We speak to Gregory Kankoh, CEO of Groupe Nallem STM, a Ghanian fashion and retail group. Its businesses include fashion house Nallem Clothing, garment manufacturer Bulluk Ghana Apparel and retail platform Ahoom, among others.
1. Explain how you started the business.
I started in business in 1997 with Nallem Clothing, which is an Afrocentric fashion brand. My initial objective was to just design the clothes and have a production house manufacture them and a third-party sales outfit take care of the distribution and sales.
I did this for a few months but the model didn’t really work. I would give the designs and material to a tailor and he would either not produce it on time or I would not get the quantities I expected. Or you would give him accessories and he ended up not putting them on the garment. So these were some of the challenges on the production side. On the sales and distribution side, I faced challenges with payment from some vendors.
This compelled me to integrate both backwards and forwards. I started my first shop in 1998, and at our peak we had 15 outlets.
However, the model is now changing again. I’m in the process of shutting many of the shops – because of high rent and operational costs – and moving most of the business online. I will keep only a handful of shops, just for the touch and feel aspect, with the majority of business transacted online.
I also operate a school called The Institute of African Arts and Technology, which trains people in fashion and other technical skills like carpentry, welding, etc, combined with compulsory entrepreneurship and ICT training.
2. Where is the clothing manufactured?
We have a dedicated factory for the manufacturing of our products called Bulluk Ghana Apparel. It mass produces for Nallem, other fashion brands as well as companies that need uniforms like hospitals, mining companies, security services, etc. Over the past few months, our focus has been the manufacturing of PPE.
3. Who are your main competitors?
Our biggest competitor is second-hand clothes brought in from the West. The second competitor is China, which exports cheap, low-quality clothing. This interferes with our ability to grow as African brands. Luckily, Ghana has a reputation within Africa and across the world as having some of the best designers. So we have a lot of designers doing amazingly well both in the domestic and international market.
4. You’ve also launched the Ahoom supermarket. Tell us about this.
Ahoom stands for African Heritage Outlet and Online Mall. It is an online platform as well as a physical store in Accra, Ghana. Ahoom sells a variety of products from across Africa, including food, clothing and fashion accessories. The idea is to run a retail and wholesale operation to provide a ready market for African-made products. We want to match what retailers such as Shoprite and Game are currently doing. Ahoom is little over two years old now and is currently my biggest focus.