The U.S. African Development Foundation (USADF) finds, funds, and supports African entrepreneurs who are using business ventures to impact their communities, countries, and continent. As part of USADF’s support, we’re introducing 10 of these innovators to Opportunity Collaboration 2019 – the global network of leaders dedicated to building sustainable solutions to the problems of poverty and injustice. The USADF Fellows will participate in this annual convening in October 2019, forging alliances and advancing their social impact initiatives.
Adjo Asare is the CEO of Alfie Designs, based in Accra, Ghana. She uses manufacturing and ethical fashion as the way to create jobs and improve the livelihoods of women and girls in her community, and to show that Africa can produce to world-class standards. We talked with her about her venture and motivation.
What’s the 30-second elevator ride description of your venture?
Alfie Designs contributes to the values of fair trade and ethical fashion in our material sourcing, employment, and manufacturing systems. Concurrently, we identify and train underprivileged girls for free in the tailoring arts. We give them the opportunity to be employed by Alfie Designs if they choose to, or the opportunity to look for employment in other factories. We’ve trained over 250 people since 2015 and employ 80 of them directly; the rest have employment in other factories or fashion houses in Ghana.
What are you working on in the field of social and economic justice?
We’re bridging the unemployment gap in Ghana by giving underprivileged young women the skills to make them employable. It’s not only training but the opportunity to get well-paying jobs after their training, the socio-economic benefits that brings, and the improvement in one’s confidence and ability to make life choices. Creating and sustaining skilled jobs is my way of impacting my community and country: I believe when people have stable incomes to look after their families, we can build more vibrant and fruitful communities, with less social vice and disruptive behavior. My dream for this world is that everyone gets an opportunity to live a decent life where they can care for their loved ones and not live in abject poverty.
What will you be contributing to the Opportunity Collaboration delegate community – of other like-minded leaders who are tackling the challenges of global poverty?
I am bridging the skills and challenges of running a family-owned business and changing the lives of young women for the better – women and girls who couldn’t further their education but have an opportunity to contribute to wealth creation and to taking better control of their lives. The women we train in our fashion school and employ come from underserved backgrounds, and many are only semi-literate. We support them and ensure they’re working at ease in our safe, productive environment.
What inspired you to start this venture?
Alfie Designs was started by my mother, who, through her hard work, put her four children through school all the way to the university. I started the fashion school in 2016 to help other young women who can also make a difference in the lives of their children and extended families.
What is the biggest training challenge you have overcome?
I’ve had two big challenges: 1) Getting the young women to see the benefits of the skills they are acquiring, and not to engage in the other social devices to make quick money; and 2) Having an effective and short training program, so that when you successfully graduate after six weeks, you’re employable and start making money immediately. Out of this initiative, our students have had the privilege of being part of fulfilling orders to Whole Foods in 2018 and 2019, manufacturing ahead of schedule and to specifications over 100,000 cloth pouches for sale in the USA. This has helped to boost their morale and know that their efforts are paying off, for themselves, the company who has invested in them, and for becoming a contributing part of a bigger ecosystem.
What is the biggest challenge you are facing with Alfie Designs currently?
My biggest challenge is training the young women with up-to-date technology to help their learning be fast and their sewing to be accurate. We want to purchase more industrial and specialized machines, so that any trained workforce can effectively compete to produce and sell the quality of products as well as – if not better than – the larger international factories. Another challenge is access to the international markets, so that Alfie Designs can obtain more production jobs, in order to ensure a stable, increased flow of income to continue to operate our social venture and benefit more trainees and team members.
What advice would you give to someone looking to make a difference and start their own venture?
Do what drives your heart. Thus, when time comes – and it will – when it looks like it’s not working, you know what’s really your motivation: That it’s from within. You will find a way to make your venture succeed and to realize your dreams.
What do you see for the future of Alfie Designs?
I see it as becoming one of the largest factories in West Africa, competing successfully with the Asian factories, and contributing to raising the standards of ethical fashion. We will change the lives of thousands of Ghanaians and other nationalities in the sub-region and exporting large volumes of apparel to the international market.