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Growing in style: NM Black-owned Gapelii Fashion Brand expands during pandemic

Gapelii fashion brand has added a women’s line and expanded its men’s line. (Courtesy of Gapelii Fashion Brand)

What began as unisex logo T-shirts has blossomed into a line of clothing for men and women.

The Gapelii fashion brand was created by Toja Hodge of Hobbs and Andrew Akufo, who is formerly of Hobbs and now lives in California. The brand has experienced growth in sales and demand during the pandemic.

“We saw a lot of growth when everything happened with the George Floyd murder,” Akufo said. “And a lot of people were really wanting to starting to support Black-owned businesses, and ours happened to be. I mean, it’s the only luxury fashion brand in New Mexico that’s Black-owned, and even in my area out in California, (it’s) pretty much the same thing. So, you know, we tried to put our stuff out there, and then reach out and saw a lot of people coming from all over the country, to be honest with you, really getting on our site, and we saw the traffic increase. And then we started to see more sales. And it’s been amazing.”

Gapelii Fashion Brand has grown its line of shirt styles from logo T-shirts to long-sleeved shirts and sweatshirts for men and women. (Courtesy of Gapelii Fashion Brand)

Gapelii has partnered with empowering organizations such as the Black Fashion World Foundation, based in New York. Akufo connected with the foundation’s founder Carla Nelson and is now part of a group that meets online in support of young Black entrepreneurs in the fashion world. Gapelii’s inventory has expanded in preparation for the winter season. Its winter collection includes solid-color zip-up hoodies and sweatshirts. There are also plans for tie-dyed hoodies. The brand’s masks have been a top seller during the pandemic and come in an array of colors. Chunky knitted beanies that are part of the winter collection have also been popular.

“We also have pigment-dyed sweatshirts, so a little bit off tone, but it’s been something which has been an eye-catcher for a lot of people, and we’ve seen a lot of traffic on our site looking at that product, as well as our long-sleeved shirts,” Akufo said. “So we’re happy about expanding in that area.”

A women’s collection has been added to Gapelii’s branding.

“We’ve added products like our women’s wide-neck sweatshirt, so it has a wider neck than the regular sweatshirt, even though those are usually unisex, but this one is specifically for women,” he said. “It contains pink logo print, which has been very appealing and eye-catching. And, you know, we’ve seen some sales come from that specific product as soon as we released it. And we have it in two different colors right now. We have it in both the black as well as a navy blue color.”

A “flowy, boxy” tank top is another new item and is available in several different colors. It is slightly shorter than the previously released unisex tank top.

“So when the weather gets warmer in the springtime and moving in the summer, that’s something which we expect to be a hot seller,” Akufo said. “We’ve also added deep V-neck shirts. … Beforehand, we just had regular T shirts, which were also unisex in a limited amount of colors. But we’ve really expanded our color selection for our customers. So they can get it in pretty much any color, which is available on our site.”

Customers can also contact the brand via email and social media if there is a specific color they want and do not see it on the site. The brand will expand its color selection in the near future.

A new winter collection featuring sweatshirts is now part of the Gapelii fashion brand. (Courtesy of Gapelii Fashion Brand)

Gapelii intends on adding shorts to its brand when the weather warms up. They will be a sweat short style that is on trend. Other looks in the works include a women’s jumpsuit that will include a top and a bottom. There has also been discussion of adding women’s shoes, boots and heels as well as sundresses and long skirts. A line of accessories is also in the planning stages. Items include watches, purses, sunglasses, colognes and perfumes.

The brand continues to aim high and hopes to one day offer suits.

“To me, once we start offering suits, then we’ve reached a pinnacle,” Akufo said. “And you know, I’ll be extremely pleased with that. So these are all goals, which we’re definitely working toward. … The more we continue to grow, and our customer base continues to expand, then our product selection will also expand. But you know, we are still open to different suggestions. There may be different things which we haven’t thought about which people know, and would like to see on our site. And we’re definitely open to that. We encourage folks to send an email, they can hit us up through our social media channels as well. We’re an open door.”

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