Interview with Benjamin Owusu, founder of Woven Africa, a Ghanaian Firm that Makes Graduation Stoles for Harvard

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Woven Africa is Ghanaian start-up on a mission to take Kente, a traditionally woven colourful cloth that is usually worn on special occasions in Ghana and most countries in West Africa, to the rest of the world.

Benjamin is a graduate of Ashesi University, Ghana where he read Business Administration. After graduating, he did his compulsory National Service at an Accra-based radio station and after the service, he had a job with an investment company.

While working for the investment company, it dawned on him why he was helping other businesses with the knowledge he had acquired from school but could not use it to set up and grow his own. It was at this that he recalled that his mother was in the business of selling Kente, but age was fast catching up with her so she could no longer exert herself that much.

Having no one to take care of his mother’s business, he resigned from the investment company to take charge of it by himself. He put together a business plan and started thinking about what to do to make the Kente more marketable.

What was the turning point?

“I realised a growing trend in America and Europe that wasn’t common in Ghana. That trend was the use of graduation stoles by many universities across the aforementioned continents,” he said.

This prompted him that it could be a good business idea to use the Kente cloth to make stoles for students in Ghana during their graduation.

He outlined a number of universities and pitched the idea to them, and to his surprise, all those universities bought into the idea.

Currently, Benjamin supplies Kente stoles to eight universities in Ghana and two other universities outside the country, which include the famous Harvard University in the United States.

He has also added the production of ‘adinkra’ symbols to complement the Kente stoles.

Seeing the interest some schools showed when he pitched the Kente stoles idea to them, he decided to spread his tentacles to the main Kente fabric. This birthed the idea of a new website—wovenafrica.com

“What is unique about our stoles is that every institute that we serve we incorporate their logo onto the cloth,” he added.

Tells us more about wovenafrica.com?

“What we are doing with the website is that we are trying to push the Kente cloth to the diaspora at the same price that they would get it when they have to buy directly from the weavers.

Through this medium, buyers are confident and assured of quality and original Kente cloth, compared to going through a third party which may not guarantee that. The cloth can be shipped to the buyer through EMS and delivered in just five days.

So, the website is to help us penetrate the international market. People in America and Europe are ones that are enjoying these products, so with the website, we are able to reach out to the rest of the world.”

Aside from the stoles, what other products do you make from kente?

“We make travelling bags and a lot of stuff, depending on what the customer requests for. We will also be introducing other new stuff which I cannot put out there at the moment.”

Apart from the above, he said there are many in the diaspora who like the Kente cloth and always ask Ghanaians coming home for holidays to get them the original. So, the cloth can also be purchased directly from the site.

What is your staff strength?

“The beautiful thing is that we have been able to create opportunities for two communities; one in the Ashanti Region and the other in the Volta Region because kente is woven by communities. The products are made from locally sourced materials, so you can imagine the opportunities we are creating?”

Where do you want your business to be in the next five years?

“The vision of Wovenafrica.com is to send Ghana as far as possible using the traditional Kente cloth.

We are targeting Europe, especially places like the United Kingdom, The Netherlands and most of the big economies in that part of the world. North America is another huge market.

We want kente to be in all these areas and we believe that it can be possible. We literally want to take kente into every home in Europe, Asia and America in the next few years at the click of a button.”

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