Startup of the Week: Philly Fashion Platform for Women’s Economic Empowerment

The brainchild of UPenn grad Breanna Moore, LaBré is creating jobs in West Africa and building a platform for African designers abroad.

Design from LaBré’s Fall/Winter 2016 line. Photo courtesy of LaBré.

Design from LaBré’s Fall/Winter 2016 line. Photo courtesy of LaBré.

It’s true Philadelphia is becoming a fashion town: Philly Fashion Week returned for its 11th year in September and the Philly Fashion Incubator continues to churn out a handful of successful designers each year. And now, we’ve got some fashion startups that want to sustain the momentum.

One of these startups is LaBré, a fashion line started by 2015 UPenn graduate Breanna Moore. On LaBré’s e-commerce site, customers can buy chic West African-inspired women’s apparel. What sets LaBré apart is the fact that each and every piece commissioned by the company is designed by a Ghanaian designer and handmade by a seamstress in Ghana. LaBré’s Fall/Winter 2016 line showcases bright pencil dresses, voluminous maxi skirts and sharp patterned blazers. Beyond catapulting African designers into the international spotlight and bringing authentic African clothing to the states, Moore says the young company’s primary goal is to create jobs for women artisans—designers, seamstresses and tailors—in Africa.

Moore decided to launch LaBré after traveling to Ghana two times—first to Kumasi and then to Accra, the capital—as an undergraduate studying international relations and Africana studies at Penn. She was drawn to the beauty and vibrancy of authentic kente cloth and ankara fashion, both characterized by their vivid colors and bold patterns. “I thought to myself, ‘why isn’t this everywhere in the world?’ Why haven’t I heard about these styles before?” Moore told me. She also recognized that the Ghanian artists were sitting on stacks and stacks of fabric that were going unused. “Tailors out there don’t get much business because there’s a lot of Western influence in Ghana, so people are wearing these styles less,” Moore said, explaining her desire to create demand for the supply of cloth that was already available.

In June, she launched a Kickstarter campaign with a $10,000 goal to fund production, marketing and advertising as well as job onboarding costs for the Ghanaian women she began to employ. Moore exceeded the goal, raising just under $11,000.

And what she initially launched as just a fashion line has morphed into a pipeline for African designers. In November, she launched the e-commerce platform LaBré Bazaar to give designers a place to sell their clothing and accessories. Five designers, including Akaatasia, Sarah Christian and Naadu, now sell their merchandise on the site.

As a one-woman operation, Moore says she’s very much in startup mode, constantly feeding the demand of the networks she’s created. She’s had to devise nifty communication routes to get in touch with her seamstresses and designers when Ghana’s electricity is cut off for hours each day.

Moving into 2017, the entrepreneur is focused on new initiatives she’d like to start with LaBré. For one, Moore has her eye on popular retailers like Forever 21, H&M and Urban Outfitters. “I walk into these stores all the time and see fake African prints, or pieces that are copies and replicas of the real thing,” she said. Her goal is to help African designers strike deals with these retailers to start seeing their designs and fabrics on the shelves. Next year, she also hopes to expand her network to work with artists and seamstresses in Nigeria and Sierra Leon. And she plans to do this all from Philadelphia, eventually from a LaBré brick-and-mortar store.

“There’s so much going on in Philly, and I want to stay here to watch the city blossom even more,” Moore said.

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