Today we shine the spotlight on a Sierra Leonean owned company based in the States. They have been on our radar for a while now and have continued to strengthen their brand. We hear from their operations guru, Ralph Diesel about the starting up the business, challenges, and plans for the future. Of course we had to talk about the success of the “FREETOWN” line.
Who are you, what do you do in RD?
I’m Ralph Diesel the operations guru for Royal Dynamite (RD). I was born in Atlanta, Georgia to a Sierra Leonean mother and Liberian father. I went back home to Sierra Leonean for the first time in 2010 just a few months after we started RD. That trip changed my Life forever. I’ve always heard about this place and to finally see it in person was a major culture shock. Seeing toddlers carry packets of water on their heads and selling it in the streets defined a level of poverty I never experienced before. The smell of burning garbage in the humid air as I exited the airplane will forever be a vivid memory. My first time going to Sierra Leone and witnessing the relentless work ethic helped mould my mind to really take the branding serious and grow it into a lucrative business that gives back. Royal Dynamite is my full-time gig. I am an entrepreneur so I own several businesses, invest, and trade stocks.
What are some of the challenges you’ve faced, as a start-up but also with the Sierra Leonean heritage.. has it helped, hindered or no difference?
Having a start-up company with immediate plans of becoming a successful global enterprise immediately was really ambitions for us as a team. We learned sooner than later that patience would be a virtue. Today we manage sell hundreds of items at a pop up shop.
However, we did not get there without a few setbacks. We thought truly embracing our heritage as an ecommerce business would be great, but we later realized our core fan base didn’t do too well with online shopping. We didn’t want to lose our people given their strong influence on our business. When it came to catering to our people we went guerrilla style and I was selling our t-shirts out of the trunk of my 1994 Honda Accord. I was carrying in boxes of merchandise into Sierra Leonean parties. It helped us a lot then in our initial days of starting up. To this day pop up shops all over the US and in Sierra Leone are steady revenue streams for us. It allows us to touch the people personally.
Can you tell me of one really difficult situation you faced? A Potential catastrophic error or something? And how you recovered or solved it? What did you learn from it?
A potentially catastrophic time we faced was when we authorized our screen printers to print hundreds of t-shirts in unpopular sizes and styles. We weren’t operating off analytics then so we ordered based on what we felt would sell the most. We ended up having to cut back on further production for the remainder of the year and were forced to get creative and move our not-so-popular items. It was a very stressful time, but it taught us listen to the customer. We learned quickly that building a business isn’t just about feelings, likes, and emotions, but analytics and constant studies on your sales, audience, campaigns etc.
What’s the main demographic of your customer base. Who buys your stuff? What’s the uptake from Sierra Leoneans like? Can you deliver anywhere?
Our main demographic of our customer base is the 25-34 year old “afropolitan”. A lot of Sierra Leoneans buy our products so we aim to cater to them a bit more. We also have other customers We have launched multiple shirt designs and collections paying homage to our land and giving our biggest supporters exclusive items that only they can relate to. We really won over the Sierra Leonean customer base when we launched our “Freetown” collection. It gave them a sense of pride and allowed them to wear quality clothing that represented the land that they love. We sell and ship items worldwide, however I would say Sierra Leoneans in the US have taken to us the most and we are thankful for that.
A bit of information about the ‘Freetown’ collection. What does Freetown mean to you?
Freetown is our best collection to date. It was only meant to be a small collection to be sold for Sierra Leone’s Independence Day in 2014. It has since spiraled into a bigger movement. The demand is so great that we have released it in multiple colourways for 3 years in a row and sell out every single time. We have done pop up shops in Freetown and items sell out within hours. Freetown means a place of freedom literally and figuratively. I love coming to the city. It a place of positive vibes and freedom to be who you really are.
What do you want to achieve with the RD brand?
I want Royal Dynamite to be one of the best clothing brands made by Sierra Leoneans that fuses African culture and urban street style. We want to continue collaborating with as many brands, artists, businesses, and brands to bring awareness to the positivity surrounding Sierra Leone. Lastly, it would be a crazy dream be able to touch school systems worldwide starting with the continent of Africa and have the RDCares giveback program be the vehicle that drives that force. We will slowly get there, but until then the RD lifestyle continues.
For more information:
FB: Royal Dynamite