Fashion business is highly competitive. Only those with creative skills can survive. Hope Okonkwo has taken his expertise to Ghana. DANIEL ESSIET reports
Hope Okonkwo is the chief executive, L’insoumis Ghana Limited, a men’s wear retail business in Accra, Ghana.
His business provides a selected mix of stylish dress shirts and shoes that appeal to business executives and working professionals in Ghana.
As a young man living and working in New York, Okonkwo knew that style mattered. He was a regular shopper in Soho and on Fifth Avenue, his favourite stores were Express, Club Monaco, and Kenneth Cole, all in the United States.
He said: “Having lived in New York for most of my working life, I was imbued with the importance of having a unique sense of style. I was a regular shopper in Soho and on Fifth Avenue; my favourite stores being Express, Club Monaco, and Kenneth Cole. Yet, after moving to Africa seven years ago, I realised that the fashion industry on the continent was broken. Low-cost production centres outside the continent were pushing sub-par products on the African consumer, facilitated by South African clothing chains and franchises of global brands, and spurred on by the rapidly expanding shopping malls serving a growing middle class.”
Now, the 40-year-old Okonkwo dedicated to bring the concept to Accra. He has built an online presence, a supply chain, and a logistics partnership for his e-commerce business.
On how long he has been in the business, he said: “I have been in business for the past one and a half years, though in the first six months, I was engaged in market research and business formation activities.’’
He started the business with $15,000 as capital, but the business is growing.
“The business is still in the early stages of customer acquisition and distribution channel development so any additional valuation of the business is premature until customer traction is firmly established,” he said.
According to Okonkwo, L’insoumis is a direct-to-consumer contemporary men’s wear brand that utilises internationally-sourced materials and international best practices in garment- and footwear-making to give working professionals and business executives a select range of stylish, well-constructed, and durable shirts and shoes that are great-fitting as an alternative to poorly made, though inexpensive, imports available on the market.
Since arriving Accra early last year, Okonkwo has worked on finding the right foreign and local partners to bring his vision to reality. The key elements of his approach have been building strong partnerships and having quality work done. To date, he has worked with Ghanaian, Canadian, American, and Indian companies.
He hopes to expand to other major West African cities through agreements with sales agents in select cities, such as Abidjan, Lome, Abuja, Lagos, among others and subsequently, to the United States (U.S.) and the United Kingdom (U.K.).
Over the past seven years, he has lived in Ghana, Rwanda and Zambia. He has worked in various industries, from fintech to agriculture, with a stint in financial advisory, and now a first-time entrepreneur.
“Our business has, so far, signed an agreement with a sales agent in Nigeria whose primary role is to develop partnerships with e-commerce companies/retail stores in Lagos so that our products can be sold to middle-class consumers. We are on the lookout for other prospective sales agents in Ghana, our home market, to perform a similar role in Accra and Tema. We anticipate more agreements being signed with sales agents in major West African cities in future,”Okonkwo said.
For young entrepreneurs, he said: “My advice for young entrepreneurs is that they should seek out the right partners, whether foreign or local, that can help their business grow. For my business, the partnerships we’ve formed have been invaluable in getting us to this point and I’m certain that they’ll prove even more valuable in future. Also, having a sound board for your ideas that is, advisors, both formal and informal, is crucial for giving you perspective and keeping you grounded when making large or small decisions that can impact the future profitability of your business.”