by Fredrick Ngugi, at 09:00 am, December 13, 2016, Features

Kente Master Promotes African Traditions in U.S. with Graduation Stoles

A fair share of African tradition is embedded in traditional attire, which is now slowly being phased out by foreign designer clothes that have brought a completely new way of life to Africa.

However, a team of African Americans has embarked on a mission to promote African traditions and entrepreneurship in the United States through graduation stoles that are purely sourced from Ghana.

Face2Face Africa caught up with one of Kente Master’s co-founders, Rafiat Kasumu, to discuss her business and the impact she’s having both in Africa and the United States.

rafiat

Rafiat Kasumu. Photo credit: LionessesofAfrica

Face2Face Africa: What is Kente Master?

Rafiat Kasumu: Kente Master is a fabric artisan startup committed to promoting African entrepreneurship by internationally servicing a unique blend of premium, finished Kente graduation stoles. We create dynamic, long-lasting, and mutually beneficial relationships between local Kente-weaving associations in Ghana and universities in the United States so that students graduate wearing authentic, customized graduation stoles [that are] #MadeInGhana.

By doing this, Kente Master contributes to job creation, security, and economic development in Ghana. As our company works with local weavers and Kente collectives in Ghana, we take pride in the fact that we are creating a platform that facilitates the growth of these weavers’ craft, tradition, and businesses.

F2FA: When was Kente Master established, who founded it, and what inspired them to start?

RK: Kente Master was created in 2014 to dramatically revolutionize a threatened traditional weaving industry in Ghana. With the influx of inauthentic and over-priced Kente textile merchandise coming from China and other non-traditional manufacturers abroad, local Ghanaian entrepreneurs are losing out on opportunities to sell their traditionally made crafts abroad.

In addition to this, when consumers purchase from these [inauthentic] sources, they are also losing out on knowing the story behind the cloth’s creation and meaning.

My classmates and I noticed this predicament while studying abroad in Ghana, and we formed Kente Master to address this phenomenon. As our mission statement states, “Kente Master is a social enterprise that promotes African entrepreneurship by servicing premium Kente graduation stoles #MadeInGhana to clients abroad.”

At Kente Master, we create international social impact as the connections we facilitate between local Kente weaving associations in Ghana and top universities in the United States provide greater opportunities for local entrepreneurs to scale their craft and businesses.

In terms of team, Kente Master is run by three incredibly dedicated and strategically thinking individuals.

Peter Paul Akanko. Photo credit: Kente Masters

Peter Paul Akanko. Photo credit: Kente Masters

Peter Paul Akanko is our CEO who leads our operations in Ghana and our direction. My teammate Parag Bapna is our COO, leading Strategic Operations, Sales Enablement, and Finance.

And I am the CMO and chief strategy officer of Kente Master, spearheading our social media, public relations, and partnership growth strategy. Each of us compliments the other’s strengths, and we are all driven by the overall mission and vision of Kente Master: to not only amplify the world’s recognition of Kente, but also the origin of Kente as well.

F2FA: Why did you choose to specialize in graduation stoles?

RK: After doing much market and historical research, we found that during the 1970s colleges in the United States began to have “donning of Kente stole” ceremonies for their students of African descent to mark the achievement of gaining a higher education.

In some universities, such as the University of Pennsylvania from which I am an alumni, this tradition continues. In this sense, graduation stoles continue to symbolize that one has completed an important rite of passage in one’s life.

Our research indicated that there was a historic and current demand for Kente cloth graduation stoles, but it also showed us that a graduation stole was more than just a product bought by its customers. Instead, it was a privilege to earn.

With this in mind, my co-founders decided to specialize in graduation stoles to provide students with authenticity, affordability, and customizability when it comes to choosing the Kente graduation stole they want to wear to mark their important rite of passage.

Parag Bapna. Photo credit: Kente Masters

Parag Bapna. Photo credit: Kente Masters

F2F Africa: Why should students choose Kente Master stoles over other brands in the market?

RK: When a student purchases from us, they are not merely getting a product, but they get a sense of comfort from knowing they are contributing to a social impact enterprise, which helps weavers to scale their products and traditions abroad.

Kente Master graduation stoles

A Ghanaian weaver making Kente Master graduation stoles. Kente Master

In terms of our brand differentiator, Kente Master is also the only fabric artisan company in the Kente industry that provides authenticity, affordability, and customizability to universities, student organizations, and individuals seeking Kente graduation stoles.

By working with the most-skilled, traditional Kente-weaving associations in Ghana, we are able to provide our clients with the most unique and intricate Kente designs available. A few of our past clients have included the University of Pennsylvania, Dartmouth College, and Carnegie Mellon University.

F2FA: As a social enterprise relying on Africa for supplies, how many artisans have you been able to employ?

RK: Kente Master works with dozens of weaving artisans from various villages in Ghana. We work hand-in-hand with several traditional weaving co-ops and associations, which currently exist in the country.

F2FA: What materials do your artisans use and how do they source them?

Kente Master graduation stoles

Threads used in manufacturing Kente Master graduation stoles. Photo credit: Kente Master

RK: The weavers we work with source their materials from regional markets, often times within their local open-air markets. Kente Master ensures that our graduation stoles are made through traditional means — from dyed thread to wooden weaving looms — to preserve the authenticity of the craft.

F2FA: Are you making any profits so far?

RK: Yes.

F2FA: What other achievements have you had?

RK: Within our first year of operations, we secured an Ivy League partnership with the University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth College. In 2016, we were nominated for the “Top Startup Revolutionizing the Fashion Industry in Ghana” by the Ghana All Start-Up Awards. We participated in a World Bank-supported Kumasi Business Incubator (KBI) program. From this experience, we have been featured by the World Bank twice.

In 2016 alone, we have been featured by the following publishers:

  • The World Bank
  • She Leads Africa
  • Africa.com
  • Fashion Revolution Ghana
  • Ayiba Magazine
  • The Daily Pennsylvanian
  • My Joy Online Ghana (top Ghana publication)
  • All Startup News

F2FA: What are your plans for the future?

RK: As a socially conscious business, we hope to expand our social impact. In addition to the job growth we create, Kente Master eventually wants to develop an annual scholarship fund to support local students in Ghana toward their higher education. In addition, we want to continuously innovate and find ways to integrate technology to heighten the weaver-consumer relationship.

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