Madonna Kendona-Sowah is the founder and Creative Director of Raffia, a line of high-quality clothing made from cotton fabrics, handwoven in the poorest parts of Ghana. The label showcases beautiful textiles with elegant designs and promotes employment and education in the Northern and Upper East regions of Ghana.
An avid consumer of all things fashion, Madonna realised that northern Ghanaian textiles, also known as Gonja cloth or batakari didn’t feature in mainstream designs. Taking the opportunity to combine her love for fashion and her training in Economic Development, she founded Raffia to address this need.
When I founded the company, I saw an opportunity to change some of the negative perceptions people have of Northern Ghana, being a child of the North myself. I compared where I was from to the Raffia palm, which is rough and dry in its raw state but can be used to make beautiful things. Northern Ghana is a beautiful place with fascinating customs, delicious food, stunning fabrics and gorgeous people and I felt the name Raffia captured that. ~ Madonna Kendoa-Sowah
Share with us, what is Raffia about?
Raffia produces high quality clothing and accessories made from traditionally handwoven cotton textiles from Northern Ghana.
We are using traditional textiles handwoven by indigenous artisans in the three northern regions of Ghana – the poorest part of the country. Working with us gives our weavers the chance to earn an income, be financially independent and take care of themselves and their families while preserving an age-old craft. Raffia aims to change lives, revitalize the economy in Northern Ghana and showcase the beautiful textiles and products found there.
How did you feel when you heard you made the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme (TEEP) and what was the most difficult part about applying?
I was absolutely thrilled. I couldn’t quite believe it, to be honest. It wasn’t until I started getting congratulatory messages that it sunk in. To have Raffia validated like that was wonderful.
For me, the hardest part was definitely articulating my vision for Raffia in a way that the selection committee could clearly understand and appreciate. As an entrepreneur, you tend to have these long conversations with yourself about what you want for your business but it’s almost as important for other people to understand what you’re about. The application process was very thorough and asked some hard questions but I feel I’m better for having figured out how to get my vision across.
What has been your number one business challenge and how do you think the programme will help address it?
As a bootstrapping entrepreneur, my main challenge has been funding. Most of us new entrepreneurs are curious and scrappy and there are many things about running a business one can learn to do – like building a website, bookkeeping, social media marketing, etc. It’s okay to be all things to your business in the beginning but growing means getting help, improving your product, increasing inventory and in general, stepping up your overall game. That requires funding.
I expect Raffia to achieve greater exposure, reach more customers internationally and hopefully form interesting partnerships, starting with the 999 other members of TEEP. Through all this, I see Raffia growing, improving, continuing to create beautiful clothes while creating a marked social and economic transformation in Northern Ghana.
Any words of encouragement or advice to entrepreneurs like yourself?
There is no better teacher than experience, whether it’s your own or someone else’s. So, test your theories, try new things and find out once and for all what works and what doesn’t. Also, read, ask questions, never stop learning and improving. Keep it moving.
We are sharing the stories of 20+ African women entrepreneurs who are beneficiaries of the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme and whose ideas can change the world. Follow the TEEPcofoundHER series HERE.