The Interview: Kojo Marfo, Founder of My Runway Group
My Runway Group, founded by Kojo Marfo, recently opened the doors to its new brick-and-mortar location at London's Seven Dials on Neal Street.
Kojo Marfo developed a strong desire to live a fulfilling life, inspiring the next generation. With a creative bee in his bonnet, he decided to establish the My Runway Show in 2013. The annual production showcased designers and creatives from disadvantaged backgrounds.
By 2016, Marfo established the show’s next chapter – My Runway Group, a youth empowerment organisation for emerging creatives from underrepresented backgrounds.
TheIndustry.fashion spoke to Kojo Marfo about his future plans for My Runway Group.
What inspired you to create My Runway Show in 2013, and subsequently My Runway Group?
I realised there was little to no help for emerging creatives looking for industry opportunities! So, I realised I had to create a platform and creative production to offer industry experience in the arts to anyone who wanted or needed it - we're open to anyone.
You opened a store in Soho last year, why did you choose Seven Dials as the location for your next in-person space?
The goal has always been to introduce our unique black shopping experience to a varied audience, one that is representative of modern-day Britain. It would be impossible and unfair to the black businesses we represent to be at only one location. There is the need to move around and launch several stores in other high street areas, and Seven Dials was a great opportunity for us following Carnaby.
Working with landlords like Shaftesbury has been great as this has made accessible these authentic, creative locations in London, and puts us alongside like-minded independent brands too.
You must have countless designers who want to feature in your new Seven Dials store, how do you decide which ones make the cut?
We have an onboarding and rotation team that reviews all entries. Last year there were well over 970 black businesses on our waiting list, so it is a really tough decision selecting who we want to stock when so many people need this level of commercial visibility.
How do you provide career support and commercial visibility to underrepresented black creatives?
Physical stocking is one of them, and we also offer parts of our store for takeovers and activations by brands and creatives looking for space. Digitally, we profile black business founders on our websites, social media channels, and mailing list using different visual initiatives such as 'The black Business Profile' and 'Now & Then' for black founders and emerging creatives respectively.
Can you tell us about My Runway Group’s workshops and how they’ve impacted local communities?
Over the last decade, we have impacted over 15,000 emerging creatives in the arts. We also work and consult with organisations and institutions such as BFI, BPI, Goldman Sachs, and Fashion Retail Academy, to curate employability programmes for emerging creatives and black founders.
It is important for British retail to be reflective of the UK’s melting pot of cultures. Have you noticed a shift in black communities’ presence in the retail space since starting the group?
Yes, very much so – people now believe it’s possible! This is the seed that we wanted to plant. My advice to bigger retail units is to approach placements and community engagements with a long-term plan in mind, and not just for tick-box reasons or during October (Black History Month).
You have plans to open 5 stores by 2025, what additional goals have you set for the future of My Runway Group?
Our next phase will see us bridge the gap between the west (Europe) and the west (Africa). We aim to create commercial visibility for emerging creatives and Small Business Owners not just in the UK but also in West Africa, by strengthening ties between the two and using the power of creativity as part of our new vision for My Runway Group.
The Seven Dials My Runway pop-up store on 29 Neal Street, Seven Dials, London, WC2H 9PR is open from now until April 2023.