional process simpler when providing payment. Being on The Folklore Connect has been easy to navigate with the brand discovery tool on the platform, payment systems, and impeccable client service. The platform has made it easy to invest in Africa and I appreciate the team for their contribution in showcasing African talent to the world. 

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