Let’s put these numbers into perspective, mobile devices account for 37 percent of our overall website traffic and 23 percent of sales. Of course, technology plays a huge role in enhancing our business process and operations. We were one of the first Pan-African inspired fashion houses to launch a mobile app for iOS devices (iPhones, iPads, and iPod Touch). Technology remains a significant part of our business model and competitive edge.
Over time, technology has made African fashion more accessible to global customers through the use of e-commerce platforms and social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest – with the emergence of these e-commerce solutions, it will only become easier for African designers to share and sell their products on the web.
What inspired you to start this business?
Nana and I have always wanted to make a difference in the world. I would say that it was a burning desire to create a conscious movement through fashion. Although we did not go to school for fashion, we truly believe that we can make a difference in this industry.
Fashion should not just be about aesthetics; rather it should be the thread that interweaves cultures, identities, and displays a pattern of pride and self-expression. At 54 Kingdoms, we pride ourselves in creating pieces that have educational expressions and can create conversations.
The concept for 54 Kingdoms began in 2006 at Central Connecticut State University. While sitting in class his final year in college, Nana asked himself a series of questions, “can I create a clothing line that integrates designs and concepts from the African diaspora and use that to tell Pan-African stories?” “can I use the diaspora as a source of inspiration for making Pan-African fashion?” These questions helped to inspire the company name, 54 Kingdoms. The number 54 signifies the number of countries in Africa and the word “kingdoms,” means that each country is part of a larger kingdom, to include the diaspora.
After college, Nana Poku founded 54 Kingdoms with me – Kwaku Awuah. 54 Kingdoms is a fashion company inspired by Pan-African stories, creatives, history, and culture. Our company motto is, “It’s a kulture, not just a brand.”
Who is your target market?
Men and women aged 18-35 interested in unique fashion trends and have expressive lifestyles.
How have you financed your business?
Bootstrapping – we use our savings. Securing investment in the fashion industry is not the easiest but with a proven track record; we anticipate this happening in the near future.
What is your competitive edge?
Our major strength lies in analyzing cultural and historical content and using current trends as a basis for selecting fabric, color, and style. Our end goal is to create and design a product of value in the marketplace and use that as a way to tell powerful and inspiring stories.
Due to the extensive historical and cultural meaning behind each crafted piece, every item purchased is accompanied with a descriptor detailing the inspiration for the particular product.
What is the long-term plan for your business?
(1) To create a recognizable brand with a culture-driven trademark carried by various retailers around the globe.
(2) To expand our mobile app to Andriod users;
(3) To build a hub for African fashion, a place where everything is produced in-house. Our end goal is to build a legacy that is sustainable and will continue to add value to the lives of those in the creative industry.
What challenges do you face?
• Financing – it is tough to raise investment capital or to find the funds needed to expand and support your business growth.
• Production is a challenge due to the lack of manufacturers with proper infrastructures and up-to-date technology.
• Accessibility – breaking into the international market is a challenge. We find that there’s a stigma attached to Pan-African designers – that we only design for a specific demographic and this hinders our international market exposure and potential.
What five (5) key things have you learned since starting your business idea?
(1) Develop excellent time management skills,
(2) Develop SMART goals,
(3) Keep up with new trends in technology,
(4) Be patient – understand that success does not happen overnight,
(5) Pay your taxes.
What five (5) things do start-up entrepreneurs need to know?
• Execution matters – having a great idea is never enough,
• Build a team – it’s not just about having a team, but building the right team – pick your partners wisely.
• It will not always be easy. Be mentally prepared for the dark days and tough challenges.
• Always think and plan ahead –regardless of the size of your company.
• Lastly, use your passion to make money; don’t lose your passion trying to make money.
What advice do you have for youths looking to start an idea but say ‘there is no money’?
Money will always be available. It really comes down to how valuable the idea is and the determination or passion exhibited by the owner (s) of the company. Our main advice to young people is to develop ideas that solve a problem or fill a void.
It is also important to remember that most investors want to see your track record before they fund your business. You’ll always hear, “if it doesn’t make dollars, it doesn’t make sense.” Long story short, have a sustainable business model.
How do you think African youths can continue to support each other?
Young Africans should be open-minded. I believe that it is through this that we can obtain a larger vision for ourselves. Sometimes, we get into the notion of trying to make it on our own that we forget about the power and importance of collaboration.
How many jobs have you created so far?
None – we are yet to create jobs. However, we always provide intensive training and mentoring opportunities to youths and college students. One of our trainees was recently selected to participate in President Obama’s Young African Leadership Initiative (YALI).
How can we support innovation in Africa?
Technology in Africa is growing and that is a good thing. There are challenges but that is okay. I believe that knowledge sharing platforms are one way to support and improve innovation in Africa. Knowledge sharing platforms make it easy to collaborate on projects, share ideas, conduct effective discussions, and educate each other on new advancements, and even make new discoveries – this is how I believe innovation happens.
Website: 54 Kingdoms