This ad will be closed automatically in X seconds.

Brands to watch: “Afro Unicorn is a homage to Africa and a promise to amplify representation”

When entrepreneur April Showers realised that her favourite emoji – the unicorn – was only available in white, she was inspired to create a more inclusive, conscious brand: Afro Unicorn.

With hair in different shades of vanilla, caramel and mocha – colours chosen to reflect the range of complexions beyond European standards of beauty – Afro Unicorn quickly caught the attention of retailers as well as influencers and celebrities Stateside, including Alicia Keys, Viola Davis and Oprah Daily.

Today, four years after its inception, Afro Unicorn has over 45 licensee partners and branded products are available across 25 categories, from apparel and accessories to toys, bedding and more, in retailers including Walmart, Target and JC Penney.

LicensingSource.net asked April for her thoughts on being the first black woman to own a licensed character brand sold in major retailers across the US, and her plans to take Afro Unicorn to the next level.

Where did the vision for Afro Unicorn come from?

I created Afro Unicorn in 2019 to instill women and children of colour with the confidence they need to embrace who they are – unique, divine and magical. Afro Unicorn is a homage to Africa and a promise to amplify representation. We deliver a product that feels ‘true and right’ and normalises black beauty.

I was repeatedly referred to as a unicorn by a friend because I was ‘doing it all’ – running my other businesses, taking care of my boys and enjoying a bustling social life. I have always had an entrepreneurial spirit. I started my first business at the age of 19 – an agency where I connected celebrities with PAs. I have run a successful insurance agency for over a decade. I have also been a licensed real estate broker for the past 20 years.

I researched these magical creatures to learn more and found that unicorns were white. I set out to find a unicorn emoji that represented me better. When I couldn’t find one, I hired an illustrator to create it. That image would eventually become a fully licensed character and a visual representation of my empowerment brand. It is one of a kind.

AU500x500It’s one thing to design a character, quite another to turn it into a major brand in just four years. Where did you start, and what were the major challenges?

The challenge has been building the brand from the ground up. Back in 2019, Afro Unicorn was a grassroots brand, and I was pressing shirts and selling them through my e-commerce store, adding logos to t-shirts and bags at my customers’ request.

Afro Unicorn burst onto the scene as a brand in 2021 when Walmart saw a viral video of a little girl wearing an Afro Unicorn t-shirt; they emailed me with the subject line ‘Afro Unicorn x Walmart’, and that marked the start of my journey with them as one of the first black women to enter the party supplies/celebration category [the brand is now in 3,800 Walmart stores across the U.S. and Puerto Rico], with Afro Unicorn gaining prime shelf placement next to Marvel characters and Disney princesses.

I am proud of how far we’ve come in such a short amount of time. I think part of the brand’s success is that we grew Afro Unicorn organically, so it resonates directly with the consumer. It was immediately successful as it filled a void. It’s more than a brand, it’s a movement. It’s the change I want to see.

2023 is my ‘Jordan Year’. The brand is skyrocketing. It’s been featured recently on ABC News Good Morning America 3: What You Need to Know and on CBS Mornings, and the brand is now in over 25 categories in seven major retail stores, from apparel and accessories to toys, puzzles, books, bedding, bandages, backpacks, collectibles, swimwear and more. Children will soon be able to live and play in a world of Afro Unicorn with plushies, games, puzzles, books, play-sets, ride-ons, outdoor play and live animation in the works.

In February, Afro Unicorn launched in Walmart Canada. We now have three-piece travel luggage sets, in pink and purple, in stores throughout the country. We’ve also just debuted in the toddlers’ and girls’ apparel category.

AU1You’ve recently signed a number of new deals, with Disguise and Magical Beauty among others. Can you tell us about them?

We just signed our first deal in the personal care category with hair care and styling brand Magical Beauty to create a line of products called Afro Unicorn Magical Tresses. It will launch at Walmart and CVS in the US this autumn before rolling out online internationally in early 2024. We are honoured that Magical Beauty is our first black-owned licensing partner.

We’re also delighted to debut original Afro Unicorn books under the Random House Books for Young Readers imprint. They will be released widely in autumn 2023 and will feature three Afro Unicorn characters.

We are partnering with Disguise, a division of JAKKS Pacific, on costumes and costume accessories. By expanding into this creative realm, children can live and play in the fantastical world of Afronia, brimming with characters, where they can be their authentic selves through play and their imaginations.

In addition, we are thrilled to launch our swimwear category this spring and our water toys with Concept One Accessories.

AU2You’ve signed Just Play as your master toy partner. What will the collaboration involve?

Just Play will manufacture and distribute Afro Unicorn products, including dolls, play-sets, collectables, plushies and more, to launch at major retailers by spring 2024. Afro Unicorn and Just Play are aligned in their vision to uplift, inspire, and advocate for women of colour to achieve greatness. Just Play’s history of building inclusive brands aligns with my passion and mission to elevate black stories and inspire future generations to dream big.

You mentioned there’s an animated series in the works. What can you tell us about that?

We have inked a deal with Pure Imagination Studios, an LA-based entertainment company, to embark on an animated series. Set in the world of Afronia, the 52 x 11-minute series [for 5-8 year olds] will centre around three Afro Unicorns with distinct personalities as well as fantastical characters like mermaids and dinosaurs. Afro Unicorn animation will be seen in short-form content in time for the holidays, launching in November 2023, while Afro Unicorn’s episodic television series will debut as early as autumn 2024.

What’s next for Afro Unicorn?

Afro Unicorn will continue to expand its presence until it becomes a household name. Our goal is to be bigger than Hello Kitty!

We are looking to expand the brand into the European market. We will be hosting a cocktail mixer at Licensing Expo this year, and we will also have a presence at Brand Licensing Europe in London this October. We are also exploring location-based possibilities in the coming years. My vision for Afronia is an empowering and impactful physical space for authentic representation. Children can live and play in the world of Afro Unicorn, where they can be their authentic selves and see beyond the European standard of beauty. Creating an Afronia playspace will embrace who they are – unique, divine, and magical.

For licensing enquiries, contact Askia Fountain, GM, Afro Unicorn, at askia@afrounicorn.com.

MORE NEWS
LAfashion500x500
 
The new collection has been produced in partnership with Laura Ashley and Next and was facilitated by IMG, which acts as its licensing representative for fashion in the UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Asia....
NGcoin500x500
 
Designed by Edwina Ellis - designer, engraver and printmaker for The Royal Mint - the coin portrays the iconic National Gallery building in Trafalgar Square, London....
LaverCup500x500
 
Under the multi-year deal, Fanatics will make available a new range of dedicated merchandise for the tennis tournament for fans across the globe....
RubiesYoungJedi500x500
 
"With this epic series, we are anticipating a brand-new wave of new Star Wars fans."...
Bangoberry500x500
 
The new unisex animal-based property has a collection of 90 skus across gifting and back to school ranges....
CallyBeatonB&LLAs500x500
 
Media entrepreneur, podcaster, writer and performer, Cally Beaton has been confirmed as host of the Brand & Lifestyle Licensing Awards 2024....
Get the latest news sent to your inbox
Subscribe to our daily newsletter

The list doesn't exist! Make sure you have imported the list on the 'Manage List Forms' page.