With finance sheets tossed on his right on the heavy wooden table, and outfit sketches on the left, Mr Gregory Kankoh, has a lot of tasks to accomplish for the day.
Heading virtually every department in his clothing company from concept development to sales isn’t something he enjoys doing, but he has no option as his previous experiment outsourcing parts of his business, to cut the chase, didn’t work.
“We didn’t have a sewing room when we started: and no store (showroom) because the intention was just to design clothes, engage tailors to sew and give it to outlets to retail for us. Unfortunately, it didn’t work; when we engaged the services of tailors they either delay or materials get missing, so it compelled us to handle all aspects of the business which is not the best,” Mr Gregory Kankoh, Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Nallem Clothing told Business World Ghana in an interview.
With 20 years of visibly massive growth, Nallem Clothing is possibly Ghana’s biggest apparel brand with a lot of stockists dotted around the country and other parts of the World.
The massive expansion of the business backed by his exposure to other global businesses has got him thinking of innovative ways to handle the growth, which is to go back to the segmentation idea he tried at the nascent stage of the business- segmentation (where different companies would be formed to handle different arms of the business).
But this time, however, he wants to do it right and pull other local brands along to compete globally with international retail brands.
As a result, the company is undergoing a restructuring process which would give birth to the biggest retail brand for all African products and not only the nallem clothing brand.
The retail hub known as Ahoom is already available online stocked with products from different companies in Africa. It already has one physical store in Accra which deals in all products from furniture, clothing to beauty products.
Ahoom (African Heritage Outlet and Online Mall), according to him, is going to be the driver of retail operations for Africa especially intentionally as it has been engineered to sell products from other designers and other manufacturers ranging from cloths, furniture, soap, rice, shea butter among others. More or less like a departmental store for African products.
“I painfully realised that when I go outside the country and interacted with industry players, they have a smoother business path and key to it was that there was an organised retail operator. So that gives them the leverage to concentrate on other businesses.”
Taking a swipe with entrepreneurship
Getting into fashion business in 1997 at a time when the African fashion scene was almost non-existent for him, was purely by chance and not by plan.
“It’s talent from childhood: as a child I had a knack of doing things with my hands and for myself. I remember I made my own CD rack with a wood and I did furniture work myself.”
Getting a head start in a field with zero competitors at the time, one would have thought it would be plain sailing but that wasn’t the case as “there wasn’t the acceptance of locally designed clothing like today and people’s understanding of what an African wear was the typical dzokoto and the batakari often with no flare nor style,” he explained.
Mr Gregory Kankoh
He adds that contemporary African fashion as seen today wasn’t as popular and what even existed was too expensive making it difficult to penetrate the market.
20 years down the line and with over 300 workers, the business is still thriving and diversifying into more countries. As at 2014, when Nallem was entering the Liberia market, it had already established presence in Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Uganda, South Africa, Senegal, USA, Canada, Australia and Tanzania. Fast forward to 2018 and Mr Kankoh has lost count of its international presence.
Competition from sprawling fashion brands
Gregory Kankoh remains unfazed about the massive growth spurt in Ghana’s fashion seen, neither does he see himself in competition with any local brand as the major threat or competition, for him is not within but rather without.
“The competition isn’t among us locally the, competition isn’t even Africa. The biggest competition is the second-hand dealers because they carry a chunk of the people.”
“The next stage (of the competition) is goods from China and the rest of Asia. Third is the international brands. Per our little research, we (local apparel industry) are at the fourth level of the market,” he said.
He readily admits that his background as a professional marketer and his experience in travel and tours has played a significant role in his entrepreneurial trajectory.
Big market for African designers globally
With a huge potential for Ghanaian designers on the international market, Kankoh is advocating for the appropriate authorities (Ghana Export Promotion Authority, Ministry of Tourism, Ministry of Trade and Industry) to put systems in place to help local designers reach untapped markets.
“We need to create Ghana as a brand in the minds of the international community so that young designers can tap in to it and grow,” he noted.
“Secondly, young designers should look at the bigger picture and work towards it. It doesn’t happen in a day, it took Nallem about 20 years to get here and there still a long way ahead,” he further advised.
Currently, the totality of the restructuring process of the company hasn’t been fully achieved. When all is set, Bulluk Ghana would solely focus on manufacturing, Nallem will carry the brand name and Ahoom will be the retail wing of the group that will enable other African businesses to sell on the platform.
The company offers growth opportunities for its workers as some who joined at the entry level have stayed for over 8 years and have moved to higher positions.
Bulluk, the manufacturing (Production) arm.
The Future is online
The company is focused on expanding its online operations (Ahoom store and Nallem store) to drive sales and although Ahoom is still under development, it is greatly populated with a lot of products ranging from musical instruments, clothing to artefacts.
“We believe if by God’s grace we are able to sustain this, it will become the next biggest retail hub for African products and that’s the overall vision.”