Madonna Kendona-Sowah: Creating High Quality Clothing with Ghanaian Textiles

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.

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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.

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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.

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Kossiwa Anifrani: Catering to the Lifestyle Needs of Pregnant Women

Originally from Togo, Kossiwa Vanessa Anifrani describes herself as a nomad who feels at home everywhere. Her primary and secondary studies were in Lome and then in Kinshasa (Democratic Republic of the Congo). She also has a foundation in tourism in Louvain-La-Neuve, Belgium and at one point, her fascination with journalism led her to Brussels where she spent a year doing journalistic writing.

I had to work very early to support myself; I worked as a host and protocol officer in Kinshasa for Africa Travel. I’ve been in the catering services and events industry and I’ve worked for a French Tour Operator in Paris, Rouen and Brussels. But the work which allowed me to develop myself, create a solid network of contacts in Kinshasa was when I was the waitress and manager of a restaurant  named L’Ultime.

For Kossiwa, travel is a passion. She has had the good fortune of visiting, living and working in some beautiful places in the world, but she always wanted to be her own boss. After the birth of her daughter, and with encouragement from relatives, she decided to take the plunge into entrepreneurship.

Kossiwa enjoys cooking, reading, good music and dancing. A devout Christian, God comes first in her life. Her daughter, who is also the inspiration for her company, Charming Mamour, comes a close second.

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What is Charming Mamour?
Charming Mamour is a startup, based in Ghana, that caters to the fashion and beauty needs of pregnant women. We are not officially in operation yet, but the process is underway. My idea is to provide African pregnant women with a variety of clothing options, right here in Africa. We will also have workshops and advice on motherhood.

How did you feel when you heard you were one of the selected Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurs and what was the most difficult part about applying?
I said to myself, ‘Wow! This is a great opportunity’. The Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Programme came at the right time I had already decided to return to Africa to start something, especially something around the welfare of pregnant women. It was a Godsend.

During the application, the most difficult part for me was wondering if my idea would measure up. I asked myself whether this was the right project to submit. Everybody thinks of agriculture, farming, education, health or sustainable development when they think of good business ideas. I wasn’t sure that my idea will stand against those.

You said you decided to return to Africa and start something new. Where were you before and what were you doing?
I was in Belgium working in the tourism sector as a travel consultant and then as a freelancer for Belgian area for a representative office based in Paris. After the birth of my daughter I had trouble finding work because of the current economic situation in Europe.

What informed your decision to move back to Africa?
I do not know how to explain, but it is was a calling. It was a state of mind where I found myself thinking ‘It is time! It is time to go to make my contribution in building Africa and to enjoy the fruit of our work there.’

It helped that my relatives encouraged my idea. The final decision to move was taken after consulting the heavenly Father and I received the authorization.

What is your major business challenge and how do you intend to address it?
Like most entrepreneurs, my number one challenge was capital to start up. Luckily, by being selected and participating in the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Program, I will get some capital I need to get started.

What is your vision for Charming Mamour?
In the next few months, I want to gain more entrepreneurship knowledge, access funding and have connections to eventually find me an investor or partner.

In the next three years, I want Charming Mamour to become established in two other countries in West Africa; and in ten years, I want us to become a franchise in other continents.

Any words of encouragement to entrepreneurs like yourself?
Every entrepreneur must believe their company. You must have the energy and commitment necessary to achieve your objectives, because as an entrepreneur you must work three times harder than others.

Always keep in mind that an entrepreneur must be creative, innovative, flexible and ready to adapt to changes. In all, you must confide in God and seek His direction.

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*To learn more and stay up to date, follow Kossiwa on Twitter and Facebook.

cofoundHER facts
Full name: Kossiwa Vanessa Anifrani
Country: Togo
Sector: Fashion and Lifestyle
Business in one sentence: We cater to the fashion and beauty needs of pregnant African women.