In Senegal, a Small, Female-owned Garment Enterprise is Dreaming Big

In the Senegalese capital of Dakar, Aissatou Thiam proudly opens the door of her small garment company, KaDior. Aissatou uses spare rooms from her modest home of Liberte VI, a lively middle-class neighborhood where she lives with her family, to create, produce and sell traditional-style garments. Nothing has been easy for Aissatou on her path to becoming an entrepreneur. She returned to Senegal in 2015 after spending 12 years living and working in Italy. “As soon as I moved back, I wanted to contribute to my country’s development,” says Aissatou. “Creation has always been my passion and I wanted to build my own brand of traditional dresses designed with local materials”, she adds.

KaDior is inspired by the largest and most powerful kingdom (1549–1879) – Kajoor - that split off from the Jolof Empire in what is now Senegal. But the brand also reflects ambition and excellence. “My uncle and mentor’s name was Kamal, and Dior is the famous French brand which represents excellence and success, hence the name KaDior,” says Aissatou.

Formalizing Operations during the Pandemic
After two years of working as an informal business, Aissatou formally registered her company in 2017. “When I started, I had no idea how tough it was to manage a company. You need a 360-degree vision to deal with logistics, human resources, and accounting all by yourself. I really struggled and I was unable to keep proper accounts or ensure proper management,” she says. Like so many other small businesses, Aissatou’s challenges were exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic. “My sales plummeted. Suddenly, people were staying at home, there were no more celebrations and no more demand for my creations,” she explains.

Support through Capacity Building
Amid the turmoil of the past two years, Aissatou received some unexpected good news in April 2021. “Rencontre des entrepreneurs (RDE) contacted me and informed me that I was selected to be part of the cohort of SMEs to benefit from capacity building,” she reveals. Under the umbrella of the ITFC-funded West Africa SME Programme, Aissatou gained access to RDE workshops and mentoring sessions covering financial management, product development, and design training, marketing, participation in trade fairs, and tax/customs procedures.

“I was lost. Without the support, I would have drowned. I could learn how to manage human resources, accounting, marketing, and, more importantly, how to believe in myself,’ Aissatou says. “The support came at the right time and helped me to adjust my strategy in order to navigate disruptions caused by the pandemic. I started exploring e-commerce solutions and found a new market for my products,” she adds.

Support through Financing
In parallel, KaDior secured US$10,000 in financing from an ITFC partner, the Delegation for Rapid Entrepreneurship (DER). The funds are being used to establish new manufacturing premises and a retail outlet selling the brand’s fashion items. “I now have eight employees, including tailors, a sales assistant, and delivery staff. We now have the resources to grow long term.”

Looking into the Future
With a new strategy in place, the future looks bright for KaDior, which aims to promote its fashion range in Africa at fairs and via online platforms (Afrikrea), prior to exploring opportunities in international markets. “There are no limits to my ambition. I want my dresses to conquer the US and Canadian markets,” adds Aissatou.

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