Samuel Mensah had the world at his feet. An economist by trade, he was the director of an international investment fund as well as an adviser to the African Union and various governments, advocating for the adoption of technology as a solution overcoming obstacles on the continent.
But his passion lay elsewhere — in entrepreneurship. And so he gave it all up. He left the high profile career behind and sold everything for his startup: Kisua, a South Africa-based e-commerce fashion platform that sells its own clothes and collaborates with other designers to create collections for its label.
Fast forward two years and today he’s dressing international superstars like Beyonce.
We spoke to Mensah about going from economist to entrepreneur, worst fashion faux pas’ and dressing Beyonce.
Starting KISUA. I gave up a good paying job as Africa Director for an international investment fund and sold everything I owned to raise the seed capital to start KISUA.
What’s the inspiration behind Kisua?
Working and traveling extensively across the continent, I would buy ready-made African inspired clothes as gifts for friends and family overseas. Before long, people were trying to place orders with me, offering money with a request that I purchase clothing for them during my next visit to a particular African city. That was my light bulb moment: There is huge demand for good quality contemporary African fashion but few places to buy it.
And now superstars like Beyonce wear Kisua. Feelings?
Vindicated! People thought I was crazy to believe that a homegrown African fashion company could become a global brand.
And while I do admit to being a bit of a dreamer, seeing Beyonce, the biggest female superstar of our generation, who could wear any brand in the world, but chose to wear KISUA, on more than one occasion, was perhaps proof that I wasn’t completely mad.
We are not there yet, but it sure is a promising start.
What makes a trendsetter?
The first rule of being a trendsetter: ignore trends and do your own thing. Stay true to yourself and be guided by what you believe and hold dear.
Favorite fashion invention of all-time?
The internet. It is the most powerful tool by which brands and consumers can interact and transact directly with each other.
Is risk necessary for startups?
If there is no risk, the business is probably not worth starting. No risk, no returns.
Michelle Obama, Lupita Nyongo, Beyonce and Solange Knowles are quintessential KISUA women.
What about brands, designers or bloggers?
Maki Oh (Nigeria), Taibo Bacar (Mozambique), Sophie Zinga (Senegal), MaXhosa by Laduma (South Africa)
How are you showcasing “African fashion” ?
We collaborate with a carefully edited group of designers from across Africa to create capsule collections for KISUA. Designers from across the African continent have been scouted to work alongside KISUA on collaborative capsule collections. We also produce collections designed by our in-house design team. We have also recently launched accessories produced by African designers. KISUA is also sold on YOOX.com, taking contemporary fashion to a new global audience.
Which countries are next on your list?
Senegal and Mozambique have some exciting design talent. We have them on our radar.
Worst trend of all-time?
Baggy pants for men (a la Mc Hammer).
Tell me about a time you faced an obstacle and how you overcome it?
The creative industries are not taken particularly seriously in Africa by the investment community. And fashion in particular is generally considered fickle, superficial and in the case of Africa, an unprofessional and immature industry that is not ready for serious investment. So it was incredibly difficult trying to find investors to start KISUA. In the end I just decided to sell everything I had and started the business without any investors. Once I started, the investors came running!
What’s the one must-have item in every woman’s closet?
A crisp fitted white shirt (to go with the printed suit from KISUA of course).
Who’s at your ultimate dinner party?
Jesus, Prophet Mohammed, Bob Marley, 2Pac, John Lennon, Mohammed Ali, Yasser Arafat, Simon Perez, Oprah, Marilyn Monroe, Coco Channel, Michelle Obama, Bill Clinton, Kwame Nkrumah, Nelson Mandela and my dad.
Best thing about what you do now?
I am the luckiest guy in the world. I get to make women happy every day.