AfribbeanBaby creates affordable African print kids’ clothing to Madison
Starting as a project to make clothes for her daughter, AfribbeanBaby has grown into a community-funded business in the Progress Center for Black Women.
When Nina Akli’s daughter Alise was about 1 year old, she began to look for African print clothing for Alise to wear.
But, to her surprise, the African print clothing she could find online wasn’t affordable — especially considering kids are constantly outgrowing their clothes. Despite having only the sewing knowledge taught in middle school, Akli bought fabric and made her own clothes.
“We would go out all the time to like different events, and people would ask, ‘where do you buy that? I want to buy it too,’” Akli says. “I would tell them I made it, and they would ask if they could order a set.”
Akli, who also serves as a Student Services Coordinator for Afro American Studies at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, officially set up her business, AfribbeanBaby, in 2017. Her first event was as a vendor at a Black business market that was hosted by Sabrina Madison, who founded the Progress Center for Black Women.
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The event was a success, and Akli decided to set up an Instagram where she could promote and sell her clothes. By 2019 Akli says her page was “exploding” with orders were coming in from all over the Madison area, plus some that got shipped out to California, Florida and New York.
“If you look at the market of African print clothes, most of it is focused on adults, not kids,” Akli says. “I also want people to have access to these clothes. I think back to that time, and ask myself if I could have afforded the prices I have.”
Akli says AfribbeanBaby’s prints are inspired by the bright and beautiful colors you would see on fabrics in Ghana. She volunteered in Ghana for nine months in 2013, where she met and fell in love with her husband — plus all the kente fabric she saw.
“They have such beautiful colors, and each color stands for something,” Akli says. “I love to use it.”
However, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit and Akli found out she would be having a baby boy, AfribbeanBaby was put on a temporary hiatus. When she started up again in October 2021, the business’ momentum had slowed some.
That didn’t stop Akli though, as she pushed forward and was accepted into the UpStart program through the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation in January. Akli says UpStart was invaluable, and helped her better understand how to run a business.
“I’m not a I’m not a business major, I’m actually sociology,” she says. “ It was really helpful for me to learn more about the business side, and not just how to make the clothes.”
She has started to incorporate more boys’ clothes into her collection since her son JJ was born. Plus, some outfits include a matching outfits for the parents.
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As Akli was set to graduate from the program, AfribbeanBaby was awarded a community funded membership to the Progress Center for Black Women. Madison, who opened the door for Akli five years ago, gave her the call.
“I am really excited about everything that’s going on and how everything opened up,” Akli says. “[My dream] is that my business can just keep expanding out, knowing I made something and it’s out in the world getting worn.”
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