25 Nov Samuel Mensah | Getting African Fashion to a Global Market
“I had this idea about building an African fashion business, and at some point I decided to make that leap of faith and basically cashed in all my worldly possessions and put it into what is now KISUA”, says Samuel Mensah, founder and CEO of the fashion label. The former director for a global investment firm first recognised a demand for African fashion after going on extensive business trips and being asked by friends and family to procure items from the countries he visited.
As a businessman, Samuel realized that while African designers have a plethora of talent, they’re challenged by the administrative side of the fashion industry; marketing, customer service, distribution and production. To combat this, KISUA has a unique business model and operates as a digital platform offering the latest African fashion online, ensuring that the designer’s clothes are able to reach a global market.
Samuel is quick to point out that 80% of the business is spent doing administrative work and the other 20% creative. It takes a great deal of seamless logistical planning to source fabric in West Africa, produce garments in Cape Town, have international warehousing in the US and Europe, and work with designers across the continent from Nigeria, Kenya, Ghana and the Democratic Republic of Congo.
When asked what leadership qualities are important when running a fast-growing international business Samuel replies, “I allow everybody in the business to speak up and speak their mind. I run the business in a way that everybody – from the driver to the intern – can feel empowered. In that way, I think you get the best out of people.”
With no formal training in fashion, he has managed to build an extensible fashion company that is transforming Africa’s fashion industry. KISUA means ‘well-dressed’ in Swahili and has a contemporary take on traditional African design; producing stylish and affordable collections for the women who love finely cut garments and appreciate sustainable fashion.
With half of sales taking place outside of Africa, KISUA doesn’t just give designers a market, but together with its African Designer Fund, awards a percentage of every sale to the designers they collaborate with. They work with emerging and established creatives to create exclusive capsule collections that can’t be purchased anywhere else. Even celebrities like Beyonce, author Chimamande Adiche and singer-songwriter Estelle have worn the label. Yet despite gaining superstar appeal, Samuel still has larger ambitions. “The true measure of success is leaving something behind that outlasts you. I’m not sure yet that I’d define myself as successful. I’d like to get to a point where African fashion is everywhere.”
Hear Samuel sharing more insights in conversation with Between 10and5’s Uno de Waal in Glenfiddich The Art of Individuality video series.
Photography of Samuel by Darren Gwynn.