Mahadi Granier on Resilience in the International Business of African Fashion
Mahadi Granier is a Mother, Wife, Daughter and Founder and CEO of Khalala™, a pioneering international business development and marketing consulting firm based in Paris, France, that promotes African fashion sectors in the global market. Join us.
Mahadi Granier is a Mother, Wife, Daughter and Founder and CEO of Khalala™, a pioneering international business development and marketing consulting firm based in Paris, France, that promotes African fashion sectors in the global market.
Ms. Granier has worked in the private and public sectors in France, Canada, South Africa, Lesotho, the United Kingdom and the United States of America and held various positions in companies such as Airbus, General Electric, Hatch Goba, Turner and Townsend, the Department of Trade and Industry and the Western Cape Provincial Department.
Ms. Granier holds a Masters in International Business (Summa Cum Laude) from Grenoble Graduate School of Business in France.
Resilience has become such a buzzword these days. Why? Because there is a need for resilient people in the workplace, in our homes and in other spaces we occupy in society. Resilience is needed because we live in an increasingly complex, unpredictable, ecologically fragile and rapidly changing world. There is a lot coming at us and our young, and we need to contend with it all in healthy and productive ways. Resilience is an aspect of psychological capital that all people, young and old, must develop and continually enhance to live a life of fullness and purpose.
I had an awesome virtual interview with Ms. Mahadi Granier from the Manor House Bistro at the Fairlawns and this is what she had to share on resilience in her pioneering journey in the international business of African fashion.
Ms. Granier, please introduce the readers to the gorgeousness that is Khalala™
Based in Paris, France and established in 2016, Khalala™ empowers fashion designers from Africa and its diaspora to succeed in the luxury global fashion industry by providing capacity building through internship placements, manufacturing and production assistance, grants and scholarships as well as high quality global industry exposure in partnership with established players in the international fashion industry. We assist designers through several programs established in partnership with significant players in the fashion industry. Our programs include:
Up to 1 year of hands-on experience learning about textile and garment design, manufacturing, quality assurance and control, and technologies housed by global fashion brands;
Guidance for professional development from premiere players in the international luxury fashion industry;
Education – Grants and Scholarships
Financial assistance to advance technical and business skills as well as production and manufacturing assistance to develop fashion collections;
Exclusive Insider Opportunities
Unique opportunities to participate in and feature work at exclusive international fashion industry events;
International Marketing Platforms
Designers showcase at international business to business platforms to further promote their brands, reach new audiences, network and collaborate with key industry players;
Permanent or temporary integration of designers’ merchandise into international retail outlets, boutiques, fashion museums, galleries as well as assistance with setting up own international stores.
It goes without saying that there was and still is, a lot to overcome from a personal and professional angle by being in the epicenter of the global fashion trade. What would you like to share about overcoming, mentally and emotionally, and keeping your eyes on the prize?
I ventured into this industry knowing very well that African designers remain mostly on the fringes of the global fashion industry and for the most part, this is due to underlying negative perceptions of ‘Brand Africa’. Irrespective of this barrier, I still set up a company in an international field that is predominantly non-black, and in which, the established preference remains textiles and aesthetics that are recognized and accepted as mainstream. What I quickly got to learn was that this industry is quite close-knit, with a specific preference for celebrating well-known brands that often dabble with African print in many of their major collections. Brand America, Brand Europe and most recently, Brand Asia, have had a good head start in this sector of the global economy. Brand Africa, on the contrary, is still tangled in persistent generalizations and perceptions of ‘poor quality’ and racial bias. These big picture issues impact a black woman like me on a daily basis. There is a lot of gender bias too, which creates difficulties when it comes to accessing funding, reaching out to potential partners and even in some instances, networking. Overcoming these challenges is a work in progress.
You are quoted, by SME South Africa, as having stated, “My vision is to see more fashion entrepreneurs from Africa succeed in the global fashion industry and thus boost Africa’s economic position globally.” This is a massive vision not only in terms of conceptualization but most especially in terms of implementation.
This vision traces back to my time in corporate South Africa, where I spent fifteen years navigating the priority sectors of the economy. These included the beneficiation of precious metals and other minerals. While mineral wealth is important for economic growth, moving to Paris cemented my deeply held belief that culture and economic development are interdependent. They are collaborative and not mutually exclusive. Just look at a country like France. Unfortunately, though, for many African leaders, arts are almost just like little ornaments. My vision for African fashion stems from my conviction that African citizens are yet to reap major economic and social benefits by efficiently developing and promoting their cultural industries, from music, painting, sculpture, literature, publishing, visual and performing arts to fashion. This unlikely sector is part of the African solution. Promoting our own heritage and culture positively influences the world to invest in, study and visit Africa. This is, however, not the only reason to develop Africa’s cultural sector. The main reason for doing this work is to expand the underlying power of fashion as a tool to fight poverty in Africa by creating wealth through the empowerment of women and youth in the various fashion vocations. I most certainly do not intend to achieve all of it on my own. It is a relay race.
Moving to Paris to startup this kind of pioneering enterprise, is without a doubt a bold move for anyone anywhere on the globe, but most especially coming from Africa, which as you pointed out only accounts for less than 1% of the global fashion slice…take us on that journey, from realizing that you needed to move your headquarters there and actually landing on French soil.
As you have currently pointed out, African fashion designers remain exceptionally under exposed on a global stage, despite the fact that fashion has become a truly global business. China, India, South-East Asia, Latin America and the former Soviet bloc are all integrated into the global fashion industry, which is estimated at $2.4 trillion. Home to one in seven people on the planet, Africa accounts for a mere 1% global market share. The main reason for moving our headquarters to Paris was to be located in the global fashion capital. When you operate within close proximity to the consumer, it helps you gain a better understanding of both the opportunities and the challenges in the market. If you are based in Africa, trying to serve the European market, with no local presence, how will you assess what the local trends and actual needs are? You need to be on the ground to gain an intimate knowledge of the customer base. The knowledge I have gained to date has been so valuable that I have started to secure speaking engagements from various African Fashion Weeks as well as fashion design conferences in Africa.
In one of your Tweets you say, “I believed I could start from the bottom and work my way up”, tell us about being at the bottom and the psychological capital you drew from consistently trying to keep focused while working your way up?
Shortly after announcing my resignation as a Director to start my own company, I remember receiving a lot of criticism from people around me. Although I knew this was the right path for me, for those who truly cared about me, it was just a phase I was going through. But because they could not understand my motivation, passion and determination, they could not actually believe I was seriously going to quit a nicely cushioned job to start something from scratch. You must remember, in my family, I grew up as “the most likely to succeed.” And so, while the switch was confusing for them, to me it was a logical hurdle I simply had to overcome, and yet that did nothing to prepare me for the emotional turmoil that lay ahead.
Once I crossed over, I expected things to flow from the level of a Director upwards. Little did I know, I was actually starting out at the level of an intern. The level of uncertainty, especially in the earliest stages of my startup, almost got the better of me. Unlike in corporate where a paycheck was coming every single month, suddenly I was faced with some inherent instability and surges in consumer interest, followed by long droughts.
On top of that, I lost balance at some point, and got sucked into putting in 100-hour weeks, long weekends and sleepless nights, leaving little room for my family. For the most part, at the start of this journey, I also felt lonely. I was working in isolation and I suddenly longed for the workplace comradeship. Earlier this year, the obstacles compounded, and I hit a brick wall. I lost a very big account that I had been working on for several months, that I was 99% certain I had secured. When the news reached home, I found myself faced with two choices: go back to corporate or keep going. I chose to slow down to review my ‘why’. During the downtime, I got to ask myself why I was doing this work. The answer that came to me was that it is the long-term mission that matters, that building a legacy business is more meaningful to me than a lifestyle business. I came to realize that playing a long-term game is a step by step process and not an overnight success story. This helped me get centered. Two months later, I was back to building my business, once again, with more focus and determination than never before.
What kind of stuff (psychological capital) does it take to bridge the two worlds that you are bridging having gone to Paris with no prior experience in entrepreneurship and business concentration context?
Yes, it is true that I ventured into fashion entrepreneurship without any prior knowledge of how things traditionally work in this field. Clarity helped me bridge the gap between my past and current world. Once I got clear that my life as an entrepreneur is drastically different from the one of a corporate heavyweight, I was able to shift my energy towards what mattered. At first, it felt like I was swimming in a big ocean without a compass. Because I did not have any blueprint to emulate, I relied a lot on my instincts when I approached certain things. So far, this has actually been the best approach for me. It has led me to innovation and out of the box thinking. There have been a lot of dead ends too, but unlike in corporate where I often had to adapt to how things traditionally function or was subjected to ‘but this isn’t how it’s done here’, I now have the complete freedom to approach situations the way a child typically would: without pre-conceived notions. It really isn’t about prior experience in entrepreneurship. It’s about having a deep passion for something, the willingness to execute consistently and an intimate understanding of what the marketplace needs.
Why is resilience such a critical thing to nurture as an entrepreneur especially because the experiences in the nascent part of the journey often do not dovetail well with society’s expectations and definitions of success in relation to someone who “had it all” i.e. the career, the title and the education?
The “has it all” mentality and society’s definition of success in terms of career hierarchy, title and education is founded on the principles of how employable you are. Then once you are employed, to get ahead, one is often expected to go back to school to get more degrees, with the aim of increasing the chances of getting a promotion and continue climbing higher on the corporate ladder. Although I’m strongly for education, the traditional path is not the only route towards goal attainment. I grew up believing that becoming a Doctor, Engineer or a Lawyer was the only way to ensure a predictable, successful and sustainable life. I believed in a limited, set number of career paths which would ensure safety and security. The thought of using my natural talent and pursuing my passions was never a viable alternative. Therefore, I modelled my immediate social environment, which had very limited to almost nonexistent Entrepreneurs, let alone black female. I became that which was shown to me, and in the absence of a role model that looked like me, I pursued that which was within reach and encouraged. The very few Entrepreneurs that I saw in my community did not engage with us as the youth to teach us about the possibilities of self-employment.
So, like most people I grew up with, I followed the traditional path. It was an incredible, enlightening and valuable experience but extremely unfulfilling. This forced me to go deep within and look for answers, which led me to Entrepreneurship, a path I could not have stayed on for this long without resilience. This journey is full of hardship, pain, fear, suffering, confusion, chaos and disappointment. And yet it is through this experience that I have learnt the most. Entrepreneurship has taught me everything I needed to know about blind faith. It has taught me to continue moving forward when there is absolutely zero evidence that I will get there eventually. When you are able to hold on to that elusive pot of gold with the strong belief that it will make all the suffering worth it at the end of your story, then that is resilience.
What’s your message to the African Child on dreaming, making things happen and staying the course?
The moment you commit yourself towards the pursuit of a specific goal is the moment you also commit yourself to the price you will need to pay to attain that goal. Your goal always comes with strings attached. You simply cannot have your goal without making some necessary physical, financial, emotional and social sacrifices. If you are not willing to make the necessary sacrifices, then don’t spend your time pursuing that particular goal. Instead, spend that time on other areas that you believe will provide you with a greater return on your time.