KISUA, which is Kiswahili for ‘Well-dressed person’, has a significant business element of presenting a more comprehensive narrative of the African continent.
How Inspiration struck
According to an interview with True Africa, it was Mensah’s habit of gift giving after trips to other African countries that lead him to realize that there wasn’t a fully functioning supply channel to meet the existing demand for African fashion. With his economic background, he began to analyse the industry’s structure to understand why demand wasn’t being fulfilled and realised he could create an online portal to facilitate this transaction. He then took the plunge by quitting his successful economist job and selling most of his possessions to come up with the capital to finance his new idea. A transition his parents thought was a result of a midlife crisis. Mensah told the Media Club South Africa that although his parents initially were against his desire to pursue KISUA, “My madness is slowly making sense to them,” he says.
[Image: Courtesy of KISUA]
KISUA, which is Kiswahili for ‘Well-dressed person’, has a significant business element of presenting a more comprehensive narrative of the African continent. “There are a lot of misconceptions all over the world about Africa,” he explains. “They see war, poverty and corruption. I don’t see that. I want to share my Africa with them.” He believes that one of the ways of developing Africa is embracing entrepreneurship, equipping ourselves with as much knowledge and skills that would make Africans qualified to participate easily in the industry. The company which was started at the end of 2013 now has three distribution centres, namely in the United States, United Kingdom and South Africa, where the headquarters reside.
How it works
The digital platform sells limited-run pieces of exclusive African fashion that they believe showcases the continents brightest design talent. They blend traditional techniques and materials with contemporary design aesthetic to create top quality, contemporary African fashion. It sells clothes created by their in-house designers but they also collaborates with other designers to create collection capsules for the label. Each group of designers is careful selected from across the continent for their skill, unique designs and style that works with KISUA’s signature theme. KISUA started with 10 designers from DRC, Kenya, Ghana and Nigeria and the deign aesthetics ranged from safari khaki to geometric prints. The company has a fund that pays for the garments production by collaborating designers in order to be more selective about the creative direction the brand moves in.
[Image: courtesy of KISUA]
Where its strength lies
First thing that stands out about KISUA is that it has an advisory board that they consult on for creative and business guidance. The board includes the likes of Savile Row tailor Ozwald Boateng, and Lagos Fashion Week founder Omoyemi Akerele.
Mensah has also managed to create a business model that not only creates a quality product, but ensures that it can get to customers anywhere in the world, hustle free. While a lot of African designers are very experienced on the creativity side, is seems that the lack of business know-how is what hinders them from making it to the next level. He told the Media Club South Africa, “We needed a model that still benefited from the creative abilities of African designers but took away the pain: the production, distribution, the marketing and the customer service. That’s what we do.” And with 50 per cent of their sales coming from outside Africa, their entire systems operation must be seamless in order to supply these markets. That includes heading to West Africa for sourcing, Cape Town for production and transporting to U.S and Europe to their international warehouses, to building a consistent and reliable online platform that services both production and distribution seamlessly. He however admits that e-commerce on the African continent still provides more of a challenge than working with Europe and U.S and there is still a lot of growth required in the local markets to achieve the success they’re experiencing abroad.
And then came the exposure
Beyonce in KISUA [Image: courtesy of conqueredtv.co.za]
KISUA has been fortunate to dress celebrities such as singer-songwriter Estelle, The Fashion Editor of Vogue Italia, Author Chimamanda Adichie and Beyoncé; whose jacket and skirt ensemble saw the site sell out of their stock immediately. To think that it took Mensah a week and a half to get back to Beyoncé’s stylist who was inquiring about the pieces, because he thought it was a hoax. However, it’s the fact that he has received purchase orders from the Midwest in the U.s that has given him the most affirmation that it was the right call to pursue this business model. He told True Africa, “For me, that was confirmation that African fashion really started to go mainstream; when Midwest Americans start coveting your product then you know we’re crossing over from an interesting unique brand to something that is becoming mainstream’.
Fashion that cares
[Image: courtesy of KISUA]
KISUA believes in sustainable fashion and promotes it through creating a platform that African designers and crafts-specialists can have access to the international markets. A portion of each sale from the collaborative projects does go to the designer as well. But that’s just the tip of their ethical business model. They have a strict sourcing policy that ensures that they not only source their fabrics from African suppliers in order to help support and grow local businesses and community initiatives, but also ensure that they are honestly and fairly compensated financially. They also insist that their partners maintain pleasant working environments that are in line with health and safety and labour standards. They also have a strong emphasis on women empowerment throughout their supply chain; an attribute he credits to the ‘inspiring strength and spirit of African women’.