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For all those Ghanaian students who have proudly graduated from university or college and worn their official graduation stoles, the chances are they may be wearing the entrepreneurial success story that is Kente Master.

What does your company do?

Kente Master is a fabric artisan startup committed to promoting African entrepreneurship by internationally servicing a unique blend of premium, finished Kente graduation stoles. We create dynamic, long-lasting, and mutually beneficial relationships between local Kente weaving associations in Ghana and universities in the United States so that students graduate wearing authentic, customised graduation stoles #MadeInGhana. By doing this, Kente Master contributes to job creation, security, and economic development in Ghana. As our company works with local weavers and Kente collectives in Ghana, we take pride in the fact that we are creating a platform that facilitates the growth of these weaver’s craftsmanship, tradition, and businesses.

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What inspired you to start your company?

Kente Master was co-founded by a group of my peers and myself, all of whom wanted to revolutionise a threatened traditional weaving industry. While studying abroad with a group of students in Ghana through the University of Pennsylvania’s joint International Development Summer Institute (IDSI) with KNUST, our cohort learned about and visited one of the first Kente weaving associations in Ghana. We grew an immense appreciation for the craft's artistry and history. The most profound moments of our experience were when we heard about the history of Kente from the weavers themselves, witnessed it’s traditional production from thread to final product, and tried our hand at weaving traditional Kente cloth. After learning about the significance of Kente – down to the meanings of colours and patterns – I realized how important this craft is and wanted to be a part of the movement to help these small weaving communities reach international markets, while producing traditionally, at an unparalleled pace. With our CEO, Peter Paul Akanko, COO Parag Bapna, and myself who serves as the CMO and CSO, Kente Master not only amplifies the world’s recognition of Kente, but also the origin of Kente as well.

Why should anyone use your service or product?

Kente Master is the only fabric artisan company in the Kente industry that provides authenticity, affordability, and customisability to universities, student organisations, and individuals seeking Kente graduation stoles. By working with the most skilled, traditional Kente Weaving Associations in Ghana, we are able to provide our clients with the most unique and intricate Kente designs available. A few of our past clients have included the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, and Carnegie Mellon University. But, the most important part about Kente Master is the relationships we have built with numerous Kente Weaving associations we work with as well as the impact we create. Every day Kente Master is creating international social impact as the connections we facilitate between local Kente weaving associations in Ghana and top universities in the United States provide greater opportunities for local entrepreneurs to scale their craft and businesses. With the influx of inauthentic and over-priced Kente textile merchandise coming from China and other non-traditional manufacturers, these opportunities are essential for local Ghanaian entrepreneurs. Kente Master plays an active role in researching, finding, and creating key contract opportunities. By doing this, we are happy to say that we facilitate job creation, business growth, and economic development in Ghana.

Tell us a little about your team.: The entire team of Kente Master met while studying abroad in Ghana. Our CEO and head of operations in Ghana is Peter Paul Akanko. After graduating from KNUST in 2014, he laid the groundwork for Kente Master’s success by fine-tuning our business idea during a incubator program backed by the World Bank. You can read more about this in our Feature on the World Bank’s website here and here. He is also a 2016 Young African Leaders Initiative (YALI) Fellow. YALI was program was launched by President Barack Obama as a signature effort to invest in the next generation of African leaders.

Parag Bapna is our COO leading our sales and client fulfillment operations in the United States. He is a senior at the University of Pennsylvania studying Bioengineering. He was previously a data analytics intern at Endeavor Global and a healthcare development analyst in Ghana during IDSI ‘14.

I am the CMO and CSO of Kente Master, leading our creative marketing growth and business strategy efforts. During IDSI’ 14, I was a Microfinance Consultant with Kente Weavers’ Association in Ghana working alongside artisans to find ways to scale their businesses. My current and previous experiences in social media, advertising, and sponsorship strategy at IBM, Google, and TEDxPenn have helped Kente Master hone our brand and marketing efforts.

Share a little about your entrepreneurial journey. And, do you come from an entrepreneurial background?: My teammates and I have always been entrepreneurs at heart. I say this because entrepreneurship really begins when you start thinking of new solutions to an old problem. Before Kente Master came to be, my teammates and I were studying abroad in Ghana and completing consulting fellowships with local businesses in Kumasi. Both Peter and Parag worked to analyse and improve the health care system of Ghana while I taught business development skills to Kente weaving associations in the region. These experiences taught us how to be entrepreneurs because everyday we were analysing current processes, defining areas of improvement, researching best practices, and brainstorming more efficient ways of carrying out tasks for our respective business placements. Before we thought about creating Kente Master to what it is today, we did a lot of research locally, regionally, and globally. We talked with Kente weavers to understand their pain points and greatest needs and then we researched the industry practices regionally and abroad. We found that their were various opportunities to create a socially-sustainable business that address the problems of the local weaving artisans as well as the gaps in the current marketplace. After all this research, we brainstormed (a lot) on what would be the most efficient and effective way of building out a solution to address these needs. We tested out a few ideas before we came up with how Kente Master operates today. One thing we learned is that entrepreneurship is a reiterative and ever-growing process - after a few sales cycles we realised what we were doing well and where next we had the greatest opportunity to grow.

What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?

Overall, our team wants Kente Master to grow in client base, product offering, and social impact. In terms of client base, we want Kente Master to be the go-to place for high school, college, and graduate students when purchasing their graduation stoles. We want to serve a truly global audience by having clients beyond the US and Africa. In terms of product offering, Kente Master will soon expand to cover offer other Kente accessories. Lastly, as a socially-conscious business, we are hope to expand our social impact. In addition to the job growth we create, Kente Master eventually wants to develop an annual scholarship fund to support local students in Ghana towards their higher education.

What gives you the most satisfaction being an entrepreneur?

We can definitely say that our greatest satisfaction is two-fold: 1) seeing our clients’ faces light up when they wear their customised, authentic graduation stoles on their graduation days, and 2) seeing our artisans ecstatic that their products are treasured and appreciated by a new client base abroad. We truly believe our success as a social enterprise determined by the positive impact we leave on the clients, artisans, and communities we consciously engage with.

What's the biggest piece of advice you can give to other women looking to start-up?

My biggest advice for women looking to create a start-up would be: make sure you are passionate about the problem your start-up was created to solve. This is essential because that passion you have will be the fuel for business. When you speak to others about your start-up’s goals, they will hear that passion in you voice and see it on your face and they’ll think yes, this is someone who knows what she is doing and why she is doing it. Always let that passion drive you through every stage of your business!

Source: Lionesses Of Africa